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 children’s musical show produced for web TV.
“The Forever Friends Show” stars DeMasi, his twin brother John, and Chris Burke, an actor with Down syndrome best known for his role as “Corky’ in the hit ABC-TV show “Life Goes On”.
“There are many children’s shows out there,” said DeMasi, “but there’s never been a children’s show with a main character with a disability.
“This 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,” DeMasi said. “Everyone has something to contribute.”
“Forever Friends” is targeted for ages three through seven and highlights music videos from Chris, Joe and John’s award-winning CDs, as well as a simple story line, a sign of the day and a feature called “Down Right Special,” 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.
“This is also a great way to continue the ground-breaking work that Chris achieved with “Life Goes On” in helping to educate the world about what people with so called disabilities can do,” John said.
“Today, typical kids will run into kids with challenges,” Burke said, “and we want to show them what an inclusive world looks like and that we can all be friends.”
The DeMasis’ 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.
“I had never met a person with a disability,” said DeMasi. “They weren’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.”
DeMasi said that in his time with the camp, he developed his music skills, even learning how to play guitar.
“It was a number of years later when a big-smiled, rambunctious 13-year-old came into the camp: Chris Burke,” he said. “Chris always loved music and acting, and we just became friends.”
“I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer just like Donny Osmond,” Burke said. “To be able to have a music career with the guys who taught me all about music is a dream come true.”
Burke’s personal story is an example of acceptance and inclusion. When he was born with Down syndrome in 1965, doctors advised Burke’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 children’s group together, and Burke teamed up with the DeMasis right after he finished with “Life Goes On” in the early nineties. Recently, the trio formed Creative Arts and Abilities, a nonprofit used to raise money for the show.
“So just as what “Life Goes On” 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,” DeMasi said. “This is what kids are going to run into when they’re out in the real world.”
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.
“Being on TV was never part of my dream,” he said. “When I was younger I always wanted to play music. But we’re really good with little kids, so basically we play ourselves in the show. There isn’t all that much acting involved, just being happy and friendly.”
“Forever Friends,” which officially launched on Monday, is available to view on the web for free at www.foreverfriendsshow.org .
“I find that so many kids watch You Tube and shows on the computer now. It’s cross-pollinating. This is an opportunity for us to get our show and our message out to young kids.”
The show is really unique, and something that’s needed,” said DeMasi. “We just want to educate the world about people who are differently abled. I think if kids see everyone, it becomes their norm and it’s not a big deal. That’s what the show is all about.”