With so much talk of inclusion, it’s easy to conclude it’s just a buzzword, the issue of the moment. Inclusion can be hard to define, and what feels inclusive to one person may not feel that way to another.
Yet, some institutions are taking meaningful steps toward including individuals with disabilities in their programming. Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, for instance, has put the issue of inclusion front and center in its production of Nina Raine’s 2010 hit play, “Tribes.” The show, which won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for outstanding play, opened on May 22 and closes on June 22.
“Tribes” tells the coming-of-age story of Billy, a young Jewish British man who is deaf and lives with his highly dysfunctional hearing family. Billy is played by deaf actor, John McGinty. For the show’s Baltimore premiere, Everyman also premiered a brand-new handheld technical device that deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members can use to make the play more accessible.
Everyman Theatre is one of the first theaters in the country to adopt the new technology. The devices, which are complimentary, will be available throughout the run of “Tribes” as well as for all Everyman productions in the future.
When he saw “Tribes” in New York, Everyman’s founding artistic director and the play’s director, Vincent M. Lancisi, said it “hit him right between the eyes.”
“I knew Everyman had to do it, and I knew I had to direct it,” he said. “Everyman is sort of known for its family dramas. We kind of put the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional, and this play is definitely about a dysfunctional family!
“When we started working on the play, we knew we wanted to make it inclusive for deaf people. The more we learned about what it is like to be deaf, the more we realized that theater isn’t a particularly accessible art form for the deaf,” he continued. “So we hired Tim McCarty, the president of Quest Theatre [an inclusive, visually based theater company in Lanham, Md.] as our director of access and Will Conley, former chair of the theater department at Gallaudet University, as our director of artistic sign language. We also began to search for technologies that would make the play accessible. Lo and behold, we found a company that was developing one.”
In addition to providing the handheld devices, Everyman has also installed adjustable seat mounts to hold the devices comfortably in front of the seats.
Lancisi said that filtered screens on the devises ensure that those sitting nearby will not be distracted by light from its screen. An operator in the theater’s sound booth makes sure that the dialogue appears on the screens at the same time that actors are speaking their lines.
Yael Zelinger, of the Center for Jewish Education’s Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education, said the new
device is a great innovation for the deaf community.
“Anything that opens up accessibility and raises awareness in the hearing community about the deaf community is good,” she said.
Sheryl Cooper, an American Sign Language interpreter and coordinator of the deaf studies major at Towson University, agreed. Cooper, who was instrumental in promoting the show to members of Baltimore’s deaf community, believes the show will be a “boon” for all families, but especially for those with deaf family members.
Lancisi said that patrons are “loving it.”
The only drawback? It’s expensive. Lancisi hopes Everyman supporters will consider making a donation to offset the costs.
For tickets, information or to make a donation, visit everymantheatre.org.