SAY YOU'RE AN ADULT who adores theater—loves to act, workshops scripts, manages a stage, or hauls lighting equipment around. You might think you'd be able to find volunteer work, or even a job, in Portland's theater community. But that's not necessarily the case, especially for folks with developmental disabilities.
Portland theater productions and audiences might be growing more inclusive when it comes to race ["The Complex Audience," Agenda, Aug 27], but racial diversity is just one step forward. Stephen Marc Beaudoin, executive director of Portland's Pacific Honored Artists, Musicians, and Entertainers (PHAME), wants to see the Portland theater community improve its inclusivity and accommodation for people with disabilities.
PHAME's mission is to provide a place for adults with developmental disabilities to take performing, literary, and visual arts classes. Over the course of each year, the group presents everything from social dances to art shows to music performances to plays and musicals.
But that diversity is pretty confined to the PHAME community itself. When Beaudoin looks at Portland's theater season this year, he says, "You can see some taste of, and interest in, diversifying in terms of race and color and gender identity and sexual orientation." But while he's a fan of all of those changes, he adds, "Disability has struggled to get on that list."
Ironically, that might be partly because of PHAME's success. It's been around since 1984 and produces dozens of events and performances every year. PHAME has brought art to city hall, and joined forces with Pink Martini and the Portland Cello Project.
"Folks look at organizations like PHAME and say, 'That's taken care of over there,'" Beaudoin says. He objects to that complacency. Even when the arts community has culturally specific theater, he says, that doesn't excuse the other theaters from diversifying their staff and audiences.
Other Portland theaters have collaborated with PHAME. In February, Portland Center Stage (PCS) hosted a PHAME production of new play readings during the Fertile Ground festival, and in August, PCS provided the Ellyn Bye Studio for a PHAME variety show.
Beaudoin appreciates the collaboration with PCS, but at the same time notes that no Oregon theaters have integrated actors with developmental disabilities into their companies. "It's certainly a failure of imagination," he says—and perhaps a failure of inclusivity.
To that end, several of PHAME's star performers have been attempting to gain wider exposure. "Our artists go out on auditions constantly," he says. Two in particular have been cast in several shows at Hillsboro Artists' Regional Theatre and Theatre in the Grove.
"We're starting to ring that bell so that [theaters] see the potential of these individuals," Beaudoin says.
It's not as if theater is alone here. PHAME's director says that no institution—educational, governmental, or recreational—has figured out how to holistically integrate people with developmental disabilities. "This is a civil rights issue that's still ongoing," Beaudoin says. In some cases, theaters haven't even tried.
But he's optimistic, to a certain extent. "People have been working with us because they believe in the potential of the individuals we serve," he says. "People are starting to respond."