Phamaly, a theater company comprised entirely of disabled actors, recently traveled to Japan to bring their brand of accessible magic to Osaka’s International Communication Center for Persons with Disabilities (BIG-i).
“In Japan, there are certain disabilities that are sort-of revered and certain disabilities that are hidden,” says Bryce Alexander, Phamaly’s artistic director. “For example, blindness in Japan is something people can appreciate. But if you’re mentally disabled, or look deformed, you’re sort of locked away.” Or, as the saying in Japan goes, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
The concept of individual story in Japan is not very prevalent, so Japanese audiences don’t see a lot of disabled actors in the mainstream. Phamaly spent an entire day with workshop participants convincing them that it was okay to tell their stories of disability. There was one little girl with autism named Shuia, who was transgender at age 8, and she recounted how the doctors diagnosed her with a brain disorder because she identifies herself strongly as a female even though she’s physically a boy.
Phamaly performed “The Fantasticks” in front of 1300 people, their largest audience ever, in conjunction with a group of students from Kinki University who dubbed the performance live. Japanese audiences are trained to be very quiet; so they don’t clap between songs. But as the musical went on, they couldn’t help themselves but to laugh and clap. One woman, by the end of the show, was so touched that she made origami for the entire cast while waiting for an hour in the lobby to meet them.
The BIG-i has invited Phamaly to return in 2017 and perform in Osaka and Tokyo as well. Kinki University is in also interested in Phamaly hosting an internship program for their students to come to the United States, work with Phamaly, and learn how they operate. “The BIG-i is really excited about our partnership” said Alexander, “I think it’s the start of a pretty long international relationship.” You can find more information about the personal experiences of Phamaly members at http://www.phamaly.org/#!japan/c13bc.