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What Does It Mean to Provide Accessible and Inclusive Theatre?

Updated: Apr 1

Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre is celebrating our 48th season in 2022! As we kick off the season, we’re also kicking off new ideas, with new leadership, and making sure inclusivity and accessibility are at the core of everything we do. What does that mean? We sat down with Managing Artistic Director J. Ethan Henry to find out!


What does being inclusive and accessible mean in theatre and why is this important?


Ultimately the arts are for everyone. That is the root of everything that I do and every step that Chelsey and I make with Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre. It is our job as arts leaders to cultivate an inclusive environment for a ll artists to feel safe, be respected, and fulfill their best art. This ranges from race, gender, socioeconomic background, and more. It is important to understand that what makes us different is not a disadvantage, but an opportunity for anyone to bring themselves to their art. We have the responsibility to our arts community and the region to hold true to these values to create a safe space.


“It is important to understand that what makes us different is not a disadvantage, but an opportunity for anyone to bring themselves to their art.”

This also goes for equity within the workspace. We want to make sure that all artists are being paid at an equitable rate, but also not over-working or not being paid for the time and energy put into their work. As arts administrators, we also have to realize that inclusivity does not just stop at casting, this needs to be represented from the governance of the organization down. This space needs to be provided for every technician, manager, and employee that sets foot in our organization. In 2022 we are looking to employ over 150 artists, and we have to create this space for all.


Accessibility in the arts is everything. When living in New York and working on Broadway, I realized that art does not matter if it can not be seen. The average family of four living in the Bronx is not able to afford a night out on Broadway. So the big question is, will art make an impact if it is not seen by the audiences that can benefit from it? Here at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre, we are dedicated to bringing quality art and important stories to Western North Carolina but also making these stories accessible to the surrounding communities.


“...will art make an impact if it is not seen by the audiences that can benefit from it?”

How is Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre fulfilling this mission to make theatre more inclusive and accessible?


Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre is a company of passionate professional artists and leaders dedicated to serving and enriching our region by producing high-quality professional live theatre, by providing a nurturing environment for all involved, and by embracing and celebrating Appalachian culture.


Something that we are very excited about for 2022 is the inaugural season of our Theatre For Young Audiences Program. It is vital that the younger generation has access to the arts and through this program, we want to bring quality entertainment to these youngsters. This season we are producing theatre FOR children, hopefully, in the future, we will be providing theatre opportunities WITH children.


“…by providing a nurturing environment for all involved, and by embracing and celebrating Appalachian culture.”

When we decided that we were going to produce Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was very adamant about two things, that we delved into the use of

ASL, and that we paid respect to effectively represent the Romani culture. Through many conversations and discussions, we were able to cast a deaf actor (Rey Castillo) as Quasimodo, and we will explore the expression of storytelling through ASL. Also through our casting, we found a wonderful actress (Anna Ashburn) who is Romani to play the electrifying role of Esmeralda. Our Costume Designer Kerigan Martin is also Romani who will help us bring this culture to life. It was vital to this production that we surround ourselves with a team of artists that can come together to effectively and honestly tell this story.


We are so grateful for these artists to share their talents with us and to further our accessibility to our programming. We are also very excited about expanding our accessibility to our productions with ASL Interpretation for selected performances of each show.


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