Lincoln girl overcomes brain injury and hits the stage

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 8:40 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A Lincoln girl won’t let anything stop her from reaching her dreams, not even a brain injury. Alexis Verzal, 14, has dreamed of being on Broadway. Next week, she’s adding another performance to her list.

The Penguin Project, run by the Lincoln Community Playhouse, will show “Elf Jr” where Verzal will star at Ms. Greenway.

“I’m looking forward to playing the bad guy,” Verzal said. “It’s supposed to be a boys roll, but I dress up every year as the character that I want and I got it.”

For as long as she can remember, Verzal has loved being center stage. She started acting at four years old and has been involved with the Penguin Project since the Lincoln chapter started in 2014. This will be her seventh show with the Penguin Project, which gives kids with special needs the opportunity to perform alongside peer mentors.

Morrie Enders, Lincoln Community Playhouse executive director and Penguin Project director, has watched both Verzal and the program grow.

“What we’ve watched over the years is [not only] how she’s developed in her communication skills with other people, but actually as an actor,” Enders said.

Verzal suffered a traumatic brain injury at just 14-months-old after being shaken by her Texas daycare provider.

Her family moved to Lincoln to be treated at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, but not even a traumatic brain injury could dim her desire to shine on stage.

“She has become quite and actor on our stage, and it is delightful to watch her grow as a person and as an artist,” Enders said.

Enders said the goal of the program is to open communication between kids who might be a little different from each other.

For Verzal, the Penguin Project has given her the opportunity to perform without thinking about her injury.

“Being able to do what I love to do without anybody saying ‘Oh, what happened to your hand’ or ‘Oh, why are you in the wheelchair?,’” Verzal said.

As for her future in acting, the 14-year-old has big goals.

“Broadway is the end, end goal.”

Tickets for “Elf Jr.” are available now.

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