Disability in Theatre and Inclusivity Promotion

With each passing show that comes and goes on Broadway, millions of people worldwide are inspired by these representations. Yet, out of the entire encouraged and inspired audience, most are disabled people. Though it’s possible for a disabled actor to get a role, it doesn’t happen as often as it should. Many shows have a character that is disabled but is played by a non-disabled actor instead of an actor that most possibly has the same disability. Some characters don’t necessarily need a disabled actor to play the part. However, it should be feasible and easier for disabled actors to be on Broadway since it can promote inclusivity and eliminate the mimicking of disability for a show due to its damaging impact on the future of theatre.

When a minoritized performer is rejected equal and fair career opportunities exposure to training, auditions, or experience, the country suffers a significant loss in cultural history. Moreover, it continues to deny performers and viewers alike the creative importance of diversity and denies the community an accurate representation of society (Bruno). As a result, this not only harms the oppressed minorities but the overall community. Therefore, it has become a nationwide problem, leading to measures that need to be taken in order to provide equality and cultural development. Such an approach will not only make roles for disabled people available but cultivate inspiration and hope for aspiring performers.

With every passing moment, inclusion is important now more than ever. And with every passing year, many activities have now been able to be more inclusive for everyone. Yet, for the world of theatrics on Broadway, they’re still behind on including disabled people in the field. With all of that, the disabled community may feel ignored and as if they do not exist. As Rosanna Kataja explains, “Ninety-five percent of disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors” (Kataja). From this, it can be understood that disabled actors actually play only 5% of disabled characters. This grim statistic proves the gap between non-disabled and disabled individuals and stresses the latter’s oppression.

Recent Broadway productions of The Cripple of Inishmaan, Richard III, The Miracle Worker, and The Elephant Man all used physically capable performers to play prominent characters with physical disabilities. Additionally, several of these artists are well-known. Throughout its 15-year run, Wicked has never selected an actress with a physical disability to portray Nessarose, who needs a wheelchair (Kataja). Furthermore, the role of a limping character Crutchie from Newsies, who needs a crutch, has never been portrayed by a performer with the same disability (Kataja). Recruiting a disabled performer for these parts wherever feasible would not only provide more opportunities for the currently underrepresented category but would also improve the credibility of the character representation in such plays.

For theatre to be inclusive, it should also be said what kind of impact it has on one’s self-esteem. Paige Rosko, a student who has mobility issues and has to use a cane, says that when people think of disabilities, many immediately think of someone who is low-functioning because that is a common misconception of what disability looks like (Rosko). This idea closes doors for the people who have the ability to perform, but they are still disabled (Rosko). With this statement, it can be said that many disabled actors are in fear of how they’d be perceived on stage if they were to play a role.

The process of receiving the role is harder, and most often, individuals feel invited to the stage. The solution to making one feel more inclusive may be to start writing plays that include characters with disabilities. This will slowly start making disabled actors feel more welcomed on stage. The reviews below ways of changing perceptions on Broadway could contribute to establishing opportunities for disabled people. While there are so many opportunities for the minorities, these individuals are simply neglected.

As has been mentioned before, the least opportunity for the disabled performers should be provided in the form of playing characters that share their disability. However, there should be no limits to only these roles. Disabled individuals should be accepted for parts aside from disability-specific. It is vital that challenged performers are not neglected when casting handicapped roles and that disabled performers have the chance to experience other parts based on factors other than whether the character was created with a limitation in mind. This kind of inclusion makes every disabled person feel accepted and that there are no limits to what they can achieve.

Additionally, the predominance of ableist thinking is particularly troubling in the theater. Handicapped characters are all too frequently featured in villainous narratives, where disability is presented as something that must be healed in order for a storyline to have a happy ending (Kataja). Impairment is seen negatively, and many narratives about disabled persons are recounted by others around them, focusing on the burden the disabled person imposes on them (Kataja). As a result, such depiction of people with disabilities creates confusion in society and leads to a negative perception of these individuals, making them less talented or not enough in the eyes of others.

Another common usage of handicapped characters in pieces of art is for “inspiration porn”. Here, individuals with disabilities are not considered as equals but instead provide inspiration and a message to the physically capable of being appreciative of their talents (Kataja). People with disabilities are pitied and lauded as “heroes” for just carrying out day-to-day duties independently (Kataja). This prevailing mentality prevents disabled persons from being seen as equally talented performers as their physically capable counterparts. This kind of approach to people with disabilities only limits them and their talents. Therefore, there should be not only enough roles for disabled artists, but they should also be treated as equals.

In conclusion, disabled actors play a major role in today’s theatre community, from incredible actors like Ali Stroker to Nic Novicki. The inclusion of these actors can lead to a big impact on other disabled people, the inspiration that they need to pursue their dreams and not feel left out because of their disability. There are many measures that can lead to great progress. For example, non-disabled actors could be replaced by disabled individuals to portray characters with disabilities. This will expose viewers to the true emotions and experiences of such individuals. Moreover, there will be progress when disabled characters are stopped being perceived as villains and people with disabilities are seen as an inspiration to be grateful for one’s health. There should be opportunity and inclusion for disabled performers since they are just as talented as non-disabled performers.

Works Cited

Bruno, Christine. Casting a Movement. Routledge, 2019.

Kataja, Rosanne. “Inclusion, Don’t Forget About Us: Disabilities in Performing Arts.” Harvard Political Review, 2020, Web.

Rosko, Paige. “Student Blog: How Disability Representation in Theater Changed How I See Myself.” Broadway World, 2021, Web.

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