"Broadway is really trying, and I think that's great," says Disabled Down Center performer Ethan Mathias on the accessibility of theatre, especially on the Broadway stage.
"Now, I try to see all Broadway shows twice, because the first time I see it, it feels like I've seen it before, and then I see it in 2020, and it's so much different. There are so many different kinds of people that are on the stage." This is what's at the heart of Disabled Down Center, a benefit conceived by producer-performer Brennan Srisirikul to give disabled performers the opportunity to sing their favorite show tunes from roles for which they were never considered but should have been.
Mathias took to the stage at NYC's The Green Room 42 to perform "Giants in the Sky" from Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, a theatre favorite that the young performer says "everybody knows."
"I've always really liked the stage. I have done things off-Broadway and on-Broadway, and it was frustrating to be confined into little boxes. It was fun to finally be on stage and see a live audience reaction," says 13-year-old Matthias.
Below are four more things Playbill learned from attending Disabled Down Center and speaking with the performers after the benefit.
Aisha Jackson and Jelani Remy share that they felt "honored" to participate in this special event. The two performers lent their voices to Treshelle Edmond (for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf) and Dickie Heart (Tales of the City), respectively, who both performed using American Sign Language. Jackson, who sang "I'm Here" from The Color Purple, says that hearing Srisirkul talk about Disabled Down Center "brought tears to her eyes."
The Paradise Square and Frozen actor adds, "Representation matters across the board. The more our stages look like the world we live in—meaning race, disability, sexuality—the more true we're being to our world." Remy, who lent his vocals to an emotional rendition of "One Song Glory" from Rent says, "There is so much power behind every performance, no matter what the disability. They were heard and they were seen."
Brennan Srisirikul's Mother Raised Funds to Build the First Accessible Playground in Massachusetts
Without Srisirikul, Disabled Down Center wouldn't exist. In addition to conceiving the benefit, the Pillowman actor performed "I Wanna Be a Producer" from The Producers and delivered a heartfelt speech. During his speech, he thanked his mother for her continuous support. "I learned every lesson that I know about advocacy from my mother," says Srisirkul.
"When I was in the second grade, my mom saw that I wasn't being included among my peers because I went to a school that didn't have an accessible playground. I watched my mom raise $55 million dollars to build the first accessible playground in Massachusetts."
He went on to share that the money raised from the benefit will support the creation of the Disabled Down Center training program which will provide free masterclasses and workshops for performers with disabilities and allies. He says, "If there's anything I learned from my mom, it's that inclusion is about everyone learning and growing together."
Disabled Down Center Was Nicholas Vivar's First Time Performing on a Professional Stage
Catching up with Nicholas Vivar after his performance of "Middle of the Moment" from James and the Giant Peach, he says, "This was my first time performing on a professional stage, and it felt like I was on Broadway." He went on to describe the occasion as "so exciting and fun!"
Host Pavar Snipe Has Loved Musicals Since She Was a Kid
The hostess with the mostest, comedian and writer Pavar Snipe revealed in her opening bit that she grew up loving musicals. "My escape was watching a lot of musicals on TV in New York City." She went on to say that her favorite was Annie. "I wanted to be her, the freckles, the red afro, it was just calling me."
The evening continued with performances by Sebastian Ortiz, Anita Hollander, Jonathan Lengel, Fredric S. Scheff, and Rachel Handler.
Disabled Down Center was presented by Playbill.