(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: Disability in the American Theatre
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
JOSHUA MORGAN: I’m a freelance actor and director. I’m also a teacher and the Artistic Director of No Rules Theatre Company.
JL: Where do you live? How has your community addressed issues of disability for its theatre artists and administrators, and also its audience? How has this impacted your work?
JM: I split my time between Washington, DC and Winston-Salem, NC. In DC, Open Circle was a theatre dedicated to providing opportunites for the disabled on a variety of other shows. I currently work with the deaf in Washington as this is home to one of the largest deaf communities in the world and there are very few opportunites for them. It’s an example of a community not fully listening to the needs of itself. In Winston, we have a lot more work to do as there are schools and centers for the disabled but little engagement with the professional theatre scene.
JL: Do we need disability based theaters and programs? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?
JM: Absolutely! At its core, the theatre is about community and it’s our job as artists, educators and administrators to make sure we are engaging every member of the community we’re serving. Beyond that, having the various perspectives from people of all different walks of life gives us something. We walk away with the knowledge we wouldn’t otherwise.
And… we clearly will get a truer sense of a story if told by someone who understands it at its center.
JL: What practical action steps and/or resources would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies who would like to address issues of accessibility for its artists and administrators, and audiences?
JM: Reach out and ask questions! Don’t assume you know what a community needs. Go and visit the groups you’re interested in working with and learn about what resources are available to them and which are not. Find out what they’re hoping to see or engage with and see how your organization can potentially become involved.
JL: Why is it important that we continue to have these conversations to address issues of disability in theatre?
JM: On a business level… to continue to grow our patron, donor and artist base. On an artistic level… to do our job.
JL: As an advocate of disability in the theatre, can you recommend plays that I should be reading or playwrights I should be following?
JM: Willy Conley, John Belluso.
Joshua Morgan graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Judith Blazer’s 2005/2007 company of the Artist’s Crossing. Since moving to Washington, DC, from New York City, Joshua has performed at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co., Signature Theatre, Arena Stage, Theater J, Triad Stage, and others. As a director, Joshua directed three sold-out productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in NC and DC, received rave reviews for his work with Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s),and mounted the Washington premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s Suicide, Incorporated. Most recently he appeared in the Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night and will soon be starring in Rep Stage’s production of The Piano Teacher, both in Washington. Joshua sits on the board of the Artists Crossing in New York.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com