Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in Metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our February 2020 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Phamaly Theatre Company!

The Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League (PHAMALy) was founded in 1989 by five students from the Boettcher School in Denver, all living with disabilities. The students were frustrated with the lack of theatrical opportunities for people living with disabilities, and set out to change the trajectory of theater forever. Well ahead of their time, the five students built an inclusive organization that directly served disenfranchised individuals with disabilities from all racial, ethnic, gender, and class identities.

Thirty-one years later, the organization has changed its name to Phamaly Theatre Company (PTC). PTC continues to exclusively feature actors within the entire spectrum of people with disabilities, including physical, cognitive, intellectual, and emotional. PTC provides a supportive space and takes away barriers to allow artists to do their best work and develop as performers, while also educating the community about access and inclusion. Not only are PTC’s audiences entertained by high-quality, award-winning performances, their understanding of disability and the human condition transforms as they watch each production.

PTC's production of Annie. Photography by Michael Ensminger Photography.

“One of my favorite aspects of our productions is the change I see in our audience members.” said Sasha Hutchings, Phamaly’s Managing Director.  “I chat with people in the lobby before our performances and I often come across audience members who have never seen a Phamaly production. As I talk with them about Phamaly, it is clear they are not sure what to expect when the show starts. However, by the time I see them during intermission, their entire perspective about Phamaly and disability has changed. People tell me, ‘we forgot we were watching actors with disabilities.’ It is not that anyone actually forgets; rather, people become more comfortable with the human condition and begin to see disability as the creative asset it is. This transformation of thought is what we’re hoping to do.”

PTC moved into Urban Land Conservancy’s Tramway Nonprofit Center in the Cole neighborhood in January of 2020. After working for many years in the nonprofit world, Hutchings knows how difficult it is for nonprofits to find affordable space, especially in Denver. With their affordable office space, PTC is able to create long-term goals without having to worry about rising rent. One of those goals is to be a national leader in accessibility in theatre.

PTC's production of Into the Woods. Photography by Michael Ensminger Photography.

“We’re thrilled to have such an impactful organization at Tramway” said Autumn Buehler, ULC’s Property Manager at Tramway.  “The work Phamaly does is truly inspiring, and they have been a joy to work with. I’m glad ULC is able to provide nonprofit office space to organizations like Phamaly.”

PTC’s vision is to “create a world in which disability and the differences within the human condition are celebrated, and the theatre experience is accessible and welcoming to all”. This catalyzes wildly creative productions, as the team works to ensure each show remains true to this vision. PTC intentionally creates a disability aesthetic – it’s not reliant on the simple notion that people with disabilities happen to be performing on stage.

“We use the differences in people’s bodies and forms to enhance the stories we’re telling” said Hutchings. “We’re recreating narratives that are more in line with reality. Every person is different, and we aim to highlight that in our productions.”

PTC's production of Honk. Photography by Michael Ensminger Photography.

For example, Phamaly Theatre recently put on the Broadway Classic, Chicago, in a non-traditional theatre space. Phamaly’s Artistic Director and the director for the production, Regan Linton, worked with the organization’s Scenic Director, Nicholas Renaud, to design the set entirely out of ramps, so that the whole set was accessible. The set often plays a role in developing the story that unfolds on stage, but a completely accessible stage told a story of accessibility and inclusiveness, while still serving as a canvas for the actors to tell the story.

PTC holds open casting calls with only one requirement – that you have a disability as defined by the ADA. Stage productions are often held at the Denver Center for Performing Arts (DCPA), one of PTC’s first and most valued partnerships. This summer, PTC is putting on a production of Alice in Wonderland, which will be performed in DCPA’s Space Theatre with original music from the hip hop group “Wheelchair Sports Camp”.

PTC's production of Chicago. Photography by Michael Ensminger Photography.

Phamaly Theatre is the only theatre of its kind in the country, which often attracts international attention. PTC recently returned from Tokyo after taking one of their productions on the road. They were even able to have two Japanese actors with disabilities come to Colorado to perform in the show before taking it to their country.

Phamaly Theatre Company is a 501c(3), and relies on its many partnerships. They receive funding from several foundations, the government, and from ticket sales at each show. To check out PTC’s upcoming shows, visit their website here, or consider making a donation here.