Gary Ferguson

Gary Ferguson is the director and choreographer of Los Altos Youth Theatre's "Starlight Express."

Los Altos Youth Theatre’s “Starlight Express,” a five-week, in-person youth theater camp centered on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name, is scheduled to debut Monday.

Open to ages 10-19, the camp is part of LAYT’s Bring Your Own Wheels program, which includes differently abled people using wheelchairs, walkers and crutches working alongside youth using skates, scooters and skateboards. Auditions were held May 15.

“Starlight Express” is LAYT’s first in-person camp since the quarantine began. Although the company plans to have a few smaller productions beforehand, such as “Hands-On Musical,” about American Sign Language, this will be the first mainstage camp with a production – final presentations are set for July 9-11.

Director and choreographer Gary Ferguson said he planned the camp production around physical diversity and increased access.

“I just thought, ‘What better way to incorporate all the gifts that our physically disabled performers in the area have than to meet them where they are and utilize their wheelchairs, walkers and prosthetics as a train?” he said. “We’re going to turn our entire theater into this roller-skating-able rink, and then we’ll livestream it.”

Ferguson called the “Starlight Express” camp “kind of (his) baby.” Wanting to provide a program that opened accessibility, Ferguson said he initially wasn’t sure how to do so. By reaching out to friends and co-workers in the area, he met Christine Burke, Ms. Wheelchair California. Ferguson said she advised him on how he could make the space more accessible for differently abled performers. He’s been working for approximately nine months to set up the program.

Ferguson said he chose “Starlight Express” because Webber’s musicals are the kind people usually love or hate.

“I mean, with ‘Cats,’ you either love it or hate it. ‘Starlight Express’ seems to be even more so. And I love to take musicals and kind of change people’s minds,” he said. 

Ferguson pointed out that some people don’t understand why the concept of “being a train,” is important to the characters in the musical. To change this, he decided to broaden access to people with different abilities.

“If you’re a boy or a girl in a wheelchair, to me, it would seem very simple to want to be a train, a type of speed train going 130 miles per hour. Why wouldn’t a kid want to be a train?” he added.

As choreographer, Ferguson said he has been developing special routines and motion exercises that campers of all abilities can participate in. There are six types of choreography for campers with different physical limitations.

“We’re really excited,” he said. “The rendering of the set looks amazing. The team we’re putting together is amazing. ... I’m just excited to see it all come together.”

For more information on the camp, visit losaltosstage.org/starlight-express.