2019 is PHAMALY Theatre Company‘s 30th Anniversary! Thirty years ago I was learning to write grants for non-profit organizations, write bylaws, and ask strangers that looked disabled if they sang!
I attended Boettcher School, a school for all-disabled children, which had just started a theatre program for the upper grades when I moved to Colorado in 1972.
Ms. Jeannie Sonnleitner, our School Choir Director, fought the School Board to bring the theatre arts to Boettcher. She directed the musicals of middle-school and high-school actors with disabilities. I remember one production, my friend, Joannie Mulqueen, actually did a show from her hospital pram, which was wheeled under the street through a tunnel which connected our school to Children’s Hospital!
Time passed and one evening, several of us from Boettcher were sitting in Teri Westerman’s living room reminiscing about our high school theatre days. Some of us had auditioned for community shows, but theatres can manage to put life-size elephants on stage, but a wheelchair baffles them! So Gregg Vigil asked, “Why don’t we start our own theatre company?!” Those famous words!
So the first thing to do is practice writing a grant. We saw an ad for the Colorado Arts & Humanities and decided to write a practice-application, saying we were going to do GUYS AND DOLLS. We realized there was no chance we would get the grant. We had seven members in our entire organization with which to do a play! Especially GUYS AND DOLLS!? Surely no one would fund us!
A few weeks later we received a check for $3,300! Okay… We HAVE to do a show now!!!
We used our old alma mater, Boettcher School auditorium. We pulled in more alumni from the school. Word got out and it was surprising how many people with disabilities have a performing arts dream!
We pulled it off! And we had more than seven people in the cast! But my friend Teri did end up playing five separate characters! Greg Moody did a piece about us for CBS News opening night. I remember sitting outside after opening night and pinching myself. I had to be sure it wasn’t a dream. I couldn’t believe what we had just done.
We’ve come a long way since then. Now we have disabled actors come from San Francisco and New York City come to perform with us. In 2016 we traveled to Japan to perform THE FANTASTICS.
We have won numerous awards for BEST SHOW, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST CHOREOGRAPHER, etc. The accolades are wonderful. But for me, the best accolade is meeting a young, shy person and seeing them open up because of what they found on stage! Or see a child discover they have a voice and can belt it! Or watching someone that once had a theatre career make a comeback!
Now the famous five: Kathleen Traylor, Gregg Vigil, Teri Westerman, Kevin Ahl, and Rick Britton watch as our baby flourishes in the arms of new leaders.
In honor of the 30th Anniversary, Song Sense Jewelry donates 10% of all sales to PHAMALY! Please stop by my Shop, browse and buy my crafts HERE!