Local girl sings at Kiwanis convention

Schmidt part of Penguin Project

Leader Photo by Miriam Nelson Brianna Schmidt, of Wittenberg, sang at the Kiwanis International Convention in Las Vegas in June as part of the Penguin Project in Wausau.

Most people would not feel at home performing in front of 15,000 people. But for 16-year-old Brianna Schmidt, of Wittenberg, there is no place like it.

Schmidt and four other youngsters from the Penguin Project of Central Wisconsin Children’s Theatre performed at the annual Kiwanis International Convention in Las Vegas earlier this summer.

The Kiwanis organization is dedicated to improving the lives of children, and the Penguin Project helps children with special needs explore their creative talents.

The Penguin Project is open to children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other neurological disorders, as well as children who have visual or hearing impairments. Special needs children are paired with peer mentors as they prepare one musical each year.

Schmidt, diagnosed with high functioning autism, had lead roles in two previous Penguin Project productions in Wausau. She played Mazey in “Suessical Jr.” and Kathy in “Singing in the Rain.”

The five girls who performed a 30-minute set of song and dance numbers for the Kiwanis are all teenagers from the Wausau area. Schmidt did a solo of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from “Grease” and sang “Amazing Gertrude” from “Suessical Jr.,” with the other girls providing backup.

“We all bonded through this experience,” said Schmidt, who also sang in a larger choral group with other children from around the United States who had been invited to perform at the convention, which ran from June 28 to July 1. The performers paid their own travel expenses.

Schmidt has been singing since she was 2 years old.

“My mom would babysit Brianna and played Sunday school songs and ‘Wiggles’ tapes,” said Lisa Schmidt, Brianna’s mom.

She noted that her daughter has never had formal vocal lessons but is always singing around the house.

“I like that music relaxes me,” Brianna Schmidt said. “I feel good when I’m singing.”

Homeschooled through Rural Virtual Academy, Schmidt also participates in the choir at Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School and choirs in the Wausau area.

In March, she will sing at an a cappella event at Carnegie Hall in New York City. She’ll be part of a group of girls from central Wisconsin, Bella Voce (Italian for “beautiful voice”), who will work with Deke Sharon. Sharon served as arranger, composer and on-site music director for all three of Universal’s “Pitch Perfect” movies.

Brianna Schmidt has not decided yet if college is in her future. She is the daughter of Mark and Lisa Schmidt, and granddaughter of Gordon and Agnes Schlender, of Wittenberg, and granddaughter of Diana and the late Herman Schmidt, of Tigerton.

For information about the Penguin Project, visit www.mycwct.org/penguinproject.