How Will Theatre Deal With “Invisible” Disabilities?

BroadwayCon   How Will Theatre Deal With “Invisible” Disabilities?
 
This was one of several questions answered at BroadwayCon’s conversation on Theatre Accessibilty.
Smolin makes the pre-show announcement at <i>The Phantom of the Opera</i>.
Smolin makes the pre-show announcement at The Phantom of the Opera. Courtesy TDF

BroadwayCon’s second annual disability panel included Lisa Carling (director of TDF Accessibility Programs), Richard Denney (theater manager of the Public Theater), JW Guido (artistic director for the New York Deaf Theatre), Harry Smolin (TDF consultant), Christina Trivigno (associate director of Digital Strategy at TDF), and Kyle Wright (senior interactive marketing and analytics manager at The Shubert Organization). Panel members discussed new developments in making theatre accessible to those who are differently-abled, and asked members of the community what further accommodations they would like to see made.

“It’s less about accessibility and more about opportunity,” said JW Guido, artistic director for the New York Deaf Theatre, at BroadwayCon’s panel on Theatre Accessibility. “If there’s less accessibility, there’s less opportunity and then there’s less diversity and, consequently, less love in the theatre.” Guido believes American Sign Language (ASL)-interpreted performances can be beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether or not they are hearing. Richard Denney, theater manager of the Public Theater, agreed. “I actually go to the open-captioned performances of Shakespeare in the Park—and I work for the company! I feel like they help me understand it better.”

Audience members were interested to know what steps theatre owners are taking to address theatregoers who live with “invisible” disabilities, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and anxiety. One audience member was interested to know if theatres would be able to provide trigger warnings prior to performances that would address sensitive subject matter and utilize more stimulating technical effects, such as loud noises and flashing lights.

Harry Smolin, who works to help make Broadway productions autism-friendly, expressed that, as a person with autism, he is helped most when he is aware of a show’s plot before attending a performance. Kyle Wright of the Shubert Organization added that he is currently working on a project that would add audience services booths inside of theatres for theatregoers who may have questions about the shows they are seeing. The project would also provide information online so that audience members can have as much information as possible before even stepping into a theatre.

“It’s mainly a combination,” said Denney. “The more you share—within your comfort level—with a theatre organization, before you arrive, then we can do work to accommodate you. We are in the business of service, so sharing with us your needs allows us to take the time to prepare and really accommodate you to make sure that your theatre experience is the best that it can be.”

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