Photos: Backstage for Phamaly's remarkable opening-night ritual, 'Zap!'

Photos from before and after Phamaly Theatre Company’s July 16 opening of “Cabaret” at the DCPA’s Space Theatre. To download any photo above, click on “View original Flickr image.” Photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter. 

In the minutes before the opening performance of Phamaly Theatre Company’s Cabaret, actor and founding company member Mark Dissette gathers the cast of 30 actors, each with widely varying disabilities, along with crew and volunteers, for one of the most electrifying pre-show rituals in the local theatre community.

They form a circle. Those who can stand, stand. Those who cannot roll up in their wheelchairs. Those who can clasp hands, claps hands. Those with missing or disfigured hands make contact with their neighbors as best they can. They all close their eyes in reverence as Dissette calls out from memory the agonizingly long list of company members who have passed away during the 26 years that this unique company has been creating performance opportunities for actors with disabilities.

Dabiel Traylor, who plays one of the 'Cabaret' Emcees, just before the opening performance. Photo by John Moore. Dissette then begins the ritual they call “Zap.” As if there weren’t enough energy in the air already, the group begins to buzz. Literally. “This is our dream – get a little louder,” Dissette orders. And they do. “Bzzz.” “This is our vision – get a little louder.” And they do. “BZZZ.” After more exhortation, the vibration builds to a deafening climax.

“1-2-3 …” Dissette shouts, and all voices scream in unison, “ZAP!”

Now there is nothing but sudden, solemn silence. The next spoken word is not to be uttered until the actors hit the stage. For a company whose actors are blind and deaf, with disabilities ranging from stroke to spina bifida to multiple sclerosis to AIDS, it is both the beginning and the culmination of an extraordinary journey.

(Photo: Daniel Traylor, who plays one of the ‘Cabaret’ Emcees, just before the opening performance. Photo by John Moore.)

Cabaret, directed by newly named Artistic Director Bryce Alexander, is inherently different from any Cabaret you may have seen before. (Although there are multiple versions of the Cabaret script out there, Phamaly is performing the version starring Alan Cumming on Broadway in 1998, which is the most sexually explicit.) 

Consistent with the Phamaly philosophy, the actors’ handicaps are not hidden but rather adapted into the roles they play. So Sally Bowles (Lyndsay Palmer) happens to be hard of hearing. Fraulein Schneider (Lucy Roucis) has advanced Parkinson’s disease.

Perhaps Alexander’s most daring creative departure is casting two actors to play the iconic Emcee at once. Longtime company member Daniel Traylor, who has Sensoral Neural Hearing Loss (among other issues), shares the role with newcomer Garrett Zuercher, who appeared as Huck Finn in Deaf West’s Broadway production of Big River.

Rather than trade performances, the two share the same stage as “M” and “C,” respectively, a couple who run the show at a Kit Kat Klub – which in this world primarily services a disabled clientele in pre-World War II Germany. Traylor speaks the Emcee’s lines because he can, while Zuercher communicates with the audience, and his fellow actors, in multiple non-verbal ways.

The creative intent of all this is to make plain to the audience that Holocaust victims also included artists, homosexuals, the disabled and many others.

Before the opening performance, Phamaly hosted its annual fundraising gala, at which the company’s 2015-16 season was announced. The lineup includes the presentation of Nagle Jackson’s Taking Leave at the Jones Theatre. Because the DCPA’s Space Theatre will be undergoing a renovation next summer, Phamaly’s presentation of Evita will move to the University of Denver’s Newman Center.

Phamaly now operates year-round, so this is the first season announcement that will allow audiences the opportunity to purchase a season ticket. (Call 303-365-0005, ext. 3). The lineup:

Baby with the Bathwater
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Warren Sherrill
Oct. 9-25 at the Avenue Theater

Fuddy Meers
By David Lyndsay-Abaire
Directed by the DCPA’s Emily Tarquin
Jan. 28-Feb. 14, 2016, at the Aurora Fox
Feb. 26-28, 2016, at the Arvada Center

Taking Leave
By Nagle Jackson
Directed by Bryce Alexander
April 1-17, 2016
At the Jones Theatre at the DCPA

By Time Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Bryce Alexander
July 14-Aug. 7, 2016
At the University of Denver’s Byron Theatre in the Newman Center

Phamaly Theatre Company's pre-show 'Zap' ritual before the opening performance of 'Cabaret.' Photo by John Moore.

Phamaly Theatre Company’s pre-show ‘Zap’ ritual before the opening performance of ‘Cabaret.’ Photo by John Moore. 

Cabaret: Ticket information
Performances through Aug. 9
Space Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex
Contains mature themes and is not recommended for children.
Tickets $32-42
Groups of 10 or more $26 per person
Call 303-893-4100 or go to Phamaly’s web site

Cast List:
Directed by Bryce Alexander
Musical Direction by Mary Dailey
Choreography by Debbie Stark and Ronni Gallup
Master of Ceremonies (Emcee): Garrett Zuercher and Daniel Traylor
Clifford Bradshaw: Jeremy Palmer
Fraulein Schneider: Lucy Roucis
Herr Shultz: Mark Dissette
Fraulein Kost: Ashley Kelashian
Sally Bowles: Lyndsay Palmer
Ernst Ludwig: Trenton Schindele

Female Ensemble:
Khea Craig
Harper Liles
Megan McGuire
Amber Marsh
Lauren Cora Marsh
Laurice Quinn
Micayla Smith
Kristi Siedow-Thompson
Vicki Thiem
Rachel VanScoy
Shannon Wilson
Linda Wirth

Male Ensemble:
Kevin Ahl
Brian Be
Stewart Caswell
Donny Gabenski
Adam Johnson
Phillip Lomeo
James Sherman
Andrew Tubbs

Youth Ensemble:
Everett Ediger
Harper Ediger
Leslie Wilburn

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