Queens Theatre will be presenting its first-ever Forward Festival of the Arts which will feature a cross-section of performances from different artistic genres.
“The Forward Festival of the Arts is a festival that Queens Theatre is producing over two weekends. We have dance, theater, circus, musical theater, we have play readings,” says Taryn Sacramone, executive director of Queens Theatre. “It is all work that centers and celebrates deaf and disabled artists.”
The festival is a leap forward for the representation of deaf and disabled people through arts. Since 2016, Queens Theatre endeavored to be more inclusive of the deaf and disabled community, as lack of accommodations and training made specifically for deaf and disabled people makes it more difficult for them to be represented in theater. So they launched the “Theater for All” initiative, where they greatly expanded accessibility services at the theater such as audio description and ASL interpretation and now the Forward Festival of the Arts.
“Theater for All is about not siloing the idea of deaf and disabled individuals, but saying this is about equity for all. You can’t be thinking about [equity] without considering this population — it shouldn’t be siloed,” Sacramone says.
Gregg Mozgala, director of The Apothetae, helped coordinate the festival. He has cerebral palsy and knows how difficult it can be to break into the theater world when you have a disability.
“I think one of the biggest issues for me personally was I never saw myself reflected on stage until I was in a show,” he says. “What’s so great about people that will come to this festival whether you’re disabled or non-disabled, deaf or hearing you will either see yourself reflected on the stage or a new aspect of humanity. That is what is really powerful. It can change lives, it can change hearts, it can change minds.”
The Forward Festival of the Arts is seeking to change the theater industry by starting to make sure everyone can watch and enjoy the performances.
“[Queens Theatre is accessible] both for the audience point of view, which is what a lot of people think of when you say we have an accessible space, but also for the artists,” Sacramone says. “Our information [on accommodations] is going to be on our website and we are mindful of readers who use our website. We are trying to have a full range of ways to accommodate audience members.”
Mozgala believes the festival will do more than be inclusive to deaf individuals and other people with disabilities.
“The festival is not only an opportunity to see amazing work from all these incredible companies from across the country but also a chance for deaf and disabled people to be in community with one another and to be intermingling and intermixing with general audiences,” he says.
To get tickets and more information on the kinds of performances that will be showcased check out the Queens Theatre’s website. Prices for performances range from free to $35.