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.