Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on April 14th, 2015

Ike Schambelan: Stage director and mentor to disabled actors and writers.

Ike Schambelan
Ike Schambelan  

Ike, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, was the founder and director of an unusual Off Broadway production company, Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB).

Founded in 1980 as Theater by the Blind, it featured blind and sighted actors; but changed its name in 2008 to reflect its inclusion of actors and writers with a wide range of disabilities.

For example, in its latest production, Agatha Christie's "The Unexpected Guest," it has a cast of nine actors.

Two of those actors are legally blind, another actor has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheel chair, one has cerebral palsy, one is partially limited by a spinal injury, and two are amputees.

TBTB produces such high quality plays; audiences often forget most of the actors have physical limitations, which is important for there is a strong need for such a production company.

"Only 2 percent of characters on TV exhibit a disability and only 0.5% are allowed to speak," says TBTB on its website. "Hollywood is required to track casting based on age, gender and race, but categorically refuses to track disability.

"In [TV series] 'Glee' the black actor is black and the Asian, [actor] Asian, but the wheelchair user isn't [really handicapped]. We must change this and gain for actors and writers with disabilities the same acceptance that has been achieved by artists of color."

Yet Hollywood issues aside, for 35 years investors and donors have funded plays for this unusual production company.

The plays performed include not only works of Agatha Christie, but of Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, George Bernard Shaw and other top playwrights, and the writings of their own disabled writers.

Ironically, Ike was neither blind or otherwise disabled, but found his mission because of his close relationship with a grandmother who was blind.

"Every Monday night, we'd listen to 'Lux Radio Theater' and I'd brush her hair," Ike said, in a 2012 Washington Blade newspaper interview, referring to a long ago one hour radio program.

"I came to associate blindness, affection and theater."

Ike was inspired as well by "Children of a Lesser God," the 1980 Tony Award winning Broadway play written by Mark Medoff, starring deaf actress Phyllis Frelich.

That play was based on Phyllis' real life marriage to Robert Steinberg, about a deaf woman who confronts the problems between the hearing and the deaf when she becomes intimately involved with, and marries a hearing man.

Despite the success of that play and the successful movie that followed, today there is little acting or writing work for the disabled.

But TBTB is determined to overcome that, so that the public will gain greater awareness and the disabled will gain greater acceptance and inclusion.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Ike and TBTB see http://www.tbtb.org/ and nytimes.com. To see five minutes of TBTB's production of Romeo & Juliet, click here.

In the next KazanToday: The man who revolutionized televised sports with "instant replay."

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