Alison Mahoney

Congratulations to Alison Mahoney as a 2021 recipient of the Dick Thornburgh Forum Disability Service Award.

Alison Mahoney is a University of Pittsburgh PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies. She researches intersections of performance and disability. Alison’s interests developed out of her professional experience as a theatre-maker, teaching artist, and arts administrator in New York City where her work emphasized accessibility for disabled artists and audiences.

Prior to pursuing graduate study, Alison was the founding Artistic Director of Bluelaces Theater Company, which creates original theatre for young audiences with sensory and developmental disabilities. The sensory theatre productions she directed for Bluelaces established spaces that neurodiverse audiences could explore on their own terms, running around the space or interacting with performers as they wished. Rather than retroactively adapting a theatre production to make it accessible, as in the sensory-friendly productions now offered on Broadway and at regional theatres across the country, sensory theatre productions are designed with neurodiverse audiences in mind from the beginning. As Artistic Director, she prioritized the casting of disabled performers and designers, ensuring that disabled audiences would see themselves reflected onstage.

As a graduate student, Alison writes about these theatre practices in the hopes of encouraging other practitioners to adopt similarly accessible approaches. This past summer, Alison presented papers about sensory theatre created for neurodiverse audiences during the Covid-19 pandemic at conferences hosted by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR).

As a Humanities Engage Immersive Fellow, Alison worked with CO/LAB Theater Group, an organization in New York whose mission is to “provide individuals with developmental disabilities a creative and social outlet through theater arts.” Together with disabled self-advocates who participate in CO/LAB’s programming, she helped the organization’s administrative staff put systems in place to ensure a responsive and participant-centered approach to accessibility.

Alison continues to bring this advocacy and expansive notion of access culture to her teaching, writing, and theatre work.