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Brian Balcom Wants Accessible Theater Onstage and Off

Paraplegic since a 1993 spinal cord injury, the 39-year-old director advocates for people with disabilities both onstage and in the audience.

Brian Balcom
Photo: Jess Maynard

Paraplegic since a 1993 spinal cord injury, the 39-year-old theater director advocates for people with disabilities both onstage and, in his day job as coordinator of Victory Gardens’ accessibility initiatives (audio descriptions and sign language), in the audience. This month, he stages the dark comedy Teenage Dick, running March 6 to April 19 at Theater Wit, which recasts Shakespeare’s Richard III — a character famously hung up on his own disability, believed to be severe scoliosis — as an American high schooler.

On becoming a director

“In the ’90s, there weren’t many opportunities for disabled actors. If there were, it was for an after-school special. And that didn’t really interest me. So around junior year of high school, I started to realize that if I wanted to keep doing theater — which I love— I would have to find another outlet.”

On developing actors with disabilities

“People will say the pool of trained actors with disabilities isn’t big enough. Well, how do people learn if they’re not given opportunities? When someone does Richard III or The Glass Menagerie, I’m excited for disabled actors who can carry those parts. Eventually, we can become progressive enough to cast actors with disabilities in roles that don’t specifically call for it.”

On Teenage Dick’s portrayal of Richard

“He’s mean. He’s ambitious. And that’s refreshing. In a lot of scripts now, oftentimes if there’s a disabled character, they will be neutered and ineffectual and just happy to be there. It’s great to see disabled characters who are aggressive and ambitious and sexual, who have concrete desires. That can change perceptions.”

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