June 25, 2023 |

Parents’ Advocacy Inspires All-Ability Theater

Today, thanks to community support, Flutter Productions is a vibrant part of Black Hills Works, providing theater opportunities for people of all abilities. 

The inspiration for Flutter Productions and all-ability performing arts in South Dakota, however, started with one man almost two decades ago: Dr. Ron Reed. 

His daughter, Kathy, has been supported by Black Hills Works for 34 years. Like so many of the people we support, her story is one of determination and defying the odds. Now in her fifties, doctors advised Kathy’s parents to send her to live at the state institution when she was only a toddler. Dr. Ron and Marian Reed fiercely ignored that advice, knowing she deserved more. As her mom says, “We refused to warehouse her.” 

At the time, Dr. Reed was the chair of the theater program at the University of South Dakota. Mrs. Reed taught composition and literature there. The Reeds were excited to accept positions at Purdue University in Indiana because of the new programs being put into place for kids like Kathy and relocated for a time.  

Governor Richard Kneip, however, was so determined to bring the Reeds back to South Dakota that he even asked the governor of Indiana to release Dr. Reed from his contract at Purdue without Dr. Reed knowing. Dr. Reed then became the Secretary of Education and Cultural Affairs and helped bring about groundbreaking progress for individuals with disabilities South Dakota. In an uphill battle, he successfully helped Governor Kneip implement special education programs throughout the state. Meanwhile, Kathy thrived in the program at Kibben Kuster School in Rapid City and was part of the last graduating class there. Her father later spent 13 years working for Black Hills Special Services.

After finishing high school, Kathy began attending day services at Black Hills Works while living at home. Kathy’s parents took her everywhere (and still do!), including play practice when they were acting or directing. One evening, Kathy asked to join the actors onstage for curtain call at a dress rehearsal at Black Hills Community Theater. Witnessing her excitement as she stood onstage, her dad knew it was time for adults with disabilities to take their place in the spotlight. 

In 2006, Kathy and other performers from Black Hills Works participated in a joint production of Oklahoma. This paved the way for Heather Pickering to found Flutter Productions, the first all-ability theater company in South Dakota. Kathy’s mom notes, “Everybody learns from mixed ability theater.” 

This year, Flutter Productions celebrates its fifteenth anniversary! Over the years, Kathy was involved in several of its performances and still remembers the songs she learned for Oklahoma.

Today, the Reeds are enjoying retirement. Kathy lives with them, and they clearly adore her. She enjoys puzzles, memory games, color coordinated outfits, and painted fingernails. But most of all, she loves music! Her mom teases Kathy about her singing, and Kathy jokes back, “Offkey! Loud!”  

The determination of Dr. Ron and Marian Reed ensured that not only Kathy, but all citizens of South Dakota with disabilities, have the resources needed for their education as well as amazing opportunities like Flutter Productions.

Thanks to the support of people like you, Flutter Productions has grown and thrived for 15 years!  Please considering donating to Flutter or purchasing tickets to their upcoming performance of “Alice’s Adventures” so the work that began by the Reeds so many years ago can continue to inspire and provide opportunities.

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