This piece is one in a series on disability and theatre.
As with our special issue about trans and gender nonconforming theatre workers last fall, this package of stories about Deaf and disabled theatre workers was only possible thanks to a deep and intentional collaboration with TCG’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion department, whose director, Elena Chang, and associate, Sarah Machiko Haber, recruited an extraordinary advisory panel of leaders from the Deaf and disabled community. These five folks will be talking live about this issue—and, in another sense, about many issues facing the field—today, March 26, at 3 p.m. ET on American Theatre‘s Offscript on Facebook.
“I am truly honored to be on the panel for this month’s issue,” writes Ava X. Rigelhaupt (she/her/hers). “As an emerging writer, actress, and disabled/autistic advocate, I found myself learning so much from the leaders in theatre and diversity initiatives. I hope readers of this month’s issue learn how disability, race, and theatre are intertwined, and how being inclusive leads to more creativity in the room. Disability is part of diversity.”
Rigelhaupt graduated in the class of 2020 from Sarah Lawrence College. In 2017, she took a gap year from college to become a founding member of the neurodiverse company Spectrum Theatre Ensemble. She was also a neurodiverse intern with Trinity Repertory Company, helping to create their first sensory-friendly season. (Sensory-friendly performances are accessible to patrons on the autism spectrum or with post-traumatic stress who might have sensory sensitivities.) She was invited to speak on her first panel at the Theatre Communication Group’s National conference about being a neurodiverse artist.
In her senior year at Sarah Lawrence, she was the college’s Ruderman Family Foundation Inclusion Ambassador and worked with the theatre department to produce the school’s first sensory-friendly performance, as well as moderate a panel of industry professionals to discuss accessibility in entertainment. Currently, Ava is an entertainment and media communications fellow with the disability-centered nonprofit RespectAbility. As a fellow, she consults with Hollywood studios, such as Disney and Netflix, reading scripts and helping to ensure authentic disability portrayals in the stories that are told onscreen.
“After I was injured in the ’90s, I withdrew from acting because quality opportunities didn’t exist,” laments Brian Balcom (he/him). Now, he says, “I am thrilled to embrace today’s appetite for new stories and storytellers and advocate for the next generation of disabled artists.”
A disabled Asian American director based in Chicago, Balcom specializes in contemporary, muscular, relationship-driven plays. He enjoys working with playwrights and thinks that entertainment is underrated. He has commissioned and produced five world premieres and has helped develop work at the Playwrights Center, Victory Gardens Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, and the Kennedy Center. He currently serves as Access Project Coordinator at Victory Gardens, where he works to enhance access services for patrons and develop the next generation of disabled stories and artists. Brian has his BFA and MFA in directing, is an associate artist with the National New Play Network, was a Multicultural Fellow at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and was a recipient of a 3Arts residency at the University of Chicago’s Department of Disability and Human Development.
Claudia Alick is a performer, producer, writer, and inclusion expert. Alick has served as the founding artistic director of Smokin’ Word Productions, is a NY Neofuturist alum, and is on the Oakland Poetry Slam Team. She served as community producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she produced events such as the Green Show and the Daedalus Project, and produced/directed audioplays, including a Grammy-nominated Hamlet. She manages content with the Crew Revolution Black female leadership, serves as co-president of the board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, and is on the board of NW Arts Streaming Hub. She also collaborates with the Unsettling Dramaturgy (crip and Indigenous international digital colloquium) and HowlRound advisory council. Claudia serves as founding executive producer of the transmedia social justice company Calling Up, whose projects include Producing in Pandemic, the Every 28 Hours Play, We Charge Genocide TV, the Justice Quilt, co-artistic direction of the BUILD Convening, and Digital Design of the Festival of Masks, in addition to consulting and advising funders and companies around the country. She is producing performances of justice onstage, online, and in real life.
“I hope we emerge out of the pandemic with a renewed commitment not only to racial equity but also to the inclusion of Deaf and disabled artists at all levels of the industry,” said David Kurs, artistic director of Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles. “We must not let this vigor fade away when the mundane rhythms of our business fill up our days and it is incumbent upon us to keep the conversation going.”
Kurs became Deaf West’s leader in 2012, and has produced numerous award-winning plays and musicals, including Spring Awakening, which he shepherded in its beginnings as a 99-seat theatre production before it went on to Broadway and earned three Tony nominations. He combines his role at Deaf West with his frequent activism as a recognized thought leader within the Deaf community.
“Artists and aesthetics from the Deaf/disability community hold the potential for transforming contemporary theatre by adding texture, complexity, and innovation to the landscape as we build new post-pandemic approaches,” says actor and director Regan Linton. “I am excited that this issue gives the theatre community a jumping-off point for amplifying Deaf/disability representation, and discovering the ways that artists of many unconventional forms can reinvigorate our connection as flesh-and-blood humans.”
Linton, MSW, MFA, who hails originally from Denver, leads the city’s disability-affirmative Phamaly Theatre Company. As a paraplegic theatre professional, Linton is a nationally recognized advocate for inclusive practices in the arts. Professional acting credits include Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, Mixed Blood, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Pasadena Playhouse, the Apothetae, and Phamaly. Writing highlights include pieces for New Mobility Magazine, Theatre Forum, TCG Diversity Salons, and Chalk Rep (L.A.). Directing credits include Phamaly, Athena Project, and the Hollywood Fringe. Linton was honored with the 2020 Denver Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award, and the 2017 True West Award for Colorado Theatre Person of the Year. Linton has taught and presented in countless academic and community settings, and consistently works with national theatre, film, and television communities around engaging disabled artists.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!