Phamaly Theatre Company Shines the Spotlight on Performers with Disabilities

Phamaly Theatre Company produces professional scale plays and musicals year-round throughout the Denver Metro region, cast entirely of performers with disabilities across the spectrum (physical, cognitive, emotional, blindness, deafness…etc.). Phamaly was formed in 1989 when five students of the Boettcher School in Denver, Colorado, grew frustrated with the lack of theatrical opportunities for people living with disabilities, and decided to create a theatre company that would provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to perform. Four of these five founding members remain active as actors in Phamaly productions today (Kevin Ahl, Kathleen Traylor, Gregg Vigil, and Teri Westerman).

For its first show in 1990, the founders of Phamaly produced the musical Guys & Dolls, directed by Gregg Vigil. With massive community support and interest from performers with disabilities, the following year Phamaly presented the musical Oklahoma!, bringing in Mark Dissette to direct. Mark remains heavily involved with Phamaly as an actor today, and has performed in almost every production by Phamaly. That year, Phamaly also began its tradition of performing in the Space Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, thanks to the support of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Phamaly actress Ashley Kelashian

On August 29, 2006, Phamaly was featured in a lengthy segment of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. This marked the company's first mainstream national publicity. Previous to that, Phamaly had also been the subject of a documentary short entitled "We Are PHAMALY" directed by Oscar winning filmmaker Daniel Junge. A feature length documentary made by Mark Dissette called "There's Still Hope for Dreams (A PHAMALy Story)" was recently aired on Colorado PBS, and has been featured at film festivals across the country.

In January 2007, the company opened the first non-musical production in its history: Thornton Wilder's classic, Our Town, at the Aurora Fox Theatre. The company has performed a non-musical production at the Aurora Fox every winter since. In 2011, these plays expanded to the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities as well.
Since the fall of 2008, Phamaly has also produced a series of sketch comedy productions entitled Vox Phamalia. These cabaret style shows consist of original comedic, improv, and musical material written in a workshop over several weeks before being performed. The 2011 version - Vox Phamalia: Quadrapalooza - received numerous awards and nominations from Denver theatre critics, including one for Best Director for Edith Weiss, who originated the Vox Phamalia series.

Phamaly further expanded in 2012 with the creation of an annual Boulder-based show,disLabled, serving actors and audiences living in the Boulder region. Phamaly also began touring statewide in Colorado, first with the play Cyrano, followed up by the hugely popular musical The Velveteen Rabbit.
Actress Teri Westerman
Two actors of Phamaly have gone on to become the first ever full-time wheelchair users accepted into, respectively, a Master's of Acting program and a PhD for Theatre and Drama program, both through the University of California San Diego (Regan Linton & Jason Dorwart). In addition, one of the original Vox Phamalia actors/writers has been accepted to the Masters program for screenwriting at UCLA (Laura Alsum). Long time Phamaly actress Lucy Roucis was also featured doing her stand up comedy act about Parkinson's Disease in the 2010 romantic comedy Love & Other Drugs.

Here is a close-up on a few of Phamaly's actresses, from each of their perspectives:

Teri Westerman

Phamaly has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I am one of the co-founders of Phamaly, along with four other schoolmates. 

The phone call came from Gregg Vigil saying that we should start our own theater company because no one else would take us seriously as performers.  I said okay and the journey began.  My life both personally and professionally has flourished in no small part due to Phamaly.  I learned leadership, dedication, compassion and patience, just to name a few.  Self confidence is probably one of the most important things I gained. 

I have always loved dance and remember watching the Nutcracker on PBS as a child.  I started square dancing at age 11 with the Colorado Wheelers, moved on to modern with Cora Woogen and a Danceability.  The opportunities that I have been given because of Phamaly and its connections have led me to be a professional dancer for the last 13 years.  Before Phamaly’s first production, Dancing Wheels of Cleveland came to Denver and invited us to participate in their weekend intensive.  This is when my passion for dance got its wings.  I went to the performance and while in the audience I said to my friend, “I don’t know how, I don’t know when but I am going to do that!”  First, there was Ballet Arts Theatre.  Paul Fiorino came to Phamaly wanting some people to collaborate with him on Dance Event 2000.  I met David Mineo at that time and we developed a dance partnership that is still going strong.  Then came Ballroom dancing, again asking fellow Phamaly members to join me on this endeavor.  A division of Wheelchair dance was added to the Colorado Star Ball competition and remains today.   I then had the opportunity to travel to Belgium to train and compete in the German open.  We won 4th place in our division and were the first Americans to ever compete internationally.

After retiring in 2008 I auditioned for Dancing Wheels and was given the opportunity to train with them for three years. I returned to Denver last June and in October of 2012 I started Spoke ‘N’ Motion Dance, a physically integrated dance company.  There are 18 members of Spoke ‘N’ Motion Dance, five of whom are also Phamaly members. 

Thank you to Debbie Stark and Steve Wilson for giving me the chance to learn and work with you as Assistant Choreographer on many productions.  Thank you to our many donors and sponsors who believe in us. It is your continued support that keeps the dream alive!  And to the many wonderful  people in my life because of Phamaly, I say L’Chiam!

Ashley Kelashian

When I auditioned for Little Shop of Horrors last summer it was my first musical audition in many years and it was AWFUL. All I could do after trying to get through the song twice and failing was shake and say “It’s been awhile.”
I went home and wept because I thought Dercum’s Disease had taken away my ability to perform. Dercum's Disease is a genetic disorder that causes fatty tumors called lipomas to grow throughout my body. They vary in size from peas to golf balls and cause intense pain to any nerves they compress. I have never counted each one but it's safe to say I have over a thousand. There are many other symptoms such gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, and brain fog. Though this condition has been in medical books for over a hundred years, due to its rarity, very little is understood about how to treat it.
The Phamaly staff saw through the trembling mess of a person in front of them and saw who I used to be before I was sick. They gave me a chance – and with that chance found I was still an actress.
Now it’s a year and a half later and Phamaly has transformed my whole world. My eleven-year-old son, Edric, was cast in Fiddler and now in Wonderful Life. His Doctor asked me last week why there was such an amazing improvement in his stuttered speech syndrome. My one word answer was, “theatre.”
My husband, Eric, volunteered backstage this summer and found an environment where he felt safe sharing about his psychiatric disabilities. Now he is going to be onstage in Wonderful Life. Performing again for the first time in many years has already been healing to his mind and soul.
My family is my Phamaly. What more could anyone ask for than to do what they love with the people they love? Phamaly has become our family too – they give us support, love and something to be proud of.
I am so grateful to everyone who donates to this incredible company. Without exaggeration it has given me myself back.
I miss Yente terribly, and I adore playing Ma Bailey in Wonderful Life - even on the hard days. Dercum’s is considered one of the most painful diseases in the world (usually in the top five on a top ten list) but theatre gives me a release and a kind of strength I can’t describe. The disease is progressive so I get “not great” medical news all the time - but it seems to worry me much less than it used to. My family is happy – and our medical conditions can never keep us from doing what we love again.
God Bless Phamaly and every person who makes what they do possible. It is a WONDERFUL LIFE! 
Lucy Roucis

My first memory is when I was two years old. I was leaning my head against the wall, which was tipping my cowboy hat back, talking to myself and to my horse, Trigger. I wasn’t pretending to be Dale Evans. I was Roy Rogers!  Aided by my mother asking “Roy” to come eat breakfast, this morphed into a lifelong acting career.

My first casting rejection happened in the first grade. Our gym teacher said we were going to perform the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies in the Christmas recital at Bancroft School in Lakewood. She was casting the lead role and asked for a show of hands as to who owned a leotard. I had one and I raised my hand, as did Nancy, a co-ed. The teacher said, “Okay, Lucy, you are the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Then she said. “What color is your leotard?” “Black,” I answered. Nancy’s was blue so she changed her mind and “fired” me and cast Nancy because her blue leotard was a more appropriate color for the role! That story stays with me and helps me when I fail to get a role.

My parents were determined to give the best education possible for their six children and we were sent to private schools. I was sent to St. Mary’s Academy and when I was ready to go to college I sheepishly asked my father if I could study acting. He said he wasn’t surprised and yes I could attend Loretto Heights College where I became an Acting Major (among all the Musical Theatre majors). I learned how to sing and dance as well as act. Finally being able to study what I love, I graduated Magna Cum Laude.
Lucy Roucis

I moved to Hollywood and got in line. I had good skills and was willing to work hard at survival jobs and continue studying acting and dance. I found myself studying with Roy London, of the Uta Hagen school of acting and I was transformed as an actor with a much better sense of self. I started booking work:  TV commercials, small parts on soaps and feature films. Little did I know Parkinson’s disease was waiting around the corner.

I was 27 when I received the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. On top of that came the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. At age 30 I found myself grateful for my parents opening their home to me with open arms. I was one sick kid. Then I found PHAMALY. I thought my career was over but it was just beginning!

I turned the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease around to benefit my acting career. I’ve been able to play dream roles (Vera in Mame, Lola in Damn Yankees, Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls).  I’m moving into character roles (Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Mother in Barefoot in the Park and Mrs. Kendal in the upcoming The Elephant Man). I also was hired to play the Unconvention Parkinson’s Speaker in 20th Century-Fox’s Love and Other Drugs, starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal and I have no doubt that PHAMALY prepared me for the role. It was definitely a highlight in my career.
I want to thank all the supporters of PHAMALY, especially the volunteers, for making me feel like a real part of the theatre community and for making sure I could continue my career here in Denver, not in spite of my disability, but because of it.

You've learned a bit about Phamaly and some of its extraordinary actors. Now visit their page on Facebook, via, so that you may "Like" the theatre company. For more information, visit


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