‘Vine’ us what it means to be Inclusive!



The International Inclusive Arts Network will be present at 18th ASSITEJ World Congress and the International Festival of Theatres for Children and Young People KORCZAK in May 23rd- 31st 2014

IIAN will be promoting what it means to be inclusive and we need your help.

As a way to show the breadth  of work that’s sits underneath the inclusive arts umbrella we would love you to do us a vine!

This will be IIAN first global digital event!

So What is a VINE?

Vine is a mobile app that enables you to create and post short looping video clips. Video clips created with Vine have a maximum clip length of SIX seconds and can be shared to Vine’s social network, or to other services such as Twitter and Face Book

How can you participate?

It’s easy! First off all you need to download the app (its Free) and then create a 6 second vine about what ‘Inclusive Arts’ means to you.

It’s as simple as that!

When you share your Vine clip remember to use the hashtag #iianArts & #ASSITEJ14 we’ll retweet and revine ALL OF YOUR VINES!

What are we looking for? Creativity! We want you to use your 6 second videos to highlight what it means to be inclusive.

Your Vine could involve:

  • Sharing a quick video featuring an inclusive show
  • Creating an animation highlighting inclusive practice
  • Filming your friends sharing their thoughts
  • Sign language
  • Audio description
  • sharing a poem


But these are only a few suggestions. The only limit is your imagination. Show us your inclusive arts in 6 seconds on Vine! 

Remember to use the hashtag  #ianArts & #ASSITEJ14 and have fun!

Have a look at iian’s Vine HERE

All the Vines will be shared at events the International Inclusive Arts Network will be presenting in Poland and of course on our own vine.


Moving Forward – ASSITEJ Poland 2014

With the 18th ASSITEJ World Congress and the International Festival of Theatres for Children and Young People KORCZAK 2014 only 2 months away it got me thinking about the journey inclusive theatre for young audiences has been on since the 17th world congress and festival in Sweden and Denmark 3 years ago.

It may seem that when you look at the world of ASSITEJ from the outside that not much changes, yes there is a new location for the congress, new shows presented at the festival and new committees elected but  does the organisation really evolve? Well let me tell you that over the last 3 years I really have begun to see a change, something remarkable has been happening, ASSITEJ is becoming inclusive!

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that the will was never there, I’m sure it was, it’s just that there is a shift of attitudes, an awakening to reach new audiences and artists and an understanding towards the ideas and concepts of what ‘inclusive’ actually is and can be for theatre makers. And I’m happy to say iian has been a part of that journey.

But let’s not assume that the world is suddenly all wonderful and inclusive. There is still a long path to walk, or wheel, or wobble, or crawl towards a global understanding and appreciation of inclusivity, but an interest and an awakening is the first and the most important moment on that journey of moving forward.

There is now an understanding of why we should make our theatre inclusive but the next step is to appreciate that it’s is also a valuable and creative art form.

We all know that work for young Audiences can feel like the lower rung on the theatrical ladder of the so called ‘proper’ or mainstream theatre. That people use theatre for young audiences as a stepping stone onto better (grown up theatre) and greater things. Those of us who make work for young audiences will understand the annoyance and frustration that this misconception causes us… So image now how it must feel to those who make inclusive work, who until now didn’t even have a rung on that theatrical ladder. Well things are starting to change!

The road to inclusion depends on us all learning, we can’t make giant leaps and call ourselves inclusive over night without learning our craft, for this only leads to offering experiences that are of poor quality and damages to goals of what inclusive theatre aims to do, include everyone and offer a high quality arts experience to all.

So the first step is sharing best practise, let’s learn from those that know their craft and take ideas away to place into our own practise.

When I looked at the Festival programme for Poland there didn’t seem to be any obvious inclusive theatre shows, but what there is are real opportunities to learn the a craft!

Back in Sweden in 2011 TYA UK ran a small one day workshop on this issue of disability and inclusion. This was the first time in ASSITEJ’s history that this topic was given a platform at the world congress and festival. It wasn’t the best attended day, but what it did do was spark an idea that has continued to burn ever since.

In 2012 a film and a report were created based on our experiences and findings from Sweden. (These can be watched and downloaded at the end of this post) which we then used to promote, lobby and show demand.

In 2013 a debate on the subject took place at the 2nd ASSITEJ International Meeting in Linz, Austria which led to the creation of IIAN and becoming a network of practitioners affiliated with ASSITEJ International giving us a vote and a voice at the top table. (Big thanks to our supporters TYA UK, The Kennedy Centre, Washington and Kazzum, London)

And now today, in 2014, as I’m scanning though the programme for Poland I can see at least 8 opportunities to learn and explore the craft of making inclusive theatre for young audiences. As I write this there may be more, so I apologise if I have missed any, but even only with the workshops I mention here we have seen a massive increase in inclusive arts being represented at the ASSITEJ world congress and festival demonstrating that that journey is well under way.

These workshops include:

    • WORDS INSTEAD OF EYES- A Three-day integration workshop for the blind, visually impaired and non-impaired participants introducing the problems of the visually impaired to the children. The workshops will be led by Robert Więckowski – visually impaired, journalist and Przemysław Zdrok – post-graduate audiovisual translation at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. (POLAND)
    • WORKSHOP – taught by Josette Bushell-Mingo currently the artistic director for The Swedish National Touring Theatre „Tyst teater” ensemble. Her production of „The Odyssey”, performed in Swedish Sign Language received huge critical acclaim in Scandinavia. (SWEDEN)
    • WRITING ON THE SUBJECT OF DISABILITY – by Mike Kenny, leading UK writer for Children and Young People. A co-operative session between IIAN and write local.play global the playwriting network of ASSITEJ connecting playwrights for young audience worldwide (ENGLAND)
    • LION, LOOK AT ME! – A workshop exploring our abilities from being disabled or not led by Gisela Höhne – member of Ramba Zamba (GERMANY)
    • TO BE DIFFERENT – a workshop exploring the creative opportunities when meeting and playing with the disability, we discover their creativity led by Urs Beeler – member of Hora Theatre from Switzerland (SWITZERLAND)
    • CREATIVE INTERACTION, AN INCLUSIVE APPROACH by Daryl Beeton, Artistic Director of Kazzum Young People’ Theatre AND Chair of IIAN Will explore the shared creative experience between disabled artists and young audience (ENGLAND)
    • FROM THE CONCEPT TO EXECUTION – A Three-day workshop for directors, choreographers and / or actors. The aim of the workshop is to create clear concepts generating basic ideas for performances implementing serious statements on children psychology and introduction on differences i.e. disability, religion or social aspects, with focus on understanding and transformation of evil. Workshop is lead by Boris Caksiran, Artistic Director of ERGstatus Dance Theater, and member of IIAN and ASSITEJ Serbia (SERBIA)
    • SYMPOSIUM THEATRE AS SPACE OF EMANCIPATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE – The recent years have shown, how important is to include the disabled as well as people with limited access to culture to enrich the map of theatrical, social and educational initiatives. During the symposium, we would like to look at contemporary theater initiatives, which involve the disabled. It will present the opportunity to reflect on the theater, which includes those, who have been previously excluded. What does such theater convey? in which direction is it going, who does it involve and how does it communicate with the audience? For teachers, theater practitioners, theater theoreticians and all the interested parties.


So with all this inclusive learning happening in Poland during 2014 the only  logical next step beyond is now to see ASSITEJ support, promote and PRESENT  high quality inclusive shows  at the 3rd international meeting in 2016 and the next world congress and festival in 2017…. Beyond that only our dreams and creativity can hold us back.

So I hope to see you in Poland in May where IIAN will also be holding an informal evening and networking session, a real life late night bar where we encourage people to share their thoughts, views and, most importantly, their work under the expansive umbrella of Inclusive Arts for young people. (More info to follow soon)

Daryl Beeton
Chair of iian

2) (Subtitled) Whose Theatre Is It Anyway 2011 from TYA-UK Inclusive Theatre Group on Vimeo.

Click for the FULL REPORT



A new era for arts and disability at the Australia Council

A new era for arts and disability at the Australia Council

Blog writer Morwenna Collett sits smiling at the camera, she is sitting in a park, trees and tall buildings are seen behind her.

Guest blogger: Morwenna Collett

Over the last 12 months, I have witnessed a major shift across the Australia Council as disability has become further embedded into our core business and culture.

On 3 December 2013, we made some of the most significant announcements relating to arts and disability in our organisation’s history. We launched our new Disability Action Plan 2014-2016 (DAP), introduced a new funding program to support artists with disability and confirmed renewed triennial funding for Arts Access Australia, including an additional uplift of $150,000 from our Unfunded Excellence funding.

These announcements follow a period of meaningful engagement with the arts and disability sector over the last few years, and are timely as they preempt the development with our new Strategic Plan and design of our new funding programs. They also align with other government action to support people with disability, including the recent roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the recent review of the National Arts and Disability Strategy.

I’m excited to be a part of this work as the Australia Council continues along its path to become a disability confident organisation and a leader that demonstrates good practice in this area.

Morwenna Collett

Leading the development of our new DAP was an enormous learning curve but has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Navigating the balance of sector consultation and staff engagement was a challenge I particularly enjoyed. Having buy-in and support from our Executive team and assistance from the staff Access Champions group was invaluable, as was the feedback from the external ‘critical friends’ who worked with me. Running a series of lunchtime discussion panel sessions on the DAP’s goals of Leadership, Accessibility and Arts Practice (videos available on our website) was an effective way to raise staff awareness and generate ideas for inclusion in the plan.

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments of our new DAP is the introduction of a new, dedicated funding program. The Artists with Disability Program will enable artists with disability to create, development, present, produce, exhibit and tour their work. It is anticipated that this program will act as a model of best practice in terms of grant program accessibility that all future funding programs across our organisation can adopt.

We will be running a series of information sessions across the country in January and February 2014 to ensure this new opportunity is promoted nationally. We will be visiting South Australia on 11th February and a running a session with Access2Arts and Arts SA. We will also be holding an online Q&A session via the Australia Council’s facebook page on Friday 24th January from 4-5pm EST.

I’m excited to be a part of this work as the Australia Council continues along its path to become a disability confident organisation and a leader that demonstrates good practice in this area.

Morwenna Collett is the Disability Coordinator at the Australia Council for the Arts and is responsible for the development and implementation of the organisation’s Disability Action Plan. She has previously been the Program Manager of both the Music and Business Development Sections at the Australia Council, and has also worked as an Arts Development Officer for the Dance and Music section at Arts Queensland. Morwenna holds Masters and Bachelors degrees, as well as the University Medal, from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and is a keen flautist. Morwenna also identifies as a person with disability.
Find the original article HERE

Troy Story up for Music Education Oscar


Troy Story up for Music Education Oscar


Talking Bird

Sam Fox as Hector & Jake Oldershare as Achilles battle it out in Troy Story. Credit: Talking Birds

National portfolio organisation Talking Birds has been shortlisted for a prestigious award for their ambitious opera project with young people with special needs. 

“Troy Story – An Intergalactic Opera”, which was co-produced with Orchestra of the Swan from Stratford, is one of four finalists in the Best Musical Initiative category in the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence – the music education equivalent of the Oscars.

Troy Story is a musical adaptation of Homer’s epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, with music by Derek Nisbet and libretto by Nick Walker.

It was performed by 164 strong cast, chorus and orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall in July 2013.

Derek Nisbet, Co-Artistic Director and Composer with Talking Birds said: “Troy Story involved young people from two schools for children with Special Educational needs and four mainstream primary schools performing together with a professional orchestra and soloists on the stage of Birmingham Town Hall.

“For many of the kids it was the first public performance they had been involved in but they more than rose to the occasion. The feedback from the schools and the pupils themselves is that their self-confidence and concentration has increased as a result which we hope will benefit them in other areas of their lives.

“At the heart of our collaboration with these children is a respect for their ideas, creative abilities and sense of humour, and everyone involved is treated as an equal member of the team. It has been a transformational experience for all concerned – as well as being tremendous fun – and we’re delighted the work has been recognised in the shortlist for the Award for Best Musical Initiative.”.


Dream: The Joy of creating with Olily Cart

2013 saw the second in the series of week-long residencies aimed at disseminating the practice of a leading innovator in the UK Theatre for Young Audiences field.



The week’s work was led by Tim Webb, Claire De Loon and Max Reinhardt, the three founding members of Oily Cart. The main working sessions were held at The Wyvern Special School, Ashford, with the week ending in a sharing event at The Jasmin Vardimon Production Space.

The participants were split into 4 groups of 3 or 4. The school chose the pupils / classes they worked with in order to represent a range of young people including very young PMLD (Profound Multiple Learning Disability) pupils and pupils across the age range with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

The participants were encouraged to think of appropriate ways of addressing their audiences. The size of the audience varied from class to class. They could make an installation and invite the class to visit them. They could choose one representative to be in character in a class. The possibilities were many and needed to be negotiated at short notice.

Since 1981 Oily Cart has been taking its unique blend of theatre to children and young people in schools and venues across the UK. Challenging accepted definitions of theatre and audience, they create innovative, multi-sensory and highly interactive productions for the very young and for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

By transforming everyday environments into colourful, tactile ‘wonderlands’ they invite audiences to join them in a world of the imagination. Using hydro-therapy pools and trampolines, aromatherapy, video projection, and puppetry together with a vast array of multi-sensory techniques, they create original and highly specialised theatre for our young audiences.

All sorts of shows for all sorts of kids!

Click HERE to read a full report


Making Performances Relaxed or Autism-Friendly

by Ben and Sue Fletcher-Watson

Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that every child has the right to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to their age and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. Many children can indeed participate freely in all sorts of arts events, and TYA provides a wide variety of opportunities to experience the magic of live performance. But for some children, such as those with autism spectrum conditions, theaters can be unwelcoming or even frightening places. Autism is mostly known for the associated difficulties with social interaction but a need for routine and predictability, and extreme sensitivity to sensory input are also features of the diagnosis. Thus, for these audience members, loud noises, unfamiliar spaces and dimmed lighting can conspire to produce a profoundly unsettling atmosphere. In addition, some theatres still do not actively welcome patrons who require a little help to enjoy a performance, seeing them perhaps as outside of their desired audience.


Movie theatres have improved their inclusive offerings in recent years with weekly showings for parents and babies, regular screenings for patrons with autism, and sessions aimed at toddlers or younger children. Theaters have also begun to respond to calls for more inclusive practices, although this tends to occur most on Broadway and at larger venues. However, many of the measures which could now be considered best practice in presenting inclusive arts are readily achievable by even the smallest venues.

We believe that best practice in inclusive arts can apply to all audiences. If our culture is to become truly inclusive, we need to stop dividing patrons into neat categories like “young kids”, “the elderly” and “the disabled” – instead, we should recognize that access to the arts is a right for all, and that to accommodate everyone is to respect everyone as human beings.

Below is a short list of standard provision for autism-friendly performances (also known asrelaxed performances) – groups like Autism Friendly Spaces use these measures when working with companies to create inclusive arts events such as the relaxed performance of Mary Poppins in New York in April 2012:

• reduced price tickets reflecting the need for carers to accompany audience members

• trained helpers on hand in the theatre and lobby, providing comfort and help to families – these could be local college students, special education experts, social workers or ushers with an interest in inclusive arts

• ‘parking spaces’ in the lobby for walking frames and strollers

• downloadable social stories (also called visual stories) – these can be brief character guides / song lists, or longer documents with photographs of the theater, accompanying Makaton symbols (as used by many children with disabilities) and a description of what will happen from when they enter the venue to when the show ends

• a T-loop or hearing aid loop

• a short welcome and introduction to the stage – some venues provide touch tours of the set for partially-sighted visitors, while others choose to demonstrate any surprises which will appear, such as trapdoors or flown scenery, in order to let spectators prepare for the upcoming experience

• house lights kept on to avoid upsetting audiences by plunging them into darkness

• making small changes to the show itself, including removing strobe lights (a potential trigger for photo-sensitive epilepsy), lowering the tap sounds of certain dance numbers, softening transitions and lowering the pitch of some songs

• calm spaces or activity areas in the lobby, where overwhelmed children can sit and watch a live stream of the show if they need to leave the auditorium

• coloring books, puzzles, games and quiet toys for fidgety patrons

• signalers on either side of the stage with glow sticks to warn theatregoers of upcoming loud noises, or to signal that clapping is ahead

• free handouts or downloadable activity sheets to continue to explore the world of the show at home or at school

Such changes allow entire families to enjoy a positive theater experiences together, without concern that their child may disrupt the performance for others. This factor – a fear that their child’s normal behavior will be harshly judged – is often cited by parents as the main barrier to accessing the arts. While designed initially to enhance autism-friendly performances, the majority of inclusive measures are equally appropriate in Theatre for Early Years (for children under 5) and for the new phenomenon of baby-friendly adult theatre. Theatre for Early Years has grown in popularity over the last thirty years, but it was not until inclusive practices began to infiltrate traditional venues that the genre became mainstream. Something as simple as a friendly welcome from the ushers can make all the difference to a new parent.

Sparkalator created by Katy Wilson as part of Starcatchers’ Inspire project.

It may seem like some of these practices undermine the magic and delightful surprises on which TYA is built, but the more a child can understand of an experience, the more they can enjoy it. The unrealistic expectation that children should behave like adults, sitting quietly in serried rows, seen and not heard, is the reason that many venues have not traditionally welcomed children. As adults, it is our duty to help children to feel part of the arts, and that means making some small changes. In time, they will come to love the arts as much as we do, and they will turn into respectful and captivated spectators like us. But if we don’t accommodate them, the old image of a crying child running out of the theater will remain, and attitudes towards disability or dismissing TYA as ‘kids’ stuff’ will persist.


image (1)Ben Fletcher-Watson is researching Theatre for Early Years at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, UK. He studied directing and dramaturgy at Emory University in Atlanta, GA and has worked in the arts for a decade, including building and managing a theatre for children in North-East England. His research is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, and sponsored by Starcatchers and Imaginate. Please visit his blog at theatreforbabies.tumblr.com to find out more.


screen-shot-2013-10-21-at-2-35-07-pmSue Fletcher-Watson is a developmental psychologist at theUniversity of Edinburgh, UK. Her research focuses on applied work with and for the autism community, including technology-based intervention and research into the earliest signs of autism in infancy. Please visit her research group, DART, to find out more.

iian6 iian5


Inclusion, Collaboration or Theatre

I was working with my Beginning Theatre class when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find Ann Lake, one of the Exceptional Children (EC) teachers standing there with an anxious look on her face. She said, “We are working on presentting a play, and I was hoping you could help us.” “Sure” I said, “What are you working on?”, “Hamlet”.

I thought, ‘Hamlet?  HAMLET?!  MY students aren’t even working on Hamlet yet…!’

That was the beginning of an incredibly successful ongoing collaboration between the Theatre and EC programs at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill, North Carolina.  Rocky River High School opened in 2010 and Ms. Lake had included Drama into the EC curriculum from the beginning. She had a vision of her students performing the plays they had studied in class.  When she came to me for help that first time, Ms. Lake showed me the process of how her students had prepared up to this point: Her students had read a script that was an “adapted” version of Hamlet.  This adapted version would follow the basic plot of the story, but would be a shorter, encapsulated version of the original, and would include small pictures over words that would help her less reading-capable students follow along. After they had studied the script, she cast students into the roles and had attempted to do some simple blocking.  They had acquired some simple props and costumes and she had reached a point where she needed some “expert” advice on how to proceed, and that is where the collaboration began.

As this was the first year of the school, all of my classes were beginning level classes and were quite small, usually 10-15 students.  I chose a class that had some of the more mature students enrolled and teamed them up with the EC student actors.  I would act as the director of the play and my students would use the skills they had learned in theatre class to assist the EC actors.  Our mission was to assist the actors in their performance as experts and buddies.  On a fundamental level, their job was to shadow the actors:  They helped the actors with their blocking by guiding them to the proper location on stage and making sure they faced the audience.  Then they would stand just behind the actors, dressed in black, ready to help them with whatever they may need. That was the buddy part.  The expertise provided by the theatre students came in the form of line readings and physical performance cues. The theatre students followed along in the script and made sure the actors said their lines on cue.  In rehearsal they would also model how the character might say the line– “She sounds really angry here.  Can you sound angry?  Let’s both be angry and see how that sounds.”  In some cases, the EC actor was not verbal, or would suddenly become shy during a rehearsal or performance, and the Theatre buddy would stand on stage beside them and say the line with them, or even for them.  Sometimes, this would be enough to embolden the actor who would then say their next lines without a hitch.  The theatre students would also model the physical movements of a character by perhaps making a face, or folding their arms or stamping their feet and the EC actors would mimic the actions of their buddy.  However, the theatre students knew that this was not their show.  Their job was to give the EC actors the stage, give them all the tools they need to succeed, and be there if and when they were needed for support.

screen-shot-2013-10-28-at-12-33-19-amThe original production of Hamlet was a huge success.  It was performed on our main stage in front of an invited audience of actor’s family member, and both the actors and their buddies gained a lot from the experience.  As soon as that first show was completed, Ms. Lake and I began to plan for the following year, when we would perform A Christmas Carol.  We followed the same rehearsal structure and that production was seen by a slightly larger audience, including a handful of EC students from neighboring high schools and district level EC administrators who were ecstatic over the level of inclusion.   That experience emboldened us to expand the invitation to more schools around the district, and last year we presented to an audience of over 350 EC students, teachers and caregivers, three culturally specific stories: The Boy Who Drew Cats, The Boy Who Wasn’t Afraid, and Talk – stories from Japan, Mexico and Africa, respectively.  I am very proud to say that our collaborative work was recognized when Rocky River was presented with the district wide Special Olympics “Project Unify” award last spring.  Even more gratifying was the fact that both theatre and EC students attended the awards celebration together in a continuation of the collaborative spirit.

picture-250We have just started rehearsal on this years’ production, Sadako and the Thousand Cranes. In order to up the ante this year, we will be working with the Allegro Foundation who has agreed to choreograph portions of the play.  Students from both programs are excited to include dance in this years’ show because it provides additional opportunities for inclusion by less verbal students.

When I started at Rocky River, I never intended to create “inclusive” theatre. Truth be known, we would consider it more collaborative than inclusive. And if you want to be honest, it is really just… Theatre.


screen-shot-2013-10-28-at-12-29-50-amMatt Webster is a recovering tenured Associate Professor of Theatre Education/Theatre for youth.  In 2010 he stepped away from teaching how to teach high school theatre in theory, and instead took the opportunity to actually teach high school theatre.  He is a much happier person for it.  Matt is currently the Fine Arts Chair and Theatre teacher at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill, NC.  He holds an MA in Theatre Education and an MFA in Theatre for Youth.  In addition to being a teacher, Matt is an actor, director and playwright.  His first published play, The Myths at the Edge of the World will be available later this year through Theatrefolk.


Imagine A World…..

by Fran Sillau


Picture this: twenty big yellow busses surround a theatre and hundreds of school children pour out of them. Many of these young audience members are about to see their first live theatre production, a fabulous new production of The Velveteen rabbit They file into the theatre and sit in their seats.

The curtain rises to reveal a young boy at his eighth birthday party. His birthday present is a Velveteen Rabbit, and as the play continues, the boy and the rabbit go sailing, they fight monsters under the bed, and the rabbit helps the little boy when he is sick. There is something different about the actor playing the little boy though: he uses crutches to move about the stage. When they go sailing, the crutches steady him as he steers a boat rocked by waves; the crutches become a sword when he fights the pirates, and he uses them to sweep under the bed when looking for monsters. In other words, the crutches become tools the character uses as the character.

After the play ends, audience members tall and small approach the actor, and they ask him, “Are you really 8 years old?”  The actor says, “No, I am actually twenty-three.” The parent of a young audience member says, “Have you always walked with those crutches?” The actor starts to answer the question when the child says, “What crutches?” The little girl, totally focused on the play she had just seen, had not even thought of the actor/character as disabled.

The actor described above was me. The events described above all happened.  I have worked with great directors and theater companies who taught me what it means to be inclusive – that is, to provide meaningful theatrical opportunities to those with disabilities alongside their non-disabled counterparts.

As a child, teachers taught me to use my crutches as extensions of my character. My first role was a cat, one of many in the play, but the only one with four legs. The teacher highlighted every student’s cat: “Look at Johnny’s cat. Do you see the way he uses his hands to scrub his ‘whiskers’?” When the teacher got to me he said, “Look at Fran. Do you see how he puts his crutches out ahead of him to create the front legs?” One of the other students asked if he could use my crutches to create his cat. I said, “Of course.”

Others started using crutches. They were surprised. “How do you make walking with these so easy?” some asked. “This is hard,” said many.

In short, my cat illustrated new ways to create a character and at the same time sparked conversations about how everyone “walks” in various ways, and that each way is a good way.screen-shot-2013-10-28-at-12-16-11-am

This is just one example of how inclusion can benefit not only those with disabilities but all participants in theater.

Still, there are some directors who might say, “The disability of the actor will disrupt the flow of the story that is being told.” In a recent Shakespeare production I directed, two actors in wheelchairs wanted to take part in a sword fight scene. The speed of their chairs was simply incorporated and used to advantage. These actors were given plenty of opportunity to move around the stage and they executed the same level of fancy sword work as the other combatants.

My own disability did not disrupt the flow of the story being told in The Velvateen Rabbit. It added a dimension to the story that some may not have seen before. Audience members were drawn to the story, not my crutches, because I used my disability to enhance the role.

Still, there may be some artistic directors who will say, “There are no actors in my community to draw from.”

There are people with disabilities in every community. The real questions may be: Do you know where to reach them and do they know your door is open to them? When hosting a call for actors, make sure that the notice states “actors with disabilities are strongly encouraged to audition.” It is also a good idea to research and reach out to local organizations that serve people with disabilities. If artistic directors are open to the idea of mixed-ability casting, the word will get out. In the meantime and at the very least, if AD’s feel that there are no actors with disabilities in their immediate locale, an actor can be brought in from a neighboring one to play an appropriate role. His or her presence will clearly illustrate adaptation and inclusiveness.

The best way to make your theater completely open to those with disabilities is to ensure that all participants can create theater in the least restrictive environment. For examplein one recent theatrical presentation there was a middle schooler who wanted to play the lead female role. The part called for an actress with big facial expression and this girl was perfect. However, she had an extreme speech deficit. Instead of casting someone else, accommodations were made to make the role accessible for her. Her character’s lines were recorded by another student on a Vocal Output Communication Device, which she activated on stage as she pantomimed her dialogue.

Creating inclusive theater experiences opens up so much for so many, those disabled or not, and creates the possibility of a world where people are applauded for what they can do instead of defined by what they cannot do. Building an inclusive company is not the easiest mission, but doing so will make the company’s work strong while simultaneously illustrating to young audiences how diverse the world really is and how different people navigate it. Striving toward this goal as a community can create an equal playing field and ultimately a barrier-free world for all.


fran-sillauFran Sillau currently serves as a Teaching Artist, Actor, and Director at The Omaha Theater Company (The Rose Theater). Fran has been the recipient of The Access Grant from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and served as a Teaching Artist Fellow for VSA, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center. Currently, he conducts inclusive arts education workshops for teachers nationally. The director of many mixed-ability plays, Fran is also a playwright.  He recently received the Aurand Harris Fellowship to create his TYA play, “The Brass Ring: A Play About Our Abilities”. The work has been performed in 100 venues. His professional activities can be found at www.fransillau.com, and e-mail contact is welcome at fran@fransillau.com.22a8b37f0-a92d-9a34-30d332555dafd5aa







Thoughts on Inclusive Arts: An International Approach

By Talleri McRae – Associate Education Director, StageOne Family Theatre

In June of 2013, I was fortunate enough to attend the ASSITEJ International Meeting in Linz, Austria. There, for the first time, attendees gathered in a dedicated strand of sessions and discussion to explore Inclusive Arts – what it means to include individuals with disabilities in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) around the globe as both artists and audiences.

Inclusive Arts Panel

From L to R: Vicky Ireland – TYA UK Disability/Inclusivity Team (UK), Boris Caksiran – Artistic Director OFF FRAME FESTIVAL (RS), Diana Tepavac – ASSITEJ Serbia (RS), Nicola Miles-Wildin – Actress/Director (UK), Talleri McRae, and Martina Kolbinger-Reiner – Artistic Director MESSANIN Theatre (AT).

MY experience connecting with people from England to Japan, from Serbia to Austria, served as a reminder that a future of Inclusive Arts will not come to pass in the hands of the timid. In order to bravely weave inclusive arts into the fabric of TYA, I offer a few humble beginning thoughts:

1) Join the conversation – the words will come later

I could write a separate blog about the language of inclusion. I could share that the word “disability” and how it is not actually a negative word meaning “un-able”. About how the prefix ‘dis’ literally means ‘separate from’ and in some more whimsical interpretations, it has been known to mean ‘a foot in two worlds’. About the relationship between the language we use to describe disability and the perceptions of disability throughout modern history… That might satiate the word-nerd that lives inside of me (and perhaps you), but what I know is that sometimes, words hold people back. Often, the linguistics of inclusion adversely effect (and even halt) beginning conversations about inclusion and disability.

One thing I was reminded of in Linz, Austria was don’t let the language stop you. The thing about an international discussion is you can’t dwell on the minutia of language, syntax, and grammar. For example, in the US, the accepted default is “people-first” language to acknowledge that for example, a person with cerebral palsy is a person-first, and their disability is only one trait of many. In the UK, however, the phrases “disabled arts” and “disabled artists,” which put the disability label first, are used quite commonly. Worldwide, many artists with disabilities are proud to state their disability first. In fact, naming the emerging network “Inclusive Arts” took several rounds of back-and-forth international editing—these two words mean many different things in cultures around the globe.

So how did our discussions proceed in the face of so many words?

A) Before we spoke to each other about a disability or an aspect of inclusion, we articulated our goal of being respectful and positive.

B) We invited each other as trusted colleagues to offer and explain alternatives to the words we were using. (We also remembered that individuals with disabilities vary widely on their preferred language—there is no one “right” answer, so we kept listening to each other.)

C) We didn’t let the language weigh us down; we kept pushing forward!

2) Inclusion is, ultimately, a wildly and radically creative act

Meeting other artists with disabilities and non-disabled artists who work with individuals with disabilities reminded me how inclusion in incredibly creative. In my research as well as my first-hand experience, theatre artists who’ve embraced inclusion as an artistic choice as well as a social one have been rewarded in so many ways.

By working with actors with disabilities, who might do things in a non-traditional way, directors are challenged to approach their own traditional, non-disabled approach storytelling.

For example:

a) Hiring an actor who uses a wheelchair may transform a set full of staircases into an intricate series of twisted ramps.

b) Incorporating audio description into a performance to make it accessible for people who are blind may offer another layer of commentary and/or communication to a dramatic structure.

c) Deciding with an actor when he uses his crutches onstage and when he leaves them off is just one more tool to communicate the story to your audience. And directors and producers have found that when used thoughtfully, disability can be a catalyzing aspect of their storytelling toolbox.

3) By committing to inclusion on an international level, I believe professional TYA can change the way an entire generation of citizens understands disability

I know what you are thinking—this one sounds a little lofty. Yes, it does. Yet I believe one positive choice can create endless ripples. If professional TYA companies around the globe intentionally embraced inclusive arts, where would the impact end?



If every TYA company cast just one actor with a disability each year….

If every TYA company intentionally invited audiences of all abilities to EXPERIENCE that performer with a disability on stage….

If artists and audiences alike were transformed by inclusive TYA…

Who would be the next generation of artists and audiences? What barriers of today would be forever broken?


screen-shot-2013-10-16-at-4-39-34-pmTalleri McRae is an Education Associate at Stage One Family Theatre in Louisville, KY. She has worked alongside theatre artists and educators in California, Texas, Alaska, Kentucky, and Illinois, including collaborations with About Face Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, and Next Theatre in Chicago. During her graduate studies, Talleri researched perceptions of theatre and disability with young people, and offered ongoing professional development workshops to teachers and administrators in south Texas and rural Alaska. Talleri served on the board of The American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) from 2005 to 2009, and, alongside Leigh Jansson, was the co-chair of AATE’s 2011 national conference in Chicago. She holds a BS from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin.