Disabled Down Center, a benefit cabaret for working disabled artists, will take place June 27 at 7 PM at Green Room 42 in Manhattan. Presented by Playbill, the event was conceived by producer and performer Brennan Srisirikul to give disabled performers the opportunity to sing their favorite show tunes from roles for which they were never considered but should have been.
Below, Srisirikul discusses the genesis of Disabled Down Center, the importance of representation, and the performance he’s most looking forward to.
How did Disabled Down Center come to be?
Srisirikul: I have loved the theatre ever since August 23, 1998 when I saw The Lion King on Broadway. The truth is, even though I have no one else in my family in show business, it still runs in my veins somehow. Honestly, the idea for Disabled Down Center came to me like a bolt of lightning. I was just sitting in my room when it just came to me. I always need to be creative. I was just coming off of producing and acting in a couple of short films and wanted to do something that was live performance. I’m so glad I came up with this which also showcases my community at the same time. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Jerry Mitchell and Broadway Bares. I’ve been lucky enough to talk with Jerry through this process and I have to tell you this event, like Jerry says, is full out!
Once I got the venue secured, I started assembling my team of producing partners and creative team. I have known Danielle Pretsfelder Demchick for years and she is a dear friend, but I hadn’t known Aaron Glick before this. I’m so happy to have gotten him on board. He has been an incredible friend, teammate, and mentor to me. I also knew that I wanted the theatre industry to get involved, so I reached out to Phil Birsh, the CEO of Playbill, and we had a meeting. It was Phil’s idea to make the tickets free of charge. I’m so grateful for Playbill‘s involvement and investment. I am honored beyond words to have Playbill as our presenting sponsor.
I know I’ve used the word grateful so many times. But honestly that’s the truth. I’m just grateful for all of the support.
Tell us more about host Pavar Snipe.
Pavar is an amazing Black, disabled comedian. Pavar and I share the same agents at KMR. When I approached our agents Gail Williamson and Katie McGrath with my producing partners seeing if they could pitch a host with a big personality, the first person they recommended was Pavar. I tell you, they found us the perfect person for the job. Not only is Pavar wickedly funny, she’s also such a team player, which I really appreciate. I see big things for Pavar in the future. I’m excited to be a small part in her journey!
How did you assemble this impressive cast?
I’ve been in this industry for a long time. Because of that, there were certain people I knew I wanted involved. One example is Fred Scheff, who was my college voice teacher. When I was in college, Fred was just starting his disability journey. Fred was the first person I called and said, “You’re doing this. I’m not really giving you a choice.” Other than that, I collaborated with my producing partner, Danielle, who is a casting director. Danielle is actively involved in advocacy and disability inclusion with the Casting Society of America. However, my favorite casting story is when I cast Ethan Mathias. Ethan DM’d me on Instagram asking to perform after hearing about the event online. I love that he took the opportunity to advocate for himself. That meant a lot to me. I also recruited Jelani Remy and Aisha Jackson to voice for our two Deaf actors, Dickie and Treshelle respectively. I’m so grateful to Aisha and Jelani for sharing their talents.
I am also proud to say that I've chosen all of the repertoire for the evening. That was probably my favorite part of the casting process. I'm such a musical theatre nerd! Through our casting process, I was very conscious about assembling a cast that was diverse within disability. The aim was to compose our cast of people of all ages, disabilities, and racial backgrounds. I’m proud to say more than half our company are BIPOC actors. As an Asian American artist, it is so special to me to have cast so many BIPOC actors.
But while we’re talking about our impressive cast, I’d be remiss not to mention our impressive creative team that I also assembled. We have Lila Kane, who is our music director. I have known Lila since college like Fred. She was our staff accompanist at school and a professor of mine. Like Fred, she has always believed in me and has been forward thinking about me as an artist. She has been an incredible mentor and ally ever since I was 18, and now I’m almost 31. She is the best music director I think I’ll ever work with. I’m so thrilled for her to be involved! She is one of my people.
Then we have our incredible director, David Alpert, who came to me from my producing partner Aaron Glick. David is absolutely incredible. It was very important to me to have people who aren’t disabled involved as well because inclusion is about everyone learning and growing together. I hope that really comes across to our audience.
What are your goals for this event?
We have several goals with this event. We want tonshowcase the talent in the disabled community and help our company members gain exposure in this industry. Everyone knows exposure is key to success in any industry. In addition, any remaining funds or money raised will go to creating a training program of free master classes and workshops for performers and artist with disabilities. Honestly being disabled in this country comes at a financial cost, and quality training is really expensive. I want to provide access to top tier training for my community free of charge.
What performances are you most looking forward to and why?
As much as I love our adult company members, I have to say, I am most looking forward to the performances by the youngest members our company. I’d like to take a second to talk about them. We have four young performers in our company. They range from 10 to 16 years old. Their names are Sebastian Ortiz, Ethan Mathias, Nicolas Vivar, and Jonathan Lengel. They are the most talented young people I have ever met—hands down. They are probably sick of me saying it, but they are absolutely incredible. I’ve been to all of their rehearsals over Zoom, and I just spent the whole time in awe of them. They make me so proud. Seriously, I could not be prouder of each of them—their maturity and level of artistry that they bring to the table blows my mind. The audience is in for a real treat from those four. Throughout this process, I have really bonded with the four of them and their families. They are really special people too, who come from very supportive families. You will find me in the back of the Green Room 42 Monday night… crying—that’s how amazing they are. Their talents are so incredibly special, it brings me to tears.