HAPPI-ness on tap at the Malibu Stage Company TheaterLocal celebrities, including Locals Virginia Madsen, Amy Madigan and Teri Hudson will share hosting duties for the 20th anniversary of Handicapped Artists, Performers and Partners.

Handicapped Artists, Performers and Partners, Inc, or HAPPI, will celebrate its 20 years of achievement with a special variety show and buffet at the Malibu Stage Company Theater on Nov. 4.

Launched two decades ago this month by actor/director/writer/teacher Otto Felix, HAPPI trains and showcases the talents of disabled actors, singers and comedians, giving a forum to people who might otherwise hesitate to venture into the world of performing.

“I’ve worked with blind people, amputees, kids with cerebral palsy, even deaf people for awhile,” Felix said, “till I couldn’t afford to hire the signer anymore to translate.”

Working with both able-bodied and disabled performers, Felix has propelled students, such as hearing-impaired actress Marlee Matlin, into professional careers and noted that one alumnus received an Ahmanson award for a documentary he directed, while other of his “sit-down” comics have written for Jay Leno.

“My students are not lazy,” Felix said, “and there’s no ‘poor me’ thing.”

Do the audiences respond differently to disabled performers? “Not if they’re doing their job on stage,” Felix said. “The audience ends up looking past the disability.”


Next month’s gala, like last year’s successful performance at the Malibu Stage Company Theater, will offer scenes performed by students, as well as music from several of HAPPI’s professional supporters, such as country music veteran Larry Dean. This anniversary show will be presented by actress Virginia Madsen with Malibu’s Amy Madigan and actress/ choreographer Toni Hudson co-hosting.

Madsen said that a series of coincidences convinced her that she should host the variety show: her next door neighbor Hudson was on board for the performance, as was country star Dwight Yoakum, with whom she is working on a project.

“Now that I’ve learned what HAPPI is all about, I am so happy… well, pleased to be working with them,” Madsen said. “When people come together for an event like this, there is a real purity of intent. It will be a wonderful night of performances.”

An actress with a long and busy resume, Madsen said she had never worked with disabled actors before and that “this was one reason I wanted to help. I would think, why do we not get people who really live in wheel chairs to play the roles of the people in wheel chairs in our scripts, roles that usually go to able-bodied actors?”

Felix aims to change that status by opening what he says will be the first professional agency for handicapped and disabled performers. His work with HAPPI students has convinced him that there is a performers’ niche that has not been tapped.

Singer-songwriter Dean concurred.

“If anything, a lot of musicians who are blind end up developing a heightened sense of pitch and musicality,” Dean said. “Guys like Ronnie Milsap or Roy Orbison come to mind.”

He agreed that such handicaps, though, are hard to overcome in professional circles.

“It’s tough for them. That’s why I agreed to participate in Otto’s variety show and have done so for several years. It’s a great energy and I hope to continue to help for a long time.”

HAPPI has a history of support and encouragement from not just the performing world-with the participation in the past of artists such as Jon Voight, Dwight Yoakum and Keith Carradine-but with important political figures as well. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson has given out awards at past HAPPI galas and former Gov. George Deukmejian has consistently been a supporter throughout the years.

Madsen said she is looking forward to the presentation of the “Otto” awards-tiny statues bearing a strong resemblance to the Oscar statuette she took home a couple of years ago for her performance in “Sideways.” She noted how much the world has opened up to people with disabilities in the past couple of decades.

“After all, it was not so long ago that handicapped parking places didn’t exist and disabled people were sort of shunted aside in society,” she said. “Fortunately, that has changed.”

As an example, Madsen mentioned her friend, Eric B, the Los Angeles-based interior/exterior designer. “He designed my pool and my whole back yard,” she said. “He is incredibly talented and successful, and he’s blind.”

Felix expects some of that same kind of talent to be on display at the variety show performance next month. In addition to the performances, pre-show cocktails and a post-show buffet and rap party will be offered.

“There will be lots of music, lots of drama, lots of laughs and lots of fun,” Felix said. “Everyone is invited!”

HAPPI will perform at the Malibu Stage Company Theater Nov. 4, with pre-show cocktails available at 7:30 pm. Seating is limited. Reservations can be obtained by calling 310.470.1939. A tax- deductible donation of $20 will be requested at the door.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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