Like most directors, Jeremy McCouch was a little nervous about his new production: a musical comedy about the newspaper business.

What had the 18-year nervous was that he and his co-director would be asked to combine their high school classmates with adults from a Minneapolis theater group for handicapped performers.

The show, "Black and White and Re(a)d All Over," was performed last week at Convent of the Visitation School, a private Catholic school in Mendota Heights next to St. Thomas.

"At first a lot of people had hesitations," said McCouch, a senior at St. Thomas Academy, an all-boys private school in Mendota Heights. "It turned into a beautiful production."

That was the hope that officials with Visitation and St. Thomas had when they agreed to a joint effort this month with Interact, which produces several shows at various venues each year with disabled or challenged adults.

"This collaboration is our effort to welcome these artists into our community, allowing more students and audience members the opportunity to be inspired by their work," said Wendy Short-Hays, the director of VISTA, which is a joint theater company of Visitation and St. Thomas students.

Scotty Reynolds, director of Interact, said students from Visitation have been volunteering with his group for about 10 years as part of their senior community service project.

Among them was Madde Gibba, 24, a former Visitation student who now works as a professional performer and does some work with VISTA.

"You go in thinking that you are going to be working with a bunch of people," said Gibba, whose older sister also volunteered at Interact. "You leave thinking that you worked with a bunch of artists -- a bunch of wacky artists. You appreciate the challenges they face and how patient they are."

This year, for the first time, Interact wanted to put on a full-scale production run by theater students from VISTA.

Reynolds thought his performers and company could benefit from being around the energy and drive of the teenagers, whose theater experience ranges from novice to accomplished, according to VISTA and school officials.

"What we don't have is youth," Reynolds said while watching the same rehearsal as McCouch. "The girls from Visitation have given us a lot over the years."

The dance show featured the work of six student choreographers, who created and managed the Interact performers, all professionals with mental or physical disabilities.

"It's a different approach when you are dealing with people with different gifts," said Short-Hays. "It expands [the students'] creativity."

As an example, the rehearsals of one of the dance numbers involved a man with limited sight. At the end of the number it was discovered that he was being left on the stage by himself, so the number was reworked to incorporate someone walking him off the stage.

That kind of on-the-spot decision-making -- and dealing with people different from what they are used to -- was what the two theater companies were trying to accomplish with the collaboration.

"We're learning they have different needs than some of our kids," Short-Hays said. "I'm sure it is an eye-opening experience for them. It's going to change their process."

McCouch and others agree.

"It just made me more patient," he said in between dance numbers. "Sometimes you have a vision of something and it doesn't work out. You have to adapt. It makes you a better choreographer. It makes us ready for life in a sense."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281