From left, John DeMasi, actor Chris Burke, Valley City resident Joe DeMasi and Feedback the Cat are shown in a scene from the "Forever Friends Show," an internet-based TV series for children.
Joe DeMasi has shared his love of music with listeners all over the United States, and now he is setting out to reach an even wider internet audience with a new childrenâ€™s musical show produced for web TV.
â€śThe Forever Friends Showâ€ť stars DeMasi, his twin brother John, and Chris Burke, an actor with Down syndrome best known for his role as â€śCorkyâ€™ in the hit ABC-TV show â€śLife Goes Onâ€ť.
â€śThere are many childrenâ€™s shows out there,â€ť said DeMasi, â€śbut thereâ€™s never been a childrenâ€™s show with a main character with a disability.
â€śThis is certainly my life mission, combining my love of music and songwriting and performing with my belief that we should value people for who they are,â€ť DeMasi said. â€śEveryone has something to contribute.â€ť
â€śForever Friendsâ€ť is targeted for ages three through seven and highlights music videos from Chris, Joe and Johnâ€™s award-winning CDs, as well as a simple story line, a sign of the day and a feature called â€śDown Right Special,â€ť where children of all abilities send in videos highlighting their special gifts and talents. The show also features characters Feedback the Cat and Newton, the talking computer. DeMasi said that two episodes have been filmed so far.
â€śThis is also a great way to continue the ground-breaking work that Chris achieved with â€śLife Goes Onâ€ť in helping to educate the world about what people with so called disabilities can do,â€ť John said.
â€śToday, typical kids will run into kids with challenges,â€ť Burke said, â€śand we want to show them what an inclusive world looks like and that we can all be friends.â€ť
The DeMasisâ€™ longtime friendship with Burke came about through a chance encounter at a summer camp on Long Island, N.Y. DeMasi said he and his brother were about 16 years old, in 1969, when they heard about a camp for kids with disabilities looking for volunteers.
â€śI had never met a person with a disability,â€ť said DeMasi. â€śThey werenâ€™t in my world, and the first day when I was in a room with 90 people with disabilities, it was a little overwhelming, but the people that I met were so warm and accessible.â€ť
DeMasi said that in his time with the camp, he developed his music skills, even learning how to play guitar.
â€śIt was a number of years later when a big-smiled, rambunctious 13-year-old came into the camp: Chris Burke,â€ť he said. â€śChris always loved music and acting, and we just became friends.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve always wanted to be an entertainer just like Donny Osmond,â€ť Burke said. â€śTo be able to have a music career with the guys who taught me all about music is a dream come true.â€ť
Burkeâ€™s personal story is an example of acceptance and inclusion. When he was born with Down syndrome in 1965, doctors advised Burkeâ€™s parents to place him in an institution and get on with their lives. The Burkes not only ignored that advice but treated Chris the same as his older siblings, which has led to his remarkable life and talent.
DeMasi said the three had always wanted to start a childrenâ€™s group together, and Burke teamed up with the DeMasis right after he finished with â€śLife Goes Onâ€ť in the early nineties. Recently, the trio formed Creative Arts and Abilities, a nonprofit used to raise money for the show.
â€śSo just as what â€śLife Goes Onâ€ť did for regular television in the way that it opened up the eyes of America, we want to show what an inclusive world looks like,â€ť DeMasi said. â€śThis is what kids are going to run into when theyâ€™re out in the real world.â€ť
DeMasi, who co-writes all the songs for the show with Burke and his brother, said that he never thought he would be on a TV show having to act.
â€śBeing on TV was never part of my dream,â€ť he said. â€śWhen I was younger I always wanted to play music. But weâ€™re really good with little kids, so basically we play ourselves in the show. There isnâ€™t all that much acting involved, just being happy and friendly.â€ť
â€śForever Friends,â€ť which officially launched on Monday, is available to view on the web for free at www.foreverfriendsshow.org.
â€śI find that so many kids watch You Tube and shows on the computer now. Itâ€™s cross-pollinating. This is an opportunity for us to get our show and our message out to young kids.â€ť
The show is really unique, and something thatâ€™s needed,â€ť said DeMasi. â€śWe just want to educate the world about people who are differently abled. I think if kids see everyone, it becomes their norm and itâ€™s not a big deal. Thatâ€™s what the show is all about.â€ť