Lindsey Pazerunas figures she has been in all 17 musicals staged by the theatre company with UPS for Downs, and she can’t decide which she likes more: being on stage and wearing fancy costumes or having her whole family come out to watch her.

Eve Kelly, left, as Sandy and Anthony Mayer as Danny (Photograph by Brian O’Mahoney)

“I look forward to it every year,” Lindsay says. “I love it all.”

This week, she stars as Rizzo in the school version of Grease, which takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, all at Saint Viator High School. Playing the sarcastic leader of the Pink Ladies has drawn on all of Lindsay’s acting skills.

“She’s rough around the edges, she’s tough,” Lindsey says. “She’s not at all like me so it’s been a bit of a challenge.”

The challenge of being on stage and bringing characters to life has prompted UPS for Downs, or United Parent Support for Down Syndrome group, which is based in Schaumburg, to mount the musicals each year. The organization’s mission is to inspire community acceptance by sharing with others the presence, potential and abilities of people with Down syndrome.

Photo courtesy of Saint Viator High School

For the past few years, the theatre group has held its musicals in Saint Viator’s Jeuck Auditorium and this year, the school’s Theater Department Chair, Megan Gray, is directing the show. Two of her theater students, Joe Kaiser and Thomas Bollard, are serving as student directors, while more students are helping out this week working behind the scenes and serving as ushers and working concessions.

“I don’t think students have much of a chance to engage with our community,” says UPS for Downs board member Sandy Pazerunas of Inverness. “I think this fits with the school’s mission and gives the student body a chance to engage in social justice and community engagement.”

Lindsey Pazerunas of Inverness plays Rizzo. (Photograph by Brian O’Mahoney)

There are approximately 50 in the cast, including actors with and without Down syndrome. They range in age from 11 to 39 and every one of them takes their commitment to acting and the show seriously. They come to rehearsals — which began in October — prepared and ready to work, Gray says.

“This is the most positive group of performers I have ever encountered – they are constantly encouraging one another and lifting each other up, onstage and off,” Gray says. “Although we do have a shiny, impressive production awaiting our audiences at the end of the week, for me, it’s all about the process.

“From auditions, to choreography, to learning the music, problem-solving quick changes, memorizing lines, and much more,” she adds, “there are so many skills that our actors have learned throughout the course of the year that can also benefit them in their day-to-day lives. It has been the joy of a lifetime to get to work with this incredible team.”

The benefits are many, say UPS for Downs members, from gaining the poise and confidence of performing on stage, to the relationships they build with one another and the community members involved in the production.

In Lindsey’s case, she has blossomed from the experience. Consider some of her part time jobs: working at the United Center during Bulls and Blackhawks games and at Wrigley Field during Cubs games. She works in customer support in the club levels of each venue, doing everything from checking people in and showing them to their suite, to answering questions and serving as a greeter.

The actors in Grease take particular pleasure in the show’s title song, Grease is the Word, adapting its lyrics in their publicity for the show. For tickets, scan the QR code:


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