Theatre for all is a specialty of the Olney Theatre Center in Maryland. In July, 2022, they presented the theatrical classic, The Music Man. The production featured a cast of d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors alike. Along with co-directors, a choreographer and a music director, the creative team included a director of artistic sign language. The show’s official production web page reads:

The Music Man is a family-friendly show, and its content is suitable for all ages. However, parents should be aware that Olney Theatre’s bilingual production of The Music Man is performed in American Sign Language with English supertitles. The songs are performed in English with ASL and English supertitles. The dialogue is performed in ASL with English supertitles. The ability to read the supertitles, either projected or via the GalaPro app, is an essential part of the experience for hearing audiences.”

Actor James Caverly, who is deaf, led the ensemble as Professor Harold Hill. (You might recognize him from Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building.) He told PBS NewsHour, in a feature segment, that he had approached Olney’s artistic director, Jason Loewith, about producing this rendition of The Music Man after he saw Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening.

Caverly told PBS, “… let’s shatter that perception that disabled people can only play roles that are designed or written for disabled people.”

A few years later, the show opened. PBS reported, “There were see-through COVID masks, so the non-hearing actors could read lips and facial expressions. American Sign Language interpreters were positioned across the stage. The set was created by a deaf designer with a minimum of stairs, so deaf actors didn’t have to take their eyes off their signing castmates. And a special lighting system let the non-hearing cast members know when there was a problem.”

The Music Man received plenty of praise from The Washington Post, DC Theater Arts, MD Theatre Guide and Talkin’ Broadway. And the Olney is far from alone in their initiatives to embrace accessible practices. Read more about companies and organizations who are embedding inclusivity in their works.

Theatre for All Brings Richness to the Show

When the stories we see onstage reflect enough reality to help the audience see themselves in the storyline, the impact of the message is that much stronger. Here are three ways that the idea of theatre for all is enriching productions.

man in costume singing onstage with superscript text behind him

James Caverly, superscript running behind him, in “The Music Man.” Photo Teresa Castracane

1. Theatre belongs to everyone. Stories of all kinds, featuring characters from all backgrounds and all abilities, are being shared and produced theatrically and professionally to eager audiences who want more.

2. Inclusion must take place on stage and off. Theatre organizations should not only produce stories of all kinds but hire experts off stage who can inform and enhance the entire experience

3. Creativity knows no bounds. Artists are uniquely positioned to break molds – especially social and cultural norms that don’t serve everyone equally. Through artistic experiences, performers show us how to think in new and different ways.

Theatre for All Is (and Has Been!) a Focus for Many 

DEAF WEST THEATRE Since 1991, the award-winning Deaf West Theatre has been producing shows that center the work and storytelling of d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing artists. Their productions, on stage and on screen, are inspired by Deaf culture. They describe using American sign language and spoken English “to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice.”

Deaf West’s production of “Spring Awakening” in 2015 earned two Tony Award nominations and five Ovation Award nominations. This fall, they’re producing Sophocles’ Oedipus. They’re presently collaborating with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to present a production for hearing and Deaf audiences. They’re also developing a musical, stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film CODA, which follows the story of a deaf family.

NATIONAL DISABILITY THEATRE Talleri A. McRae and Mickey Rowe launched National Disability Theatre (NDT) in 2018. Their mission states, “National Disability Theatre employs professional theatre artists who create fully accessible, world-class theatre and storytelling; changes social policy and the nation’s narrative about disability culture; and provides a guiding model in accessibility for the arts and cultural sector.” You can read a series of essays about making theatre accessible, which was curated by McRae and Rowe for HowlRound.

NDT reports that currently, “Ninety-five percent of disabled characters are played by non-disabled actors.” To combat that reality, the company collaborates with professional regional arts organizations to co-produce accessible productions. They also use “the lens of disability” to hire professional theatre artists and produce large-scale productions.

THEATER BREAKING THROUGH BARRIERS For more than 40 years, Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) has presented shows off-Broadway. The company originally called themselves Theater By The Blind, but, according to their mission statement, they expanded their inclusion to artists with all disabilities. TBTB is known in the industry as the “home base off-Broadway theater for people with disabilities.”

TBTB pivoted from producing in-person performances to virtual productions in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In their Virtual Playmakers Intensive, TBTB presented video performances of plays which streamed live on YouTube and Facebook. Their upcoming season includes a mix of in-person and virtual productions. They’re also mounting their off-Broadway production of Brecht on Brecht at the 15th Bird International Theatre Festival in Tottori, Japan, in September. 

Natalie Clare is a regular contributor to Visit her at

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Costume Shop Management

    Costume Shop Management

    Pro Tips from Gordon DeVinney

    Aug 11, 2022

    Theatre Family

    Theatre Family

    On stage and off

    Jul 27, 2022

    Acting the Song for Auditions

    Acting the Song for Auditions

    Part II: Includes tips for callbacks

    Jul 28, 2022