Robin Bennett
October 17, 2015

It seems that Broadway, the Godfather of all things theater throughout the country, has caught the wave that organizations like 4th Wall have been riding all along; theater is a powerful force in the lives and experiences of people with disabilities.  Also, the excitement of people with disabilities being represented on this Main Stage is helping to prove that theater should shine its light on, and for, people of ALL abilities.

img_0152Lights Up for Audiences on the Spectrum

Through the innovative work of several nonprofits, attention is rising on the importance of accessing theater for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities.


  • img_0151The nonprofit Trusty Sidekick, which is a theater company for young audiences in NYC, has designed a show called “Up and Away” specifically for small audiences of young people with autism. This creative production involves one-on-one actor accompaniment for the child, as well as soft light cues, attention to the child’s special needs/limitations, and encouraging storyline. The children are given free use of the performance space to get up and move during the show, if needed, and a spot outside the theater to take a break.
  • The Theater Development Fund, another NYC nonprofit, focuses on providing accessibility to Broadway productions to individuals with disabilities. In fact, the organization offers members of its TAP Accessibility Program assistance in enjoying NYC theater by providing accessible seating to those using wheelchairs, appropriate seating for those with low vision, audio descriptions at select performances for individuals who are blind, and captioning or ASL interpretation at select performances for members with hearing challenges.
  • TDF launched their Autism Theater Initiative (ATI) in 2011 to increase options and involvement to theater goers of all ages ages with Autism. ATI has collaborated with Broadway musicals to adapt and provide a safe space to experience the magic of theater. Currently, ATI has two adapted performances scheduled for the musicals “Wicked” and “Aladdin” in the winter/spring of 2016.

Read more about these two nonprofits’ efforts to create a welcoming space for theater goers with Autism in the NY Times article here.

  • The nonprofit giant Autism Speaks has taken the idea of autism-friendly Broadway shows beyond NYC, collaborating with Broadway in Boston to bring the magic of this new theater experience to Boston this October. 4th Wall crosses our fingers in hopes of seeing these unique shows come to Detroit!

Disabilities on the NYC Main Stage

Exciting, history-making, and altogether entertaining news from the Broadway stage is here! Last month, a production of the Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening” began its run on Broadway with actors who are deaf headlining and an emphasis on the communication barrier of the disability at the center of the story. Even though this is “WOO-HOO!” worthy, don’t celebrate yet, there is more…for the first time ever, an actor in a wheelchair, Ali Stoker, has been cast in a main part in this Broadway production. Alright, now we can celebrate with confetti, balloons, and a cake that reads, “It’s about time!!”

  • The Broadway revival, presented in collaboration with Deaf West Theater troupe, uses several creative adaptations to communicate with the actors who are deaf; certain light changes and onstage actions, such as opening a letter, are used as cues to let an actor know when exactly to perform an action to coincide with the accompanying music. Did I not mention this is a musical? Did I include that there is, in fact, singing and dancing? These actors show that disabilities don’t steal from abilities and talents. The focus in this show is on the signing, not the singing of the actors. American Sign Language is used by the actors who are deaf while their characters are given voice by another actor or musician offstage.
  • While actor Ali Stoker is among one of the musical’s hearing actors, she must adapt to the physical nature of the show from her wheelchair. Her creativity and fearlessness have helped her in dance numbers, such as flipping a wheelie when the cast is required to jump along with the beat of a song.

Read more about this exciting new Broadway production here.

Read more about Ali Stoker and her fight to be included as a person with a disability in professional theater here.

And, it is far from past due that people with disabilities be represented and accommodated as valued members of the acting and theater-going populations! That being said, 4th Wall joins the celebration of people/children with disabilities being integrated into the audience and casts of The Main Stage.