DENVER — Ben Raanan has a mission to change societal attitudes about people with mental and/or physical disabilities.
As the artistic director of Phamaly Theater Company, which is considered a creative home for theater artists with disabilities, he often challenges people with questions like, “Why does a dancer have to have the quote unquote 'perfectly shaped body?' Why does a singer have to only be able to breathe standing up? Why can’t they be in a wheelchair?”
Phamaly stands for "Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League." Five students from the Boettcher School, each living with a disability, founded the theatre company in 1989. The idea for the company came out of their collective frustration over the lack of acting and theater opportunities for people with mental or physical disabilities.
Phamaly put on its first show — "Guys and Dolls" — in 1990.
“My job here at the theatre is [to create] an environment where disability is looked at as an asset rather than a detriment, as well as creating artistically rigorous work for people with disabilities within our community,” Raanan explained.