GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – When he was in Glens Falls High School, Andy O’Rourke was invited to serve as a member of the tech crew for the school’s 2019 production of “Sister Act.” At the time, past experiences had left him feeling sour on theater. A few years later, he’s glad he said yes anyway.

“That was where I really found my niche,” said O’Rourke, who has cerebral palsy. “I got bitten by the bug – the comradery of the cast and crew. They treated me like a regular human being, and they didn’t see me for my disability.”

Now, O’Rourke is spearheading a new theater company in Glens Falls, where he hopes to give that same type of welcoming space to others with mental and physical disabilities who want to perform, volunteer, and express themselves. The result is All Abilities Productions Upstate New York, a theater company co-founded between himself and Terry Kempf. The two met when O’Rourke was looking for a tutor to help him with a psychology class he was taking at SUNY Empire.

“He was telling me about how he was a theater major, and how much he loved it, and how he wanted to start his own theater company where anyone with any disabilities would be able to join,” said Kempf. “To give them that experience, to know what it’s like to be on stage or work in the background.”

All Abilities Productions has some pieces in place. The Park Theater in downtown Glens Falls has thrown its hat in the ring for hosting the company when it comes time to put on their first show. The venue hosts comedians, bands and movie screenings to small audiences, and O’Rourke says the size fit the bill perfectly for what he hopes to be a cabaret-style show with a small cast of around six people.

The company doesn’t know what that first show will be yet – which is where fundraising comes in. All Abilities Productions has a GoFundMe campaign up and running, with a $5,000 donation goal to get things off the ground. That money covers costs like paying crews, renting the Park Theater, production, and even getting the rights to a play.

“You have to pay royalties,” said Kempf, “They can be in the hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”

After a long road of fundraising and organizing ahead, the plan is to announce a show and put out a casting call in fall 2023, for production the following spring. In the meantime, O’Rourke is currently enrolled at SUNY Empire in Saratoga Springs. He’s in the school’s Performance Arts program, studying directing – which is what he plans to do within the new company.

The goal is to bring in a coach to work with the actors, to better blend the realities of actors’ disabilities with what’s in the script. O’Rourke has spent time onstage as well as behind it, playing Detective O’Rourke in a 2019 production of “West Side Story” by Broadway Upstate in Hudson Falls. He also works with volunteer teams at the Charles R. Wood Theater. Those settings, like Glens Falls High School, are ones where he’s been given a place as an equal with everyone else in the theater; something he hasn’t always been given.

“This is a thank you to the cast of ‘Sister Act’ for giving me a shot. I’d never really had a shot. I’d always been rejected in auditions, even with how hard I prepare, and I don’t want to do that to people,” he said.

In addition to the GoFundMe, O’Rourke and Kempf have a fundraiser event planned with Hoffman Car Wash in Queensbury this May. All Abilities Productions can be reached by email at allabilitiesprodupny@gmail.com.

The company is also in the process of applying to become a recognized nonprofit. That could provide a lot of financial support, but finalizing something that big is still a long way off.

“If any lawyer happens to see this story, who’s looking for some pro bono work, we would love you,” Kempf said with a laugh.