J.P. Illaramendi is an active member of the arts scene in the Washington DC area. A 38 year old with Down Syndrome, J.P. has been involved with theatrical productions since his teens and also serves on the board of directors of two arts groups, ArtStream, a Silver Spring, MD-based non-profit that brings creative experiences to people with disabilities, and Interplay Band, an inclusive musical organization that gives concerts at the well-known Strathmore Hall.
As a teenager J.P. began building his acting resume at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, MD where he took part in a special theatre program and proved to be a natural playing an assortment of parts over several years.
He then participated in three musicals over three years, first playing the apostle Matthew in Jesus Christ Superstar. The actor who played Jesus said that when Matthew came to say goodbye to Jesus, J.P. cried real tears during every performance. In Evita he played a drunk in a bar scene. Then he played a character with Down Syndrome in Looking for Roberto Clemente, where he got hold of a magic ball and hit a home run.
J.P. has also worked at the DC area's Round House Theatre and at Arena Stage. Those who have worked with him say J.P. clearly has a gift for performing and is totally free of stage fright.
Currently he is a member of one of ArtStream's Inclusive Theatre Companies and plays percussion with the Interplay Band.
His ArtStream director is Natalie Zanin. "J.P. takes improvisation to new levels," Zanin says. "He's creative on his feet and has the ability to fix a scene when it goes wrong. He has precise comic timing. Plus he has that rare gift of generosity among his fellow actors. He gives space to others and comes up with scenarios to help other actors show what they can do."
Zanin says, "J.P. comes up to me after ArtStream classes and says, 'what if we tried this?' He has great ideas for how to fix problems. He's a remarkable asset on stage, in acting classes and at ArtStream in general."
J.P. was one of two special-needs individuals to do a six-month internship that focused on theatre administration at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Following that experience he became a regular usher there two times a week. The ushering work is a paid position and he adds to it a weekly volunteer stint at the Kennedy Center's Education Department.
At age 16 J.P. became diabetic and it's now just another thing he manages with grace and his infectious smile. J.P. loves doing an imitation of the James Brown hit "I Feel Good"
and everyone around him feels the same way when he does it.