New company looks for Tucson actors with disabilities

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z New company looks for Tucson actors with disabilitiesKathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Jeanmarie Simpson knows theater - she's acted, directed, produced, written for the stage and was the founding artistic director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company.

And there's something that's long bugged her: Casting of plays is too often geared toward performers without disabilities.

Talent is talent, says Simpson, whether it comes from a singer in a wheelchair or one standing on two legs.

So Simpson, who returned to Tucson a few years ago after a 30-year absence, is doing something about that.

She has founded Universal Access Productions, a theater company with a determination to put actors on stage whether they walk or roll to get there, speak or sign, dance on one leg or two. Talent is the focus, not physical abilities.

"We want to raise awareness around the term 'universal access,' " she says of the company's name.

Simpson is aware of actors with disabilities in the area but adds that she suspects it'll take time for word to spread and differently-abled actors to join the company.

"We have to build trust," she explains.

It is a nonprofit theater, and all performers will be paid a small stipend. She says the board expects the first-year budget to be under $50,000. Simpson will be its artistic director and will not accept a salary at this time. She's looking at a nearly-year-round season and plans to open it with a concert version of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" in July.

Simpson doesn't have a stage yet for the productions, though she is determined to settle downtown.

But it isn't easy to find a theater with a back stage that will work for all actors.

"While most venues do have accessible facilities for the patrons, we haven't caught up with the notion that artists also need accessible facilities," says Simpson.

Simpson has a lifetime of theatrical experience, however, and said she will not be deterred. She is confident Tucson has the talent and the space.

"I don't produce less than excellent work," she says.


Universal Access Productions is holding auditions for its 2013-14 season 1 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Be prepared to do two contrasting monologues. Nonverbal auditioners can present materials of their choice. To schedule an audition, email artistic director Jeanmarie Simpson at Get more information on the company at

The company's 2013-14 season (specific dates and locations not yet determined):

"Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert and Sullivan, in concert form - July and August.

• "Dracula" by Gary Wright - October.

• "A Christmas Carol" (a musical adaptation) - December.

• "Under Milk Wood" by Dylan Thomas - February 2014.

• Shakespeare's "Hamlet" - May/June 2014.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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