Access & Activism in Theatre—Samuel French & Playbill—Thurs, Sept 29, 2016—#IdentityWeek

Access & Activism in Theatre—Samuel French & Playbill—Thurs, Sept 29, 2016—#IdentityWeek


(no audio) Thanks to the Vineyard Theater
which we’re in right now. They’ve been so wonderful
and accommodating. (applause) And last but certainly not least,
our fabulous friends at Playbill, and Sarah Jane from Playbill
is here tonight. (applause) This is actually our third year
of four day panel events. For information on the past two years,
you can– and information on the rest of the week, you can go to playbill.com/identityweek There’s a lot of great information there,
including a whole companion series about this week in particular. And we have– tonight was written
about McCarter Theater and their relaxed performances,
which is a really fascinating story, so I would recommend you check it out. A few house keeping things
before we get started. Cell phones, silence them
but please do not turn them off, because we love live tweeting. I’m going to be sitting in the back
doing that myself. For live tweeting,
first very important, WiFi, if you need it, especially if you’re
in this lower half, you might need that. Yeah! VT2 is the network. And “veneered”, all lowercase
is the password that you should use. Use #identityweek obviously,
since it’s #identity week. But also tag us @MrSamuelFrench. And I’m proud to say
because of identity week, we are switching our handle next week
from Mr Samuel French to Samuel French NYC. So be on the look out for that.
(laughs) Also one final note,
because of tonight– and this is– we’re trying to do this
throughout the week, people tend to go up on that second level afterwards to talk to the panelists; we want to make an aim
to go out this way and to go into the lower lobby tonight. So if you’d like to chat
with the panelists or the audience members,
stick around there for a little bit before we have
to close up shop. And come back for tomorrow night. We have George Sivuyile, Larry Kramer,
Joy Gresham, Dr Sangay, a lot of fabulous people,
so join us tomorrow and have fun. Thank you, oh–
and I’d like to introduce our moderator, Diep Tran. She’s the associate editor
of American Theater Magazine, and she’s going to take it from here,
thank you! (applause) (Diep) Hi. I’m normally
on the journalistic side as an invisible writer,
so I’m never on stage. This is very new for me.
(laughter) So I’m very happy to be here,
I’m excited for the conversation, so let’s get started. Please bring out the panel. (applause) And for our audiences,
can each of you introduce yourself. – (Christine) Where do you want to start?
– (Diep) I’ll start with you, Christine. Hi I’m Christine Bruno,
and I’m an actor and disability advocate
at Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts. Hi I’m Laura Kirk, I’m the director
of Audience Services at Yale Repertory theater
in the School of Drama. Hi I’m Phil Dollman,
I’m a Playwright and also manager
of Accessibility Programs for the Theater Development Fund. And hello, I’m Alexandria Wales,
I’m an actor, choreographer, director, woman of many hats,
as well as advocate and activist. (laughs) (applause) (Diep) To start tonight’s discussion,
I wanted to first talk about onstage representation. In the past few seasons, we’ve seen quite a number of high profile
representation of characters with disabilities on stage on Broadway, such as Deaf West’s production,
of “Spring Awakening” and “A Curious Incident
of the Dog in the Night-time.” And so, have the four of you– has this increase
in these representations, has it been an anomaly,
in your experience? (panel laughs) (Alexandria) Well I think (signs),
it ebbs and flows; it comes and goes, I think that right now, I’m noticing
there’s more of social media which gives a more
consistent conversation, there’s more of a chatter, people are aware
and they’re intrigued by it. Whereas in the past,
we didn’t have twitter, we didn’t have Facebook
and so many extra ways of communicating that can reach a more broad audience
simultaneously. So one thing, I think that I’m also
representing Deaf West tonight. So from my experience, what I think is unique
about “Spring Awakening,” is that there were no deaf characters
per say in the show. It was about the concept of communication
and miscommunication. And the levels of interaction
amongst people. Deaf West firmly believes that you have a production
with the spoken language and the signed language
and they select actors who want to work together
and that then became what we experienced here
with “Spring Awakening.” (Christine) I would say that–
I’m just going to speak for a second about the two examples you gave,
are two very different exmaples because Deaf West Production
featured deaf actors and the first ever actor
who uses a wheelchair on Broadway. First ever! So for those of you who didn’t know that,
that’s like a huge thing. And then then the other example
that you gave “Curious Incident,” while that piece dealt with issues
of disability, that actor was not a disabled actor
which I think is of central importance to what we’re talking about tonight. And in the 2013/14 season on Broadway, there were actually
seven plays on broadway that featured characters with disabilities
and not one of them was played by an actor with a disability,
either as a principle or an understudy. So if you’re asking
to address your question about, “Is it an anomaly?” Right now, I would say yes. But I agree with Alexandria
that I think there’s a sea change coming, because I think that people,
because of technology, are voicing their opinions more
and their preferences more, and I think the industry
is listening. (Phil) I also think it stems
from the education system. So we’re seeing younger artists
with disability in mind, because they were exposed to it
growing up, in a way that artists 50 years ago
maybe weren’t. So individuals with disabilities
were in separate classrooms, now there’s a much more
inclusive environment in our many educational systems,
I won’t speak for all of them. So I know for myself growing up, I was around individuals
with disabilities all the time, And that led to me as a Playwright,
having them in my mind for characters. And then, what’s the next step is,
opening your mind one step further to see, “Oh, there are so many
tremendous actors with disabilities to play those roles.” So, it’s a movement. (Laura) Yeah and also,
with the educational aspect, there’s another generation
of creators and artists that are coming forward
and looking to Broadway to be inspired. And with more of this happening now, that’s going to become
a part of their work, as they move forward. (Diep) Christine you brought up
something really good, which I wanted to talk more about, which is the issue of a cripped face, which is the phenomenon
of a non-disabled actor playing a role of a character
with a disability. And so can you speak more
to why is it an issue for the community. (Christine) Sure. And so the term
cripped face is– it’s more widely used
than it ever has been before, and I think when people started using it, there was a little bit
of a hesitation to use it, because it is an “in your face” term. But we use it sort of,
analogous to black face, or yellow face or brown face so that’s why it’s cripped face. I think that it’s so important
because people with disabilities– we don’t, as actors with disabilities,
we so rarely get to play ourselves, let alone just the fabric of society, we so rarely get
to play disabled characters, which is why I brought up that statistics
of the seven shows on Broadway, because it’s amazing that there were
seven shows on Broadway, that featured characters
with disabilities prominently. But super disappointing
that none of those shows featured actors with disabilities. So because there’s that feeling
that we get the push back when we say we like the practice
of cripped face discontinued, we get pushed back. Well we’re just acting.
It’s acting. Isn’t that what acting is? That we inhabit characteristics
that are not our own. Well yes that’s true and that is acting. But the fact of the matter is that,
as disabled people, and as disabled performers,
there’s such a history of exclusion, that until that playing field is leveled; that excuse of, “It’s just acting”
doesn’t work. (Alexandria) Yes, I concur with that. As an artist, well,
there’s always the excuse, “That’s our job, we’re actors,
that’s what we’re supposed to do.” And I say yes, but you must realize
that when you get away with representing the disabled body– because it supersedes what I can,
quote-on-quote, get away with. People who look at me and go,
“Aha, she’s deaf and she has limitations.” So I’ve got an identity branded on me, but that’s not all who I am. I’m an actor because I’m interested
in sharing the human experience, sharing the stories that are out there, and when someone decides for me
what I can do, that push back is really intense. So it’s a challenge because I want
to be considered equivalently with my hearing colleagues out there. I want to be respected. And if I’m not viewed that way,
then I’m going to have a problem. I won’t be able to offer my art,
and the world will be at a loss because they haven’t met
the fantastic Alexandria, no. But I’m saying that it is an experience
that I can bring a different perspective, that otherwise, they would have
never had the opportunity of thinking that someone could have been
brought in, or Christine could be brought in
all she could bring, and people need to be open to it. I think that not just as performers
but as creative people in the room. I think that that’s something
that we’ve lacked. I go into an audition
and I scan the sea of faces, I look at who’s behind the table
and it bothers me a bit because there’s no one there
who really knows the experience of living in this world this way,
and that’s okay, I mean, it’s not okay if they’re
not allowing you to go for an audition, but it’s okay for them to make
the determination of whose there. It’s kind of funny. (Christine) I also think it’s indicative
of all the other communities that Samuel French has been,
that all these panels have been discussing this week. All of these issues
are probably for those of you who’ve been here more than just tonight, are hearing the same things
over and over and over again. Because we all deal– all of us
who deal with a history of exclusion, are dealing with people,
sort of appropriating our identities, and thinking that they know better
than we do, what the lived experience is that we have. Regardless of our race, our ethnicity,
our disability, and a lot of those things intersect
which we haven’t talked about either. (Diep) And winning awards for it too. (Christine) Yeah.
(laughs) (Diep) And so we were talking backstage
about what can be– what can Playwrights do,
what can directors do, to better or normalize a practice
of casting actors with disabilities in roles that don’t require
a character with a disability. And so Phil, you’re a Playwright,
what are your thoughts on just making this common. (Phil) Well I’ve got a great example. Christine and I interacted
earlier last fall, because we were leading up
to a reading of a play I wrote. We had a character with autism. When the woman who wanted
to produce the reading came to me and we talked about producing
this reading. The thing that I was adamant about was that that role be played
by an actor with autism. They didn’t necessarily need to be on that part of the spectrum
that I had written, but they needed to have lived
part of that experience. And luckily I had a very nice producer that was like, “Yeah absolutely,
how do we find them?” And we found Christine’s organization. But I think that’s where it starts. If the artist demand–
the art doesn’t move forward, if the Playwright says,
“No no, I own this. I’ve copy written this piece. It does not move forward if the actor
playing this role does not have this disability.” We have too many tremendous actors
out there with disabilities. I mean, and I know
I’m in a unique position, in that I’m surrounded in that world
so I’m a little bit more in tune to it than other people. But my feed is filled with Deaf West
or John McGinty is out killing the game in Hunchback out
on the West Coast right now. The first deaf hunchback. There’s just so many
actors with disabilities that the excuse– there’s really
no room for excuses. And I think if Playwrights,
and again this is Phil the Playwright, not Phil TDF. But if we stand there and say,
“No, this piece has to have an actor with disability for it to be honest.” Because isn’t that what all artists want? They want honest work. So if we start from there,
I think it can be pushed forward. (Christine) I’ll just say, in my role
as disability advocate, it’s sometimes hard to advocate for that
when the writer is not committed to that, or when the producer
is not committed to that. Because if somebody in that capacity, in that real capacity of leadership
and decision-making for that project, is not committed to casting
something authentically, it’s hard for individuals
like casting directors who are making leaps and bounds
in terms of authentic casting in wanting to fold actors
with disabilities into the regular rotation
of people that they see for disability specific
and non-disability specific roles. There’s only so much they can do. So it does have to come
from the Playwrights, from the producers, from the directors. And until they start demanding it,
it’s going to be incremental progress. (Diep) Or until there’s
more artistic directors such as the artistic director of Deaf West, who is committed to casting actors
with disabilities in classic roles that they would not otherwise be cast in. (Phil) And we have a theater
like that here in New York. New York Deaf Theaters is here as well. (Christine) And also TBTB. (Diep) Laura you work at Yale
and you were telling me about the training that you do
for students to help them become more aware
of these issues. Can you tell us more about that? (Laura) Sure, so it was started
by my predecessor, and we are trying to carry it forward
as best as we can. But it’s– each class of new students
that come in, they go through an orientation week. And a part of their orientation week
is meeting with all their instructors, but also we have
an accessibility awareness training. It’s about an hour and a half in length. And we have guests that come in
and speak to their experience. So we have guests– this past year
we’ve had two guest that were blind and they came in and spoke
about the different ways that they experienced theater going
and also just everyday life. And we also had someone,
an employee of Yale University who came in to speak,
who is deaf, and she related her experience as well. And it’s an incredibly powerful moment
for the students, and it really starts to get them
to see these people as people, and part of the art community
and part of their audience. And we speak about customer service,
we speak about facilities and the things that we’re trying to do
with out facilities to bring them up to standard. Yale’s a pretty old (laughs) university,
so the buildings are a challenge. But they do get this training
their first year and it is spread throughout their time. So as designers move froward
to design a set in a flexible space, they are also considering
the seating and how that is created and where is there room for everyone? (Christine) What about the stages? Are they considering that
in their design as well? (Laura) They are and…they are!
(laughs) I’d like to say that everybody is,
but I can’t speak to that just yet. (christine) But that intentionality,
is that part of the program or are you mostly focus
on audiences? (Laura) No it’s a part
of the conversation and our accessibility awareness training speaks a little bit more towards
the patron that is attending. And actually even students
and faculty members now that work with us, but then in the classroom, our hope
is that that conversation continues. And it has. It’s continued through
our Playwrighting program. Our Playwright wrote a role
specifically for a young actress that she had met. And so it is starting to see itself
in different areas in our program, which is exciting! (Diep) How can casting directors
and directors be better aware of when they are casting, to really open it up
to actors with disabilities and to look at their unconscious bias
about what a role entails. (Laura) Erm… (Christine) Sorry
I’m not a [novelist] (laughs). (Diep) (laughs) You’ll have
to go with opinions. (Christine) I’ll just say,
well it’s because throughout my work at The Inclusion in the Arts,
we’ve been working very closely with the diversity committee
of the Casting Society of America, on this very thing. And they came to us and said,
You know what, we need to do better. We as CSA need to do better, because we’re not seeing
talent with disabilities, with any regularity. We’re only bringing in people
that we might know because we know them
from some other capacity, or we might have seen Alexandria in a show so we’ll specifically bring in Alexandria. But we have no connection
to the community. So we need to do better. So over the past two years,
Inclusion in the Arts and CSA partnered, and we had a huge Townhall,
there was a hundred actors and 10 casting directors
and a lot of casting assistants which is super important
because those are going to be the casting directors of tomorrow, in the room asking questions
of each other, realizing that we as actors
have a lot of misconceptions about what casting directors do
and how much power they actually have. And they have a lot of misconceptions about what it is we do;
what it is we need, so that was a great
informational tool for them. And then we had an entire day
of workshops were the CSA devoted– they donated their time and saw
over 60 actors with disabilities in different disciplines. They auditioned workshops
and they put us on tape. And I’ll say personally and I know
in my role as disability advocate, I’ve gone in several times
for non-discripped roles and for disability specific roles
to several different casting directors and I think it’s a direct result
of their efforts. (Laura) Do you find that there’s
more representation now for artists with disabilities,
with agents and managers or…? – (Laura) Because they can really help
– (Christine) Yeah, (Laura) get you in the room– (Christine) And that was
part of the problem. That was part of the issue; was that most disabled actors
don’t have representation so they weren’t getting in the room. Because obviously casting directors
need to do these things quickly particularly for film and television. It’s so quick that they just go
to their top five agents and they call them and they say,
“Give me your five people that fit this.” And so we’re always left out of the mix. Now a few of us have representation. That, I think, is the next step. It’s to get the agents on board, and that’s a tough thing
because it’s their job right? So they want actors who are going
to work consistently that they can make money off of,
and so it’s a catch-22, because right now,
the industry is not allowing most actors with disabilities
to work on a consistent bases where it’s lucrative enough
for the agent to be willing to take us on. That was sort of a long winded
answer to your question (laughs). (Laura) Yeah. (Diep) I mean Phil,
when you’ve cased your shows, did you meet with any hesitancy
among casting directors and they had to tell you to go back? (Phil) I mean, we worked
just through the producer. So we didn’t work directly
with the casting director so I don’t have that experience. I will say that there was some hesitancy with the other folks
connected to the production, with the simple question of,
and it’s ignorance of, “Well if he has autism,
how’s he going to learn the role?” And I chuckle at it but then I realize you don’t have the same
life experience I have, you don’t have the same education I have, you don’t have friends with autism
like I have. So what seemed silly to me,
was actually a legitimate question. So it turned into an education session. And I think if you’re open to that and you’re not put off
by educating in the moment rather than getting angry
and getting fired up and realizing that it’s ignorance and ignorance can be removed
by education, then you can attack it
through that way. That’s not to say that everyone’s
going to turn around and be open to it, but in my experience, as a Playwright,
they have. (Alexandria) Yes and this is interesting
because when I go to an audition, I can sense a bit of resistance and I know that I’m not just here
to audition, I have to educate first before I can audition
and I only have three minutes to do it all!
(everybody laughs) And then I leave. So it’s very intense. So you have to choose your battles,
which one is it going to be? At a certain point I recognized
that I can’t do this and I need to educate or do I just audition
and hope for the best? And it’s sticky
because I’m thinking about CSA; I attended one of the workshops
and my experience was unique because I had a moment of clarity
and it was interesting that the casting people also
who gave this workshop had a similar experience. I was comfortable,
presenting my lines in ASL, I could do some speaking
and lip reading but I was trying to focus to comprehend on what was being spoken
by my partner. So the reader was looking at the script
and just speaking lines and I was already at a disadvantage
trying to lipread or fake what not understanding
on top of what was going on in the scene. And during the workshop,
I was on camera workshop and I asked if I could ask someone
in the room who already signed fluently if they could be the reader. And then my audition
was night and day difference. It was beyond what we would have thought
it would have been. And that’s when they saw the difference,
the comfort level, they saw more of who I am,
what I have to offer, as opposed to being very stilted
and desperately trying to lipread. Like it was a favor for them
and it was actually kind of painful the first time without
someone who was a fluent signer. So having people in the room,
then you think, “Are they open to the idea of me
coming in with my own reader? Having a reader in with me who’s comfortable
expressing in my language, that’s a step that I might have to take and see if they’re willing
to accept it or not.” And here we are together, we know that we need
to consistently educate. If we have the tools, we may even need
to bring our tools in with us too to help them get it, to recognize the difference
of what is potentially out there, if they actually see it. (Christine) And some people–
it’s an interesting conundrum because some actors are not comfortable
educating for themselves. So Alexandria and I happen
to be particularly comfortable because we wear a lot of hats and that’s just part of the fabric
of who we are. But some people,
some performers with disabilities, it’s difficult for them
because they don’t know whether they are allowed to ask questions, or whether they are allowed to ask
for a reasonable accommodation and so then that becomes a barrier to them doing the best work that they can do. And that can be hard and so I think
what the CSA is trying to do is a great thing because we’re trying
to come together and meet in the middle and realize that we all don’t
know everything; we both communities, have a lot to learn
about what the other community does. So that we are giving them what they want
and then they can cast us, and then that makes their job easier.
(laughs) (Diep) I just liked watching
Spring Awakening. It made me aware of just how much more–
the initial residencies when you put these kind of actors
in this kind of role, and to see what the human body can do
and what the voice can do. And so, what– I guess for those of us
who are not indoctrinated into this inclusive church, what is the value of being more inclusive and of putting these actors
into these roles that may not have a disability
enwrittened into the character? (Alexadria) Well I think
as an audience member, when I go to watch a show,
I rarely see somebody like me up there. So it’s simply that,
bringing more people who are alive, who are diverse,
who are like me on the stage so that I can connect to them
and say,”Yes, yes, I get it on there!” (Christine) I also think that audiences
are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. “We”, I’m talking as an industry. I think we put something in front of them,
they go, “Yes! Wow!” (claps) But this isn’t it, like the response
to Spring Awakening. By and large, the response was incredible. It may not have been anything
that 90% of the audience would ever have envisioned
but you put it in front of them. If it’s believable, and they care
about the story and the people, the audience will buy it. If it doesn’t ring true,
the audience won’t buy it. (Diep) Do you want to say something? (Phil) Nope, I’m just agreeing. (panel laughs) (Diep) So how do we better educate
to let casting directors and directors and artistic directors know that this isn’t a value taken away,
but a value added and it’s not going to be like a drain
on the resources. (Laura) I think that too often
people see something different as a risk. And they think that we just– it is taking time to turn
people’s thinking around to realize that it’s not a risk, we are just holding the mirror
up to the audience and reflecting what is in– the people that are in the audience again, should be the people
that are reflected on stage. It’s not a risk like you said,
they’re not– the audience will go along for the ride,
they want to. (Christine) Yeah. I think it is a risk in that, everything that we put
on the stage is a risk, right? – (Laura) (laughs) Of course.
– (Christine) It’s just, every time we set foot on this stage
is a risk of some kind. Whether it’s a financial risk,
a creative risk, you’re always risking that somebody
is going to say, “I don’t like that, and I don’t buy it and I’m not going
to spend money on it.” But I don’t think it’s anymore
of a risk than that. (Alexandria) And one of my mantras
and it’s kind of [dead] telling to what Christine says,
is “Changing fear to curiosity.” Because the fear is the risk. And instead if people are just saying,
“Oh, but what if we could?” It opens it up to an entire
new experience, a whole new world perspective;
just one little shift. And there’s so much potential out there. I also think that when we see
something on stage, we also have to think
about what’s backstage too. What about the lighting designer?
What’s going on? What’s happening backstage? The part of that experience as well–
because if we’re seeing that in our collective consciousness,
then it does feel more normal. And it does lead us on to produce
something on the stage, because the actors are the ones
who are being viewed but we are not even thinking about
what is not being seen, what is happening backstage as well. So we need to be mindful
of that area as well. (Christine) And I think that comes
from the theaters and organizations and educational institutions,
in particular, having an intentional
inclusionary impulse. From the top down. From boards and staff and administrative
and artists and designers and [writers], it has to come from every sector
of the industry. That’s the only way that I think
that substantive, long-lasting change is going to be able to be made, otherwise, I think what we see sometimes,
is there’s like– we’ll just take any theater for example. If the artistic director has
a particular experience of disability, whether they have disabled
family member or something, okay, so that’s a big
agenda item for them, it’s making sure disability
is represented at their theater when they are the artistic director, and then they leave and go somewhere else
and that whole initiative dies with them. And so what I think we’re trying to do
is making it sustainable through Playwrights, through directors,
through administrative staff, through boards, because if there’s
people at every level saying, “Hey wait a minute,
disability is part of diversity too,” because that’s the biggest thing
I think that we haven’t said, which is really obvious. Is that, disability gets left out of the conversation of diversity
all the time. We talk about race,
we talk about ethnicity, we talk about gender,
we talk about gender identity, we talk about sexuality,
and we don’t talk about disability, it’s like, “Oh yeah..” That’s an after thought. No, disability is a culture,
it is part of disability and actually is the only club
that anybody can join at anytime. So…sorry I din’t mean that
kind of silence! (laughter) (Diep) Well, thank you both
for the really great segway to the backstage part of the conversation. I mean, do you think that there’s
something within the way that we’re training artists, that we’re not making it conducive
to potential artists with disabilities? (Christine) That’s a great question.
Yes. (panel laughs) (Diep) Don’t be shy. (panel laughs) (Diep) There’s no wrong answers here. (Phil) Well I don’t know
that I can really speak to that. I neither have a disability
nor did I go through my artist training as a Playwright with anyone
that had a disability, which maybe speaks loudly– – (Christine) That does speak to it.
– (Phil) –to the thing, to the subject. I think that says a lot.
I don’t know… (Christine) I have an MFA. I’m one of the lucky few
that has an MFA in acting and directing from a conservatory program. And I also have a BA in acting. But most don’t. Because the access to training
is really, really difficult. Particularly with the professional
training programs in the country. But particularly, in my experience,
people with physical disabilities, immediately the onus is on us
to prove how we are going to be able to get through the rigorous
physical aspects of the program. I’ve interviewed with a couple of places, that were, “Well how are you going
to fulfill the movement requirement?” Well no, you are the educator
and you’re the head of this program so we’re supposed to be working– If you like what you see
and you see potential in me as an artist, then we’re supposed
to have that conversation together. I’m not supposed to be the one
to give you the answers on how to teach me. I’m coming to you and I’m going
to pay you this huge sum of money that I’m probably never
going to pay off, because I’m going to school
being an actor or a designer (laughter). So I’m looking to you for the answers. And so often, because nobody
has any answers, they look to us for the answers and I find that the more that we talk
about education and it is changing, I will say, from when I went
to graduate school. But I find it really interesting
that in an industry that supposedly embraces
openess and the creative spirit and innovation, when it comes to training,
they’re very rigid. Particularly when it comes to disability. Incredibly rigid. “No we have this and we’ve got
the movement program, and we’ve got the dance,
and we’ve got, you know, and you’re deaf and so that means
you would have to have an interpreter with you all the time.” We just, you know– the lack of expansive thinking
really gets me every time. And so if there’s one thing I would say
to feed this pipeline, it would be that. That the education system, particularly in the professional
training programs, of which there are many now
around the country, they need to be more open
and more inclusive, and realize that we have a lot to offer. (Alexandria) And I would like
to piggyback on that, if you don’t mind. I think well, from my experience,
my biggest challenge with education is continuing my professional
training as an artist. Look, I live here in New York, how many acting classes are there? it’s ridiculous. And every time I think of going
to a class and all of a sudden the issue of interpreters arise,
and who is going to pay the interpreters. So I’m already a starving artist, so where am I going to find the money
to pay for interpreters for my training. But I value the interpreters. They’re my colleagues,
they work hard as well. So it’s a constant balancing
of these questions. And I think it’s very important,
in training programs, especially at the collegiate level,
to think about having budget already planned for access. So that you don’t have to just
figure it out in the moment; have it there when it’s necessary. So instead of saying, forcing the person
with a disability to figure it out, then it becomes an inherent
barrier to access. So have it there before moving forward. And Christine mentioned about
being the only person in her program. I went to a program for dance
and then after I had a BFA with dance, I transitioned into becoming a performer. But I was the only deaf person
in my dance apartment. And the first year,
I tried it without an interpreter, because I thought it would
just be movement. And as we went along, I realized
there was more than just that. I had become accustomed to dancing
without an interpreter when I was young,
but there’s so much more, there was theory, pedagogy! And I was missing so much
without an interpreter. So for the remainder of my training,
I did have an interpreter. And it was adjustment for the experience. And I think that it also lets everyone
in the room be more aware. I never tried to hide
the fact that I was deaf, I was just present as a deaf person,
I was there and I wanted to become a better performer. I wasn’t trying to say,
“Look at me, I’m a person with difference,
I have the different card. I have the deaf card, right? I was just trying to do my job
and be a student. So it was an interesting experience
but I see that often with my peers, is that we need to have peers
who want to educate themselves, want to improve themselves. But the mindset of the educational
centers is the blocking for us. How are they going to provide solutions,
is a big question. (Christine) And also the assumption
by some educators, that we’re less than. That simply by the nature of the fact
that we have a disability, that we’re not as talented. And that does happen a lot. And it’s usually because
the non-disabled person doesn’t know how to deal
with whatever issue is happening and someone has affected speech,
then they just interpret that as a “Well they’re not going to work.
We don’t understand what they saying, therefor they’re less than.” Rather than recognizing that
as implicit bias, which is what it is. (Laura) And that should be a part
of their conversation when educators are being hired. I was going to ask before, do you think that more can be done
with recruitment so that programs that do have the ability
and do have the support– I work in a place that has
incredible support, not just in our school,
at this drama school, – but on the university level as well.
– (Christine) Yes. (Laura) So I’m really fortunate. But I’m sure there are other programs
that have the support and maybe they should be doing
more recruiting. (Christine) Absolutely.
Yeah. (Alexandria) Yes, definitely. (Christine) But that comes
from the top down as well, you have to convince–
in your specific situation (laughs), you have to convince
the head of the drama school that you should be matriculating
more of students with disability – into, you know…
– (Laura) Yeah. (Christine) And in every situation,
you have to start at the top. (Diep) For like artisans
and for backstage people, designers, do you think there’s something
within the way we structure the industry, with like 10 out of 12’s
and really vigorous hours than make it really not friendly
to people with certain disabilities or…? – (Christine) Yeah!
– (Laura) Yeah. And I don’t think that it’s with everybody
but for me, because I’m so used to it and I came up at a time prior to ADA’s so like I’m just used to doing what we do,
which is, we do the 10 out of 12 and we do the 15,
we rehearse for 10 hours and then you go and work
a third shift job. But some people can’t do that, and I think that’s part
of the reasonable accommodation, so I think that a person should
be judged on their skill set and then if you think
that person’s skill set is worthy of whatever
project you’re doing, then you go, “Okay, we’re hiring you,
how can we accommodate you?” (Phil) And I think that’s unique
to each individual person– (Christine) Yeah. (Phil) As Christine says,
so I think people can avoid painting disability
with broad strokes right? Just attack each individual
as an individual and approach the situation as such. So, some people can do 10 out of 12’s
and that’s great. There’re plenty of actors that can
hustle and do all that and their physical abilities allow that. Some can’t and you adjust,
given a situation, but you need to go into it,
individualizing the person, not painting with broad strokes
or preconceived notions. (Laura) Right. And they’re
already doing it. My daughter performed in a play
and she was not allowed to work past a certain time. And that was more because of her age
but they’re already doing it. So it’s not any different than that. (Christine) You bring up
a really interesting point because something that came up
at our Town Hall, and Alexandria might remember this was, there’s a big– particularly I think and please correct me
if I’m wrong Alexandria, that it’s really hard
on the deaf communities especially, because of the need for interpreters. There’s a lot of push back
about having interpreters for auditions and interpreters for rehearsals
and then because of the extra costs right? And so the interesting thing for us is that some of the deaf participants
in the room were saying this, that there’s a lot of push back and we need the interpreters there,
obviously, to do our best work. And one of the casting directors
had a light bulb moment, she said, “Wait a minute,”
she said, “I cast a lot of musicals, and we think nothing of hiring
a pianist for the day for auditions and the pianist plays for 90 seconds
then they sit around for 15 minutes until the next person comes in. And then they play for 90 seconds. And we think nothing
of shelling that money out, why don’t we have the same,
why don’t we afford the same to hiring interpreters.” And I think that was
a real light bulb moment for the CSA and also for the actors, yeah? (Alexandria) Yes, it was. (Diep) So back in January,
there’s this really interesting study from the New York cultural department, that said the diversity of people
who worked in New York City, in Arts not for profits, don’t match
the diversity of New York City. Something like 30% people of color
working in “not for profits” versus 60% in New York City. And there’s a part that said,
“We ask about disability, but the numbers are too small
that we didn’t include it in the study.” And so we’re talking about
how this shouldn’t be on stage, it should be in all areas of the theater. Is there some way to make
the hiring process for these positions more inclusive? (Christine) (laughs) I’m so sorry. On the department of cultural affairs,
I will say, is working on that. – (Diep) Yeah.
– (Christine) Because they recognize that is a huge problem. I mean, first of all, that survey
didn’t even say anything about disability at first
because they thought “Well there was no data
so we’ll just leave it out.” And then we all said, “Wait a minute.
The fact that there’s no data, you need to say there’s no data,
and then we need to address the issue.” And so I will say that
the Department of Cultural Affairs is actively working on that. (Phil) I think institutionally,
it starts again, ground floor. So internships. Who are you hiring for your internships? How do most people,
get into their organization or build up their resume
as they’re in College or Grad school. It’s internships. So it’s looking at a diverse hiring pool
at the start and then it expands, and then the folks, anybody entering,
is on an even playing field, so they all have the same resume, right? Then the disability
almost becomes irrelevant and you’re hiring the best person. (Christine) But it’s really important
to remember, particularly when you’re
talking about disability, and also I’m going to throw in
intersectionality here as well, particularly for internships because if you look at the national rate
of unemployment of non-disabled people, it’s 20%. The national rate of unemployment
for disabled people is 71%. So internships traditionally
are unpaid right? So who’s going to be able
to afford to do an unpaid internship, let’s be honest. It’s going to be
the non-disabled white kids, pretty much, right? And so I think when we think
about internships, we have to think about that as well. We have to make the internships
attractive in a way for all of these underrepresented
communities otherwise it’s going to be– if we just say,
“Here are these internships, and you have to have a BA,
and they don’t pay anything, You’re going to have to live
in New York for a year but we’re not going to pay you anything, like who’s going to apply for those?
(laughs) – (time watch person) You have 15 minutes.
– (Diep) Oh! (Diep) Do we want to open up to questions
or talk about audiences actually? (Phil) We’ll briefly touch on audiences. (Diep) Yes definitely! So Phil you’ve talked–
(panel laughs) you’ll continue yeah,
which has some great initiative in terms of, for audiences
on the spectrum and also for deaf audiences, and so can you talk a little bit
about those programs? (Phil) Yeah so TDF has
a wide variety of programs. We have our autism theater initiative
which has been the program that’s bringing
the most publicity recently, that presents four autism friendly
performances a year. These are complete house buyouts. The entire program is geared towards
families with autism. The tickets are sold to them
at a discount, so we take a loss, a hefty loss
on each performance, to bring the price down to at least 50% of what the Broadway price
would have been, to make it affordable for families
on the spectrum, or families affected by autism. In addition, we have captioned last year,
I believe it was 67 Broadway shows, open captioning, and that continues
to expand every year. Three years ago, it was 35
so it’s growing astronomically. We also have programs for,
we call it general tap. But it’s orchestra seating for folks
with mobility or vision or hearing loss, it seats you close to the stage,
but in the orchestra. And we’re really delving now into–
with the unfortunate demise of HAI, into audio description. That was thrown at us,
[if they closed] our phones lit up, – and they said, “You do this now?”
– (Christine) You do now! (Phil) We do now. And we’re really starting
to ease into that and to figure out what that world is. But there’s so much more to do. We’re always trying to launch
new programs. We have a program called,
“Access for Young Audiences,” that my colleague [Leah Diez]
is point person on, but was founded by my boss,
Lisa Carling. But it’s for students with hearing loss
and with vision loss, so it’s five Wednesday Matneys
of Broadway shows that are sign interpreted
and open captioned, and one performance
that is audio described. And we’re trying to evolve that
to the next level with a partnership
with New York Deaf Theater, where older students in the program,
can be mentored by deaf artists, and see that there’s a career path;
there’s potential for career through that. So we have a ton of programs
but they’re not perfect and we’re always trying
to make them better and evolve them. We just started doing school workshops
with our Autism Theater Initiative with the Lion King. We got to make some great masks with some great kids
with autism in Brooklyn. It was fantastic! And talk about the artistry
of puppetry and masks with them, which was great. That’s the elevator pitch
for TDF accessibility programs. (panel laughs) (Diep) No it’s great because
it goes into what we’re talking about at the beginning of this conversation
about these audiences are coming and they want to see people
who look like them on stage. It’s all connected!
(panel chuckles) (Phil) It is. And they need
to be able to experience it, right? So the show has to be accessible
in some way. Whether it’s captioning
or sign interpreting or audio description or whether there needs to be some
technical adjustments for autism friendly. And in New York, we’re trying
but I go to access conferences– I came back from the [inaudible]
Lead Conference this past summer, and man am I jealous of what my friends in Chicago get to do. And they touch tours on every corner
for patrons with vision loss. And in London, the relaxed
performance movement. Not four times a year,
but like four times a month! And I had a colleague, Roger [Adashi]
who’s at Temple University who’s really pushing the [inaudible]
friendly programming movement in a lot of ways. And he said this summer,
“Access is options.” It’s not– what often times,
access becomes is an event, but that’s not access. Access is having options
and we are striving and we’re pushing and technology is helping us get there, with the idea of on-request access,
like in the case of hand held captioning. We have the eye caption devices out there, I know there are a million people
trying to create an app to do on-demand captioning right now. And stuff as simple as TDF,
we just started providing box offices with autism friendly kits, as simple as a character guide
of the show, a couple of fidgets and some noise
cancelling headphones. So if a patron shows up
to a non-autism friendly performance, but has their right to come
to any performance, we have something there
that can support them, in some way. (Diep) And just one final question
about ADA compliance and I experience– Christine in particular
in your experience as an audience member,
how far are we from– institutions are from full compliance
in your experience? (Christine) I guess it depends
on where we’re talking about. I mean, any building that was built
before 1990, which sadly is the majority of theaters
in New York City, is not ADA compliant,
a lot of them are trying, but normally the seating
is sort of compliant and then the rest room
aren’t compliant. I think people’s intentions
are great. But I think what happens when we talk
about ADA compliance, and when we use the term “accessibility,” people think, they just stop at that,
at accessibility, at wheelchair accessible seating,
at infrared devices, at captioning and audio description,
and it goes so far beyond that. We should be talking
about the intention of inclusion, throughout everything. So on our stages, in our audiences,
and basic customer service. (Laura) Yeah and I was going to say,
a lot of times, it’s very reactionary. So instead of– and we have
brilliant designers, there are brilliant designers
outside of the theatrical world but also in the theatrical world, maybe someone can start thinking
about these old Broadway houses and coming up with an affordable
option to replace the seating (laughs). You know make something
so someone can choose wherever they’d like
to seat in the theater and they can get to those seats. I mean there’s got to be
someone with some ideas out there. (Phil) And credit where credit’s due. I know at least,
I think it was two years ago, the [Girsh] one folded in,
replacing their chairs, with expanding their wheelchair seating
and adding T-Coil for folks who have that ability
with their hearing aids. So there are some people thinking about it
which is great. (Christine) For sure. I would say though, and this is going
to seem like a stupid thing to say but know the law. I mean, at the very least, know the ADA. Not just the ADA from 1990,
but the ADA Amendments Act which changed in 2010
because it expanded accessibility particularly with respect with seating, and I can’t tell you
how many Broadway houses I’ve been to where they don’t know
that the law has changed. (Alexandria) I’d like to mention
two quick things. Related to the ADA, know the law,
keep up with it, but also, be transparent
on your website. (Christine) Yes! (Alexandria) Because for many people,
that’s an issue, if they don’t have good communication
how they can contact you, it has to be connected on the website
so we know what’s happening on the web, and maintain accurate accessibility
information there. Secondly, there’s a National
Association of the Deaf that soon will be releasing
a position statement about theater of 400 seats or more, and with the best practices
for providing improved access with sign language interpreting,
captioning and so forth. And I think that’s a very exciting event
that should be coming soon, so keep your eye out for that. (Diep) Great! We have seven minutes left
so let’s take some questions. Yes! [inaudible] (man in audience) This is a question
for Christine and Alexandria. I used to work
as a marketing director for years and we do ASL performances, and multiple managing directors
would see this and say to me, “It’s great because you have this built-in
audience to sell tickets to.” And it felt a little bit skiddy.
(panel laughs) So I’m just curious about interception
within the communities as representatives for those communities, what is the perception of theater like?
Is it just a thing of like– I’m just basically asking,
what is the actual bald faced opinion of how the theater is configured
for the respective groups, and you go back
to what is conversation like? (Christine) Erm– (man in audience) Don’t try and [cut]
it out, is it respected in general? When we’re dealing with patrons,
they were like, “Well, you should do this all the time.” Right, but that just doesn’t happen,
so is there a resentment there? (Diep) His question is, what’s the opinion among members
of the disability community with regards to theater
and how hard is it that they’re trying? – (Alexandria) Well…
– (Christine) Let Alexandria take this. (Alexandria) Yes.
(panel laughs) It’s a good question, a little loaded. I’ll try to get an answer that may not
fit the entire community perspective but I do know that often the information
of a show that has interpretation, is advertised by TDF
or whether it comes from hands on. We assume that every deaf person then
would have access to a computer and how are they getting information? is it just through your website alone? And also, how would the deaf people know
if they haven’t been contacted through their normal communication means. So contact is part of the issue. And when you mentioned
that it’s a built in audience, I don’t think that’s a negative,
I actually think it’s kind of a positive, like a non-profit theater needs
[inaudible] I think it’s great to be special and know that the theater is going
to keep me informed of what plays are going on. That’s just me of course,
I think it’s nice (laughs). (Christine) Yeah, I do think
there’s this perception particularly among when you’re
trying to attract deaf audiences, that if you just say, “Okay, we have two
ASL interpreted performances for each show,” or whatever right? That if you build it, they’ll come,
without any outreach. You have to do the outreach
to the community to say, “We want you there,
we’ve specifically designed these shows for you.” Because traditionally and again
Alexandria correct me if I’m wrong, but what we hear all the time
is like, we don’t go to things, “we” I mean, deaf
and hard of hearing patrons, we traditionally don’t go to things
because we assume that it’s not for us. Because nobody is reaching out to us. Unless somebody reaches out to us
and says, “Here’s this thing, and we want you there,
we’re welcoming you in our space,” they choose not to. (Laura) And even then,
it’s not a guarantee that someone will want to see the play
that’s being interpreted. (Christine) Yeah!
(panel laughs) (Alexandria) So true,
and also when we look at scheduling, that’s another factor. I’m a busy person,
I cannot be available for those two dates that you’re offering. Thank you for offering them,
but I may not necessarily be available and not everyone is able
to drop everything and just go to the dates
that are interpreted. It’s not always the case. (Christine) Yeah. (Diep) Yes. (woman in audience)
As an Arts administrator, where do you think is the best place
to find funding for accommodation
like being non-disabled and like going, “Okay I’m going
to find all these accommodations and I want to be as open
to the suggestions of our artists and our patrons as possible.” If you want to accommodate quickly
and right then and there, so that you open up what you’re doing
with everyone. So are we looking at government funding, are we looking at just pooling
our own resources together, [inaudible]
(laughter) You know, where do you guys
think is the best? Please start with [inaudible]. (Alexandria) Well, if I knew.
(panel laughs) (Diep) The question
is for Art administrators, where does the funding come from? Where’s the best place for it? (woman in audience) Just let me reiterate,
like where is the best place to start? (Diep) Yeah to start finding it. (Christine) Okay so I’m going
to throw a little bit of a wet blanket on this
because this is a big problem. We come up here, we say,
“You should be doing this” and the truth is, there is not a lot
of funding designated for people to make these changes. And sometimes they are huge structural
changes that need to be made, right? Because the NEA does not provide
funding for structural changes so I’m not going to lie to you,
I’m going to say– someone just asked me this question,
exactly this question yesterday and I’m going to say to you
what I said to her. That there’s not a lot
of funding out there for this kind of support. But there are things you can do now
that don’t cost a lot of money like you can make your website accessible. How many of you in this room know
whether your website is 508 compliant? You can make the accessibility tools
on your website, the signage and everything,
you can put all that information that Alexandria was talking about,
front and center on your website, so we don’t have to dig 17 pages in
to find out what you do offer. I think the biggest thing
is customer service. Which doesn’t cost anything. You can educate your front of house staff
and say when somebody calls, have the answer to the question. If somebody says, I’m blind
and I need assistance with a ticket, don’t say, “Hold on a minute,
I’ll find somebody for you to talk to.” Everybody at every level should know
exactly the person to go to, and if they don’t know the person,
they should say, “I’m going to find
that information for you.” Whether it’s referring them to TDF, or whether you have your in-house person. Everybody who enters that– (Phil) Listen, the Ticketmaster
has my phone number on their website, so does Telecharge,
feel free to put it on yours. No I think with that, there’s many
organizations that will do training, sensitivity training,
disability etiquette, things like that are mostly for free. And if you’re looking
for the audience perspective, Shameless [Plug] TDF has a national
open captioning initiative, where we pay for your first
two years of captioning, while you develop an audience. We also have the same thing
for autism friendly performances. (Christine) That’s awesome. (Phil) So if head to our website
and head to the accessibility section, you can find that.
(laughter) (Christine) And Inclusion in the Arts
does many patron services training, so we can come in and talk
to your front of house staff about the best way to deal
with the customers that are coming, whether or not
they have disabilities, it’s just good customer service. (Laura) And it needs to be on-going,
it can’t just be one conversation and then you feel like you’re finished. It needs to be an on-going conversation
that’s refreshed every few months, as often as it needs to be,
so people feel confident to serve all the patrons. (Diep) I don’t mean to ply
the place I work for, (panel laughs)
but I work for an organization called Theater Communications Group and we offer grants called,
Audience (R)Evolution, where you can actually apply
for initiatives like what you’re talking about. We just gave money to six theaters
to fund more autism friendly performances. Question? Yes. (woman 2 in audience) So I’ve got
a friend who used to live here in New York, and she’s got a group called,
“Performance Link for Able Imagination.” And she used to go out
into the communities, mostly children and teenagers
and some of those groups with Autism and Down’s syndrome. And so she used to work [inaudible]. Now she’s moved to the UK
and she tells me that the UK is just overall built generally
better for disabilities. Is that the case?
Is America behind? (Christine) Yes! (Phil) Well so the dynamic
is a little different. – (Diep) Oh I have to tell…
– (Phil) Sorry go ahead. (Diep) The question is,
is the UK better than America in terms of…
(laughter) (Phil) Listen, my British girlfriend
would agree. (panel laughs) The dynamic is different
in that most theater and arts in the UK receives government funding. So they are required to do certain things,
as opposed to the commercial aspects here. where the requirements
are a little bit different, and the government can’t really knock
on the door at me like, “Hey man, you got to do this!.” While over there, they can. (Christine) Yeah, it is a big difference. I’ll speak to my own experience
as an artist. I’ve worked more in the UK
than I have here, which I say that only
because that’s indicative of what we’ve been talking about. My skills are much more embraced
over there because of the culture. Because over there, they follow
the social model of disability which I won’t get into
but there’s a difference between the social model of disability
and the medical model of disability. Basically, in this country, we’re still
sort of following the medical model, which means that I have a problem,
and the onus is on me to fix it. In the UK, the onus is on the society
to make the society inclusive for everybody. And that’s really– I just threw
that out there and I know that’s like a huge
brain exploding concept. But that’s basically the difference. (Diep) Yes. (woman 3 in audience) I’m just curious,
you’ve talked about Autism and I’m curious as to, as an artist
with a mental illness, how you feel like mental illness and some of the more
invisible disabilities fit into the conversation. (Diep) How do invisible disabilities
fit into the conversation? (woman 3 in audience)
Such as mental illness. (Diep) Such as mental illness.
Yeah. (Phil) Well it’s removing
the preconceived notion that every disability is visible. That’s step one right? You know, we’ve been at autism
friendly performances and I’ve heard a volunteer say,
“Well, what are they doing here, they don’t look like they have autism?” And I pull them to the side and say,
“Let’s talk about that real quick.” (laughter) But you know, it is. It’s just understanding that you’re not
going to be able to see it upfront. Accommodations wise,
without prompting then though, I’m not going to have it ready unless it’s already part
of the institution, that it’s something there. But if it’s something beyond
what the institution already has, I mean you’re right, it’s the indicative
of the medical versus the social model. (Christine) Yeah. And unfortunately I think it’s still with people
with invisible disabilities, it’s kind of encombant upon
the person to speak up and say what they need. Which it shouldn’t be that way. And I don’t have the answer
but that’s sort of what we see, is that the onus is still
more on you than it should be. (woman 3 in audience) And speaking also from the accessibility
standpoint for artists, because someone who went through
an MFA program, and the sort of boot camp army model
of no sleep, red bull all the time, I feel like that’s present
in the Arts too, and it’s not very inclusive
of people who are trying to make an active effort to take care
of their mental health. (Diep) Are there any more questions? Fantastic! Yeah and thank you all for coming
and thank you to our wonderful panelists. (applause) And to our interpreters. (applause)

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