OPPS #ONSCENE with Mariah Plante, former intern at Bluelaces Theater Company
Tell us about yourself:
I grew up doing community theatre in Charleston, West Virginia, and moved to New York five years ago to study acting and drama therapy.
I began volunteering for my high school’s special education program when I was 16. Around the same time I was also performing in a charmingly dark community theatre production of Jack the Ripper—The Musical (you can’t make this stuff up!). The other aides and students in that classroom were and still are some of my biggest supporters. My older brother, who is on the autism spectrum, came to see me in that show and quickly became overstimulated by the crowd, lights and loud music—not to mention the torch-wielding teenagers in 1890s period costumes marching past him down the aisle. He and my parents had to leave the theatre not long into the first act. I felt terrible, not because my family didn’t get to see the rest of the play, but because it was so clearly inaccessible to my friends and brother who wanted to share in this experience and support me. This has become the litmus test for me in deciding what kind of work I want to pursue. As a stage manager and now producer of my own work, I try to keep accessibility a primary concern in everything I’m a part of.
Tell us about your experiences with Bluelaces Theater Company, which creates multi-sensory shows specifically designed for audiences with autism and other developmental differences:
Bluelaces Theater Company’s internship program is free, flexible and tailored to each intern's preferred interests. For example, past interns have served as assistant directors, shadowed the executive director in learning how to craft a business plan, and assisted with audience services and ticketing. The company usually only brings on one intern at a time. Current undergrads are eligible for the internship program. Bluelaces selects all of its performance venues with accessibility in mind and, since the program is flexible, we can work with each individual to guarantee any needs are accommodated.
I applied to be an intern with Bluelaces Theatre Company in the Summer of 2017 and started out by organizing ticket services for All Aboard!. I later got the opportunity to create a workshop version of our laundry-themed show SUDS!. Because I’d been working in a mostly administrative capacity during my internship, I had the pleasure of discovering all of the sensory elements in the show for the very first time. When I took the workshop to different classrooms across the five boroughs, I had to adapt my teaching style to accommodate different ages and ability levels, as well as varying group sizes. This was super challenging but also immensely gratifying for me, because our student audiences really seemed to enjoy exploring within the world we set up for them. This summer I’ll be co-creating the curriculum for Bluelaces’ two-week summer program Camp BlueLAB, which starts in August.
What are the benefits and challenges of being a young artist?
Young people today are so cool and almost effortlessly creative, especially the kids who are just now graduating from high school and college. We’ve grown up in this very aesthetically aware society that encourages us to constantly consume and create content as a means of communication. This of course comes with its own set of challenges, but overall I think it’s set us up to be able to function as our own agents and managers in a way artists have never been able to do before. The theatre and entertainment industries have changed so much in the last decade, especially in terms of how artists market themselves and interact with their audiences online. Our generation has the unique advantage of growing up with this technology and being able to use those skills to our advantage.
I think the biggest challenge for me is staying focused and maintaining the time and space to be creative. Having my whole life ahead of me to do whatever I want is seriously daunting. I’m struggling right now with trying to brand myself and develop my own creative voice. I’m from a small town and used to having a lot of resources and artistic support at my disposal. I don’t think I realized how much I relied on that energy until I moved to New York City and started trying to do everything all by myself. It can also be difficult to collaborate with folks my age because so much of our time and energy gets eaten up by various school and survival job responsibilities.
What would you say to people who think theatre isn’t for them?
I would say, “That’s okay! Not everything has to be for you!” Bluelaces is special because every performance is designed for a very specific audience. While neurotypical members of our community often observe performances, the only people invited to participate in the sensory elements are those on the autism spectrum or with other developmental differences, and their caretakers. The goal is to give families a safe and positive environment designed just for them where their kids are free to explore and engage in the experience in their own way.
What would you change about New York City theatre to make it more accessible for young people?
Lower the price of tickets. As an artist, I want to be able to witness more of the amazing theatre that’s taking place here in New York City. As an artist, I go to the theatre to learn from the best. While I was in college, sometimes theatres would offer a limited number of comp tickets to our school. They were always claimed within minutes because our professors taught us that seeing great theatre was part of our education. Now that I’m out in the world and working I can afford to see more shows, but it’s still a major expense and something I have to budget for. I would love to see more programs that make Broadway more accessible to young people and low-income audiences.