JESPY partners with Paper Mill Playhouse for performance showcasing clients

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — With the musical talents of JESPY House clients in the spotlight, JESPY has partnered with Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse to present a showcase of Broadway songs to be performed by the clients on Saturday, June 18, at 4 p.m.

The performance, which is open to the public, is tentatively titled “A New Beginning.” Set to take place at JESPY, the play will feature client talents, alternating between dialogue and musical numbers. The theme explores starting over since the pandemic.

When explaining the direction of the production to clients during a recent rehearsal, Jason Gillis, JESPY’s theater director, said, “This theme will show that, as a community, we have to work together to build our community.”

Also leading clients in rehearsals has been Mary Elizabeth Gismonde and Adam Ziering, teaching artists at Paper Mill Playhouse. During weekly rehearsals, the facilitators lead clients in brief stretching and breathing exercises before delving into the songs and choreography they are learning.

For the upcoming performance, clients will present a number of popular showtunes, including “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” “Friends” from “Anything Goes,” “Brand New Day” from “The Wiz,” and songs from the plays “Kinky Boots” and “Spamalot.”

When Paper Mill resumed its classes for adults with disabilities after the pandemic, Lisa Cooney, Paper Mill’s director of education, outreach and access, reached out to Gillis, who also works at Paper Mill, to teach the class. 

“He reminded me that he works for JESPY House and suggested that we reach out to partner and hold the class at JESPY with JESPY clients,” Cooney said. “We contacted JESPY Executive Director Audrey Winkler and all agreed it would be a great partnership.”

“We are very excited about working with Paper Mill Playhouse,” Winkler said. “This is a wonderful partnership for JESPY and especially for our clients who are excited to do something they love in a professional capacity.”

The partnership has resulted in clients learning more about the process of developing a full-fledged production and exploring creative collaboration more extensively.

“My experience with working with Paper Mill Playhouse and JESPY House has been absolutely amazing,” JESPY client Chloe O. said. “Our incredible directors understand our disabilities and how to manage everything. They make things fun and exciting. Being part of the performance, I have learned to be more confident in my performance and that I can do anything that I set my mind to. Even if something is challenging, they help us improve and do even better.”

JESPY has been providing skill-based and creative enrichment programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for more than four decades. The South Orange–based nonprofit organization’s mission pairs well with Paper Mill Playhouse. In addition to providing entertainment and enrichment, Paper Mill’s mission is to educate students, nurture inclusion and provide access for all. 

“Our partnership with JESPY House helps us to deliver on that mission, and create theater experience for all abilities,” Cooney said. 

For additional information about the June 18 performance, email 

Photos Courtesy of Sonya Kimble-Ellis