Accessibility and Beyond
In 2012, Gregg Mozgala created The Apothetae, a theater organization dedicated to producing works that explore and illuminate Disabled experiences. He approached The Lark to help support the new plays coming out of his company, and a fruitful new partnership was born. The two organizations then collaborated to create The Apothetae and Lark Playwriting Fellowship. It is the centerpiece of a broad Apothetae and Lark Initiative which was designed to provide a platform of financial and artistic support and advocacy for Disabled artists. Launched in 2017, the Fellowship includes a two-year residency, a cash award of $40,000, an Opportunity Fund for project-related expenses, and control over a Production Enhancement Fund. The Fellowship also includes access to a wide range of Lark and Apothetae resources, including artistic program participation. The inaugural Fellow, Tim J. Lord, is currently developing his epic play, On Every Link a Heart Does Dangle; Or Owed in The Lark’s BareBones production this May. The first cycle of the Fellowship was made possible with leadership support from the Time Warner Foundation and additional support from Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman.
The Apothetae and Lark Initiative was a public display of commitment to Disabled artistry, but the program spurred on a host of quieter internal changes at The Lark. We recognize that Disabled artists are excluded at many points in the theater development “pipeline,” and we’re looking for ways to make our space and programming as accessible as possible. Accessibility was always an organizational value, but in light of the Apothetae and Lark Initiative, we began reexamining that value with focused intention. How were we putting accessibility into practice every day?
To address this question, The Lark added accessibility management to my job description, and I began looking at our collective work through an access lens. Next, staff used the Cultural Access Network of New Jersey’s ADA Self-Assessment Survey and Planning Tool as a starting place to review current accessibility policies around services, programs, communications, and facilities. It became clear that an organization-wide strategic plan to create and enhance services for artists, community members, and patrons with disabilities was needed. It was essential for Disabled artists and advocates to be at the center of this formal plan, so we convened The Lark’s first Accessibility Advisory Committee. The committee included: Christine Bruno, an actor, director, and Disability advocate, formerly of Inclusion in the Arts; Jerron Herman, a writer and dancer, and principal company member of Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD), NYC's premiere physically integrated dance company; Pamela Sabaugh, performer, playwright, and musician, and company member of Theater Breaking Through Barriers; and Beth Prevor, the co-founder and Executive Director of Hands On, which has produced more than 500 sign-interpreted productions.
The committee was asked to identify priorities the organization should pursue in the short and long term as well as any barriers to meaningful participation (attitudinal, systemic, physical, technological) they observed at The Lark or more generally in the theater field. The committee reviewed and gave feedback on The Lark’s website, emergency procedures, and internal accessibility language and training documents. They also weighed in on Lark programs and services. Their recommendations focused on:
- Getting Disabled artists in the door – The committee wanted to see artists with disabilities being explicitly invited to apply for fellowships, apply for jobs, and participate as writers, actors, and directors in The Lark’s programming. They also wanted to know how the momentum of the Apothetae and Lark Initiative would be sustained across the two-year fellowship cycle and beyond.
- Spending money on programs first, facilities second - The Lark is in an ADA-compliant building and is fully accessible. We want to provide even more amenities (like an automatic door opener on the accessible restroom), though the committee suggested we focus first on spending money on supporting Disabled artists in our programming.
The committee’s findings were taken to each department for further discussion. Immediate actions were added to an Accessibility Task List tool which tracks action items and deadlines across departments. Longer term strategies became the basis of a three-year accessibility plan. The plan was designed as a guide to help The Lark further its accessibility goals and remove participation barriers for both current and future artists and community members with disabilities. The major goals of the plan include supporting Disabled artists through Lark artistic programs, working on direct outreach and continued community engagement, continued learning and training around disability topics for Lark staff and apprentices, and ensuring The Lark’s present and future facilities are fully accessible and welcoming. The plan offers a framework for creating organization-wide conversations around accessibility strategies and goal-setting, and it was written as a living document that can change to respond to institutional priorities, resources, and needs over time. An initial accessibility budget was also created that held funds for Accessibility Advisory Committee member stipends, accessible services (such as CART), and training opportunities for staff. It too is designed to be flexible, increasing and adjusting to the varied needs of Disabled artists and community members as our programming and services grow.
I was asked to take the role of Lark’s Accessibility Manager, but accessibility is everyone’s job. The collective work of Lark staff and apprentices, the Accessibility Advisory Committee, and Gregg Mozgala with The Apotheate have made The Lark (and it facilities, communications, and programs) more welcoming and accessible. And we’re still at it. Accessibility isn’t a check box. It’s ongoing work to which Lark is committed.