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Disabled theater

I went to my first PHAMALy production Friday night.

PHAMALy is a Denver theater company in which all the actors are disabled. I had been vaguely aware of it for some years, but this spring I was actually invited to audition for their production of Guys and Dolls, and I seriously considered doing it for about 45 seconds. (Why didn’t I? Mostly because of the distance and the time commitment, but also because I’m not an actor, just a singer.)

Between that and the fact that I am going to be in a play (Quilters) this fall, I figured I’d get myself down to Denver to see the production. I was curious to see how the various disabilities and mobility devices would be incorporated into staging, blocking, etc.

There was no effort to hide wheelchair or canes, or to make them period appropriate in any way. Wheelchairs were occasionally “dressed up” to suggest taxis or market stalls or police cars. On the whole disabilities were ignored rather than worked in, with a few exceptions (a blind actor playing a gangster pulls open a paper called “The Daily Braille”). It was interesting that wheelchairs were used, but white canes were not – blind actors generally were paired with sighted actors while moving around on stage.

Quality was mixed. There were half a dozen really excellent actors. Much of bulk of the company performed at community theater level. The audience was very enthusiastic, and gave the production a standing ovation. PHAMALy press releases make it clear that the company wants to be considers as actors first and as disabled people second, but there is still a tinge of the dancing bear mentality.

Katja

4 Comments

  1. Lucy

    hi. your assessment of our talent in “guys and dolls” i agree with. i played adelaide and i’m hoping i was one of the half dozen actors whose work you enjoyed (but am not certain). i am impressed with your critique and i am going to forward it to the cast and production team. we need to improve — even though most actors only perform in this show and that’s only once a year. you’re welcome to audition for “the wiz” next spring.

    Reply
  2. Katja

    Lucy, thank you so much for leaving a comment. I was actually hesitant to do any sort of critique since I feel I’m pretty unqualified.

    You were one of the very professional actors, obviously. I should have added that I did really enjoy the production – a big added value for me was watching the synchronous and fluent movement of large groups of people with different abilities, so different from everyday life where a large number of the people I interact with feel the need to either give wheelchairs a very wide berth, as if the user were unqualified to operate her equipment, or to rush in and help. That kind of kinetic fluency is something I enjoy both watching and participating in.

    Reply
  3. Ruth Neubauer

    Please let me know where you are located, when your next performances are, and how we get tickets.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Katja (Post author)

    Ruth, this post is about PHAMALy. You will find their website, including information about performances and ticket sales, at http://www.phamaly.org/.

    Reply

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