• Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

    by John Moore | Aug 31, 2016

    Regan Linton

    Denver’s acclaimed Phamaly Theatre Company, which exists to provide performance opportunities for actors with disabilities, is saying goodbye – and hello – to two of its most familiar faces.

    Artistic Director Bryce Alexander has resigned to assume the same position with the Naples (Fla.) Players. Regan Linton, who performed with Phamaly for six years before becoming a leading advocate for the inclusion of actors with disabilities in the national theatre, will run the company for at least the next year.

    “We’re largely on the same page and have a shared vision for the company, so I anticipate a smooth transition,” Linton said Tuesday from her home in Bozeman, Mont. "Bryce has started a lot of great initiatives, and I get to pick up where he left off.”

    Bryce Alexander It is believed that Linton, 34, will become the only Artistic Director in a wheelchair to be leading a major U.S. theatre company, according to the Theatre Communications Group.

    Phamaly has produced professional plays and musicals since 1989, cast entirely with performers who have physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. While the company now performs a full year-round season, including a statewide children’s tour, its primary offering each year is a Broadway musical staged each summer at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Next up: Peter Pan in the Stage Theatre in July 2017.

    “Having a person with a disability in a leadership role is an important statement for any theatre company to make,” Linton said. “This gives me an opportunity to engage with Phamaly’s vision in a more proactive way, and to engage with actors with disabilities in a new way.”

    Linton, a graduate of Denver East High School, was paralyzed in a 2002 car accident while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California. After graduation, she won Denver Post Ovation Awards for her work in Phamaly’s productions of Side Show and The Man of LaMancha. Since then, her many “firsts” have included becoming the first paralyzed student ever accepted into one of the nation’s top masters acting conservatory programs (the University of California at San Diego), and Linton was the first actor in a wheelchair to be hired into the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival's year-round repertory company.

    “Regan brings a national artistic presence as a renowned professional actress, but she also brings her hometown knowledge of the actors, the company and the community,” Alexander said of his successor. “Anytime a prominent artist returns home to her roots, that can be a very powerful tool for the company. I think Regan will be able to take Phamaly to the next level as a major regional theatre in America.”

    Alexander has been with Phamaly since 2007 and became the company’s first full-time Artistic Director just 18 months ago. He said he would not be leaving now if he didn’t have full confidence in the company’s current course. He said he leaves Phamaly with a solid presence in the local national theatre communities, and solid relationships with the respective disability communities.

    Under Alexander, Phamaly has instituted year-round season programming, doubled its staff to six, significantly increased its funding from both the local Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and the National Endowment for the Arts, and made an international goodwill tour to Japan. In addition to directing The Glass Menagerie, Cabaret, Taking Leave and Evita, Alexander counts among notable accomplishments the introduction and implementation of sensory friendly performances.

    “All of that is clear proof that Phamaly is only on the way up,” Alexander said. “As bittersweet as it is for me to say, it is time for Phamaly to take the next step with someone who is living everyday with a disability and is able to truly connect with both the the disability community and the professional theatre community.”

    Alexander worked tirelessly to eradicate any perception of his company as an “other,” preferring instead for Phamaly to be considered and compared by the same standards as any other Denver-area theatre company.

    “I’ll miss the people the most,” Alexander said, “especially the actors who sacrifice and love far beyond any standard degree. Who so excellently explore our craft. I will never forget the passion they’ve taught me.” 

    A Linton much-ado-aout-nothingIn the Naples Players, Alexander will lead a venerable, year-round community theatre founded in 1953 in southwestern Florida. It performs mostly family friendly plays and musicals such as the upcoming Coney Island Christmas, Outside Mullingar and My Fair Lady. Alexander said the company services many socioeconomic backgrounds, has a strong arts-education program and subsists largely on 50,000 volunteer hours per year.

    The move will represent a significant increase in scope for Alexander. The Naples Players operate on a $3 million annual operating budget, compared to Phamaly’s $850,000. He will have a full-time staff of 16 in Florida, while Phamaly has four. And while Phamaly performs before about 12,000 a year, the Naples Players draw about 60,000.

    “The model of the Naples Players is one that large, regional professional theatres will be looking at," said Alexander, "not only concerning how to engage their audiences on a significant level, but the community as well."

    Alexander graduated from Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora and earned his graduate degree in Theatre Performance from the University of Colorado-Boulder. He was trained under the wing of DCPA Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson, who hired Alexander as his Assistant Director for White Christmas in 2012 and Just Like Us in 2013. He worked summers at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
    “Bryce has raised the bar during his time with Phamaly Theatre Company," said Phamaly Executive Director Maureen Johnson Ediger. "His passion for including artists living with all disabilities, combined with his innate talent for nurturing thought-provoking theatre, made him a profound artistic leader for our company.”

    Alexander is married to local actor Katie Cross, who will be featured in the Avenue Theater's The Money Shot, opening Friday and running through Sept. 24. They will move to Florida in October.

    Linton’s interim position will be considered a part-time role while the executive staff defines  job roles moving into the future. That will allow Linton to continue her work as a national disability advocate, though she said there is a very good possibility that her role could transition into a full-time career change next year.

    “I'm thrilled, honored, and really excited to see how I can support the company to keep doing great things, but also move into new directions,” said Linton, who has recently acted with The Arson Theatre in Minneapolis and the Griot Theatre in Los Angeles. “I am still very passionate about performing and developing as an artist, so I am going to continue to perform when it is beneficial to the company as well."

    Ediger said Linton’s charge is to focus on actor development, season implementation and development, and to continue to build partnerships with the theatre and disability communities.

    “She is the ideal candidate to pick up the torch and seamlessly move the company forward with their mission to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre,” Ediger said. 

    Phamaly is not currently accepting applications for the permanent position. 

    Photos above: Regan Linton appearing in Phamaly's 'The Man of La Mancha,' Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 'Much Ado about Nothing,' and Phamaly's 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' Linton played a paralyzed Don Juan with Barret O'Brien in ' Much Ado,' - her understudy even had to learn to perform the role from a wheelchair. Photo by Jenny Graham.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Phamaly Theatre Company' 2016-17 season
    Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach (touring)
    Opening Oct. 21-22, 2016, at the Lakewood Cultural Center

    Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol
    Dec. 1-18, 2016
    At the King Center on the Auraria campus

    By George Bernard Shaw
    Feb. 23-March 12, 2017
    At the Aurora Fox

    Staged reading of Spirits of Another Sort
    in collaboration with New York's Apothetae Theatre
    May 6-7, 2017
    At the Lone Tree Arts Center

    Peter Pan
    July 13-Aug. 6, 2017
    Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex

    For further information, click here

    Selected previous coverage of Regan Linton and Phamaly:

    Phamaly will send wheelchairs flying in Peter Pan
    February 2015: Phamaly names Bryce Alexander to replace Steve Wilson
    Wilson resigns from Phamaly after 14 years
    Regan Linton works her magic in San Diego
    PBS podcast: Denver theater featuring disabled cast gains popularity
    Phamaly's historic goodwill tour to Japan
    Regan Linton: Performing for those who cannot
  • Japantastick No. 4: Overcoming barriers and finding commonality

    by John Moore | Mar 26, 2015
    Japan Workshop
    The first day of workshops. Photo by Barb Lepke Sims. 

    Note: This is Day 4 of our daily report from Japan, where members of Denver's handicapped Phamaly Theatre Company are participating in a 10-day goodwill trip that will culminate with a performance of "The Fantasticks":

    Today the members of Phamaly Theatre Company went from tourists to cultural ambassadors. It was the first of four days of workshops led by cast and crew of The Fantasticks for nearly 100 Japanese children and young adults, most of them with disabilities. They have traveled to Osaka from a geographical region that spans 733 square miles.

    “We were a little terrified that the language barriers would make it impossible,” said Jenna Bainbridge, who plays Luisa in The Fantasticks. “We had to interpret all speech through both Japanese-to-English interpreters and sign-language interpreters. Luckily for us, everyone was patient and helpful.”

    Those barriers, said actor Lyndsay Palmer (The Mute in The Fantasticks) are real, and they are many. They include the language, the culture, and a Japanese resistance to opening up and expressing feelings. “These people are very reserved and communicate more as a community than as individuals,” said Palmer.

    But the first day of work, Bainbridge said, was profound.

    The participants were split into groups. Bainbridge and actor David Wright were assigned six Japanese. Two had learning disabilities, and all but one had varying degrees of hearing loss. “One had no disability,” Bainbridge said, “but she wanted to be an actress.”

    These workshops are covering a wide variety of topics from mock auditions to acting workshops. At the end of the four days, the workshop participants will conduct their own original performance for Phamaly company members in which they will share their own personal stories.

    One woman who is completely deaf told the group she was bullied in school for using sign language, and the only way she could deal with it was by escaping into dance. Two other women then said they, too, had the same experience in school. “And then they all took a moment to dance together,” Bainbridge said.

    The bullied woman also said that she had never liked music as a child. “She couldn't understand it because she couldn't hear it, so she never understood how or why it moved people,” Bainbridge said. Then she saw the video for John Lennon's song, “Imagine.”

    “Suddenly she understood and appreciated music,” Bainbridge said. “Later in the day, she signed and danced the entire song for the group. I was moved to tears.”

    JAPAN WORKSHOP 800 1Lyndsay Palmer and castmate Robert Michael Sanders (Bellomy) were assigned a group of seven spanning in age from 12 to 27. They have a range of performing experience from none to college. Some had mild autism; others extreme autism. Some had disabilities; others had none. “Now add in the language barrier, and we had our work cut out for us today,” Sanders said.

    But Sanders and Palmer learned much, too. “We learned about ourselves and how we communicate,” he said. “As American actors, we relish having our own voice. The culture here tends toward one unified voice where no one tries to stand out, and there's always a reserved group dynamic.” 

    Palmer was sad to hear that many Japanese families don't know what to do with their disabled members beyond simply taking care of them. Some, she said, simply shut them away from the world.

    “There aren’t a lot of known facilities or access to help their disabled,” said Palmer, whose goal for the day was to help her students “understand and feel comfortable with themselves and to open up.” She hopes Phamaly’s example will give the Japanese students “a better perception of how disabled people can do anything and can achieve their dreams.”

    Her husband, Jeremy Palmer (El Gallo), was paired with Daniel Traylor (Matt) to help draw six very different people out of their shells.

    “It was an arduous task,” said Palmer, who credited the help of “a rock-star interpreter.” But seeing a pair of young strangers spontaneously break into a duet of "A Whole New World" from Aladdin – and then turn that into an improvised number complete with back-up dancers and a carpet/rolling table, he said, made it all worthwhile.

    “Thanks, ’90s-era Disney movies!” he said.

    Mark Dissette, who plays Hucklebee, found running his workshop to be tough, but not impossible.

    “The wheels on every show come off at least once, and ours came off at the end of today,” he said. “The people in our workshop are insanely focused, which is grand, and they accomplished so much in a short amount of time. But we learned how tough communication can be today.”

    Dissette took a moment to consider how far he and Phamaly have come since the theatre company’s humble beginnings in 1989 out of the controversial “Boettcher School for Crippled Children.” It was the first building in Colorado designed specifically for the education of the physically handicapped, and yes, they really called it that.

    “From Boettcher to Osaka my mind reels thinking about the shows, the stories, the people who are now gone, but whom I carry with me the journey that delivered us here,” Dissette said.

    Bainbridge was moved most by the story of a 9-year-old girl. “Her mother helped her explain that she had been diagnosed as autistic because she had trouble deciphering different sounds, and that her brain was ‘broken,’ ” Bainbridge said.

    “The mother said the girl was ‘broken’ because she was actually a boy and only thought she was a girl. The girl then told us that she wanted to be a singer because she saw a show once and loved the music and decided that would be the way that she would learn to express herself, but has been unable to start singing because of fear.

    By the time the day was over? “She volunteered to sing all by herself,” Bainbridge said.

    Jeremy Palmer later commented: “If I had a bucket list, writing a monologue for a little transgendered Japanese girl with autism to explain about her condition just might've made the Top 5. Check.”

    It was, in Bainbridge’s words, an incredible day. Sanders acknowledged there is  “much more work to do this week for the teams to come together and create a performance together."  But …

    “Challenge accepted.” 

    Pictured above: Music Director Mary Dailey works with a Japanese student.



    No. 1: Phamaly's 'massive moment' in Osaka begins
    No. 2: It's raining yen​
    No. 3: Boundaries created by war can be broken

    Phamaly to take The Fantasticks to Japan
    Phamaly picks Bryce Alexander as new artistic director
    Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson
    DCPA Access-Ability Video featuring Phamaly actors

    The 1,500-seat theatre in Osaka where Phamaly will perform 'The Fantasticks.' Photo by Barb Lepke Sims.
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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