Phamaly Theatre Company’ is set to kick off its 2018 season with a show that seems perfect for organization meant to break stereotypes and give those who have been overlooked their chance to shine.
The theater new season will start with the classic musical “Into the Woods,” which turns classic fairy tales on their head and presents the well trodden stories in a new light. The production will start previews Thursday and Friday night with the big premiere Saturday, July 14.
Phamaly has been putting those with disabilities front and center since 1989 when it was founded in Denver. And since Phamaly exclusively casts actors with disabilities, putting on a production of a show that focuses on destroying preconceived notions seems like a perfect fit, said director Christy Montour-Larson.
“Into the Woods” by Phamaly Theatre Company at The Space Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1400 Curtis Street, Denver.
7:30 p.m. Thur.-Sat. 2 p.m. Sun. Playing July 12 through Aug. 5 with special performances with ASL interpreters and audio descriptions. For more information, visit www.phamaly.org/into-the-woods.
“(Into the Woods) invites audiences in and to look at these fairytales in a new way. And with this production, we’re asking audiences to look at it through the lens of actors with disabilities,” Montour-Larson said. “So many of the characters in the show aren’t what they seem despite our instincts and desire to instantly characterize the Big Bad Wolf or the Wicked Witch or the beautiful princess. But when we accept each other and acknowledge each others strengths and accept each other’s faults and consider what everyone is capable of, only then we can combat together the metaphorical giant that confront all of us.”
Giving the audience a chance to see through the lens of those with disabilities goes beyond just casting. The story of “Into the Woods” is driven by the narrator. As part of this production, Montour-Larson cast an actor for that role who is deaf. The narrator will be signing his lines. Those lines will be interpreted by a children’s chorus for the hearing audience.
Those who are deaf often must rely on interpreters to be connected to the spoken word, but by reversing that in this instance, Montour-Larson said audiences see the play through a lens that they never experience.
The raison d’etre for Phamaly was to give actors and performers with disabilities a chance that too often they are denied in other theater settings. And since its inception, the theater has allowed actors with a passion and talent, but without an outlet, a chance to show audiences they not only should be given a chance, they deserve that chance to be center stage.
“The thing with having a disability, you know you have it. But with Phamaly, you can actually tell everybody what your disability is but still be a part of this,” said Philip Lomeo, a four-year veteran of Phamaly with Asperger’s Syndrome. “When people come to see “Into the Woods,” I expect them to be wowed and awed and entertained.”
There can be a tendency when people think about a theater that exclusively cast those with visible or invisible disabilities that the shows will be subpar, or that attending a show will be an act of charity, members of the company say.
Kirsten Lang, an Aurora resident in her third season with Phamaly who’s playing Little Red Riding Hood, said she doesn’t just want to show why those stereotypes are wrong. She also wants audiences to take the time to ask why that idea was present in the first place.
“What I would hope from people who watch the show is not to just shy away from those preconceptions they had coming in, but to leave the theater able to evaluate those preconceptions,” said Lang, who lives with fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression. “Being able to go why did I think a theater company full of people who use wheelchairs was going to do it worse than a different theater company. Why did I think because they’re blind actors there’d be physical problems on stage. And continue to think about that as they go through their lives.”
Along with opening up the theater world to those with disabilities, Phamaly is also dedicated this season to opening up the theater experience to those with financial hardships. While regular priced tickets are $29, Phamaly is setting aside 20 tickets for each show and releasing them two hours before the performance for $1 each with limit of two tickets for each buyer.