Queens Theatre launches campaign to support disabled actors

By Stephanie Meditz

[email protected]

Vincent D’Onofrio teaching (Photo: Ari Mintz)

Queens Theatre dedicated this Disability Pride Month to raising funds to advance inclusion in the performing arts.

Its annual Theatre for All Actor Training program allows Deaf and disabled actors to take classes and work with other professionals in the industry, giving them the opportunity and tools for success completely free of charge. 

Some of the many classes offered to students in the program are Acting for the Camera, Acting for the Stage, Improv, and Movement. 

The program also encourages growth with two separate tracks for beginners and working actors. 

Taryn Sacramone, executive director of Queens Theatre, sees the TFA actor training program as a rewarding experience for everyone involved. 

“Our artistic family expands every year. The students stay in touch with each other,” she said. “And it’s amazing to see them working elsewhere and building their careers or supporting each other. It’s just turned into a great alumni network in addition to the classes themselves.”

When it was launched in 2018, the program was funded by The New York Community Trust and has received funding from various supporters over the years. 

With this funding, Queens Theatre has been able to keep the program running every fall at no cost to the actors. 

“It’s important to us that we continue the program free of cost for the students,” Sacramone said. “We want to eliminate that barrier.”

This year, Emmy-nominated actor and TFA instructor Vincent D’Onofrio pledged to match the first $15,000 donated to the program. 

D’Onofrio has been involved with the program since its inception in 2018 — first as a teacher in the Theatre for All actor training program, and later as a director of the Theatre for All Short Plays. 

Sacramone, knowing that D’Onofrio was a teacher of method acting, asked him to teach a screen acting class in the program’s early days.

“He came out to the theater and was really just extraordinary,” she said. 

Students in the TFA professional training program for Deaf and disabled actors are selected through an application consisting of a resume, cover letter and interview. 

Selection is not based on experience, but applications determine a prospective student’s placement. 

Applications for this year’s program will open in the middle of August, and for the first time since the pandemic began, classes in the fall will be offered both on-site at Queens Theatre and online. 

When she first moved to New York, Sacramone was unsure about her career, but quickly learned that she wanted to run a nonprofit theater in Queens. 

She was the executive director of Astoria Performing Arts Center for eight years before joining Queens Theatre in 2013. 

Her time at APAC allowed her to learn more about people in Queens and develop strong connections with them. 

“We at Queens Theatre have a mission. It’s about serving our uniquely diverse community,” Sacramone said. “We do have a very unique community in Queens. But when people think about its diversity, they usually think of it in terms of ethnic diversity…So we started to really question whether we were being fully proactive and inclusive about reflecting and serving people with disabilities.” 

“I think that it’s important in considering diversity to remember how intersectional disability is,” she continued. “All of the various communities that a person might consider within Queens, Deaf and disabled people are part of those communities.” 

In addition to its professional training program for actors, Theatre for All includes other initiatives to make the theater a more inclusive and equitable place for creatives and audience members alike. 

“If you’re not intentional about being inclusive of Deaf and disabled people, then you’re falling short of serving all,” Sacramone said. “So we named our program ‘Theatre for All’ to make that point.” 

Queens Theatre has taken steps to work with disabled playwrights and give them a platform to tell their stories. 

When the Queens Theatre team recruited short plays by disabled playwrights or featuring disabled characters, it received more than 160 submissions. 

In November 2018, Queens Theatre presented readings of 10 of those short plays. This year, some of them were published by Next Stage Press. 

Queens Theatre also has a Theatre for All Children program in partnership with Queens public schools, including District 75 schools. 

In addition, the theater itself now includes ASL interpretations, audio descriptions and relaxed performances to ensure that it is a sacred space for everyone. 

“We’re looking at it very holistically,” Sacramone said. “We want to know who the performers are, we wanna know what roles there are for them, we also wanna make sure that our theater is fully accessible and inclusive…Everyone starts as an audience member.” 

In the coming year, Queens Theatre looks forward to continuing The Lark’s fellowship program to support disabled playwrights. 

Queens Theatre also hopes to develop international partners when its Director of New Play Development, Rob Urbinati, travels to Japan in the fall to teach a playwriting course and direct short plays for a festival. 

“We want more roles created for actors with disabilities, but we also wanted to really show people that there’s a robust pipeline of talented Deaf and disabled artists out there who just haven’t had opportunities yet,” Sacramone said. 

To donate to Queens Theatre’s campaign for its Theatre for All Actor Training program, visit https://secure.givelively.org/donate/queens-theatre-in-the-park-inc/theatre-for-all-matching-grant-campaign

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