Five young actors sat backstage, waiting to emerge onto the set of "The Blue Rose" last week. These actors, ranging in age from 11 to 15, have been working on this production since August to ensure that it stays true to the book it was derived from. This is an added pressure to all the actors, but Kelsie Skinner, the 12-year-old star of the show and a student at Herbert Hoover Middle School, has an extra weight on her shoulders -- or, rather, under her shoulders.

As Kelsie pushes her walker across the stage, she immediately takes part in a message much bigger than that of this play: She has begun to teach a lesson to the world about the capabilities of those who are disabled.

"The Blue Rose," a book written in 1974 by Oscar-winning writer Gerda Weissman Klein, was adapted for the stage by Darleen Pickering Hummert for the Theatre for Change. This is just one of the many services that the Theatre for Change does to help raise awareness in the community of issues facing society.

The story is about a young girl named Jenny, who struggles with developmental disabilities. She is likened to a blue rose, a flower which is rare, valuable and beautiful. This book is as applicable now as it was back in the '70s, and even more appropriate in a time where bullying in schools seems to be at an all-time high.

"Acceptance was an issue when this book was written, and now ... it is still a problem," said actor Jonathan Young of Williamsville North High School.

The message of Jenny's story is that everyone is different and that's OK.

The group of young actors working with Kelsie had to learn to be patient with her while making her feel comfortable.

Alejandro Gomez, from the Charter School for Applied Technology, along with Bryan Jones, from Benjamin Franklin Middle School, played two of Jenny's friends in the production.

Alejandro said the main lesson he learned from the play was that "you have to get to know someone; you can't judge a book by its cover."

Bryan added that one cannot judge another person, because while their outward appearance is exposed, "you don't know what they're like on the inside."

Also starring in the play was Abbeni Dixon, a student at Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts. Abbeni said she loved working with Kelsie. "Once you get to know her, she's just a regular girl," Abbeni said.

Kelsie's sense of humor gave the production a new life. When asked what she struggles with, Kelsie replied with a grin, "I struggle with math, because it's really hard this year -- and getting out of an elevator backward -- that's really hard."

There was a more serious note to the production, too, which addressed the pain of disabilities, and the hurtfulness of words like "retarded."

"When people say retarded, I feel like I'm being teased -- it's personal, and they're trying to put me down," Kelsie said.

Kelsie says she just has to "ignore what people say because they don't know what I'm going through."


Alyssa Lanoye is a senior at Williamsville North High School.