As a kid, Ben Raanan says, “All I wanted to be when I grew up was the artistic director of a disability-centric theatre company.”
On Saturday, he got his wish.
Denver’s disability-affirmative Phamaly Theatre Company today named Raanan its incoming artistic director. Raanan, from Chicago, will work alongside the departing Regan Linton before officially taking the helm on June 11.
For the past 31 years, Phamaly has existed to create performance opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Ben’s energy, enthusiasm and passion is just the perfect fit for this position, and we are thrilled to have him join the Phamaly family,” said Managing Director Sasha Hutchings.
Linton is the only artistic director of a professional American theater company in a wheelchair, according to Theatre Communications Group. Raanan describes himself as a disabled theatre-maker and advocate whose artistic focus is centralized around “creating artistically rigorous theatre with, for, and about the disabled community.”
And, as a disabled theatre artist himself, he added, “I have always revered Phamaly Theatre Company.”
Raanan was born with Erbs palsy, a condition that has left him with 50 percent mobility in one arm. He is also considered “neuroatypical,” designation that is inclusive of a wide variety of people with diverse intellectual and developmental differences.
Linton, who first performed with Phamaly in 2005, returned four years ago to rescue the company from financial trouble. Since then, she has become a national voice for disability inclusion in the American theater. When announcing her resignation in January, Linton said she thought it was essential that the company replace her with another disabled artist. “Now that we have made that transition,” she said at the time, “there’s no going back.” Enter Raanan.
“It is monumental that Phamaly will be continuing its centering of disability artistry with the selection of Ben as artistic director,” Linton said. “Ben is an accomplished artist with a deep knowledge and experience of theatre practice as well as disability culture and identity, which will be vital to continuing Phamaly’s legacy of bold, disability-centric theatre. He also has the right balance of humor and heart that will make him right at home in the Phamaly family.”
Linton will direct Phamaly’s upcoming, pandemic-delayed hip-hop adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” before moving to Washington D.C. to make more space in her life both for performing and her work as an advocate for the disability community.
Raanan has master’s degrees from both Drake University and DePaul University. He spent five years at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati as Director of Education and Outreach, with a focus on accessibility and inclusion.
Some of his directing credits include “Macbeth” for Spectrum Shakespeare (Chicago); “Antigone” and “Crumble: Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake” for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati; and the autism-focused “Mockingbird” for Falcon Theatre (Newport, Ky.)
“In accepting this position, I cannot stress the magnitude of what it means to be asked to serve Phamaly’s audience, staff and artists,” Raanan said. “Phamaly’s history centers around community, and it is the continued strength of that community that will lead us to the next chapter for Phamaly.”