September 10, 2008

Talia Fetner: Her Project a Joy for Hope Haven Kids

By Charlie Patton

When the award-winning documentary Autism: The Musical aired on HBO this year, it inspired Jacksonville's Talia Fetner, a seventh- grader at LaVilla School of the Arts.

Autism: The Musical follows a group of five autistic children who worked with the Miracle Project, a nonprofit theater group in Los Angeles, to create and stage a musical.

Talia said she has been interested in theater since she enrolled in a drama class at the Jewish Community Alliance when she was 3.

So, like a modern-day Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland, Talia decided to put on a show of her own, a Jacksonville version of Autism: The Musical.

Because producing the show would be part of her preparations for her February Bat Mitzvah ceremony, the 12-year-old decided to call it the Nes Gadol Project. "Nes Gadol" is Hebrew for "great miracle," she said.

Therapists at Hope Haven Children's Clinic and Family Center have agreed to find her a troupe of performers, young people with various learning and developmental disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome.

"Our kids are really excited," said Jennifer Keyworth, program director at Hope Haven. "They love High School Musical."

She said she expects more than 20 young people to participate.

"This is an opportunity to do something they are usually not given the chance to do," Keyworth said.

Talia has lined up about a dozen friends to serve as coaches to the actors. An adult acting teacher will be the director. Talia will be assistant director and one of the coaches.

"She's going to be very busy," said her mom, Dina Fetner.

In October, the group will begin the process of planning and rehearsing the songs and skits that will make up their show. Ten rehearsals are planned.

The show will be Jan. 25 in the Terry Theater at the Times- Union Center for the Performing Arts.

Admission will be free but the Fetners are hoping to raise money through donations to pay production costs. Any additional funds will go to Hope Haven. Donations can be made by going to www.hope- and specifying that the gift is on behalf of the Nes Gadol Project.

But raising money isn't the primary goal, Talia said.

"I just hope that the Hope Haven kids and the coaches will all have a great experience," she [email protected],(904) 359-4413

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