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The Drama Desk Presents: "Expanding the Discourse: Is the Landscape of Theater Changing for Artists with Disabilities?”
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The Drama Desk Presents: "Expanding the Discourse: Is the Landscape of Theater Changing for Artists with Disabilities?”

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The Drama Desk
Charles Wright, President

A Panel
“Expanding the Discourse: Is the Landscape of
Theater Changing for Artists with Disabilities?”

Ripley-Grier Studios
520 Eighth Avenue, Studio 17E
NY, NY 10018

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 12, 2018

Katy Sullivan: Moderator, Actor, Paralympic US record holder
Christine Bruno: Actor, Writer, Director, Disability advocate
Shannon DeVido: Actor, Comedian, Singer, Writer
Stephanie Gould: Actor, Writer, Improviser
John Christopher Jones: Actor, Translator, Playwright
Gregg Mozgala: Actor, Artistic Dir., The Apothetae Theater Co.
Jamie Sanders: Actor, Writer
Ali Stroker: Actor, Singer, Advocate

I am so proud of The Drama Desk for organizing and presenting this highly educational and inspirational Panel discussion, “Expanding the Discourse: Is the Landscape of
Theater Changing for Artists with Disabilities?” The Panel of New York and regional theater professionals, with seen and unseen muscular or neurological challenges, mentioned at one point that this was the first time they had met to talk about this general topic, as it impacts their auditions and casting choices. Katy Sullivan, an award-winning Paralympic athlete, was an exceptionally dynamic Moderator. My notes did not always mention the speaker, as my seat did not have a clear view of some of the name cards. However, the impressively articulated comments were clearly absorbed. The interaction between the actors/directors/singers/writers was fascinating, as was each panel speaker’s responses to audience questions.

The Panelists mentioned their constant navigation of road blocks, like a role that might require running or climbing, like persuading a dance teacher to teach dance to a dance enthusiast in a wheelchair, like analyzing obstacles while making day to day career decisions, like taking a role that requires smoking, when the actor cannot light the match quickly, like the onset of a disability, when acting in one’s prime, like attitudinal barriers of producers and casting directors, like self-concept when one declines a role that is too challenging to overcome, like developing techniques in humor to offset difficult situations, like directors not choosing an actor, even with an invisible disability, for fear of an injury in rehearsal or in live performance, like if one’s acting talent is enough to overcome prejudicial directorial choices, like the fear of a news review that mentions one’s disability as part of one’s theatrical identity, and the fear of a review framing that disability in a patronizing or insulting way, and like using one’s imagination to enact the characterization of one whose life experience in no way resembles the specific challenge that the actor is constantly aware of. The daily dilemma that each panelist faces, to disclose or not to disclose any level of discomfort or strain within the work of theater, was palpable in tonight’s illuminating discussion.

Kudos to the Moderator and each of the Panelists, and kudos to The Drama Desk for creating this extraordinary opportunity for the Panel and Drama Desk members, as well.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at