J. Samatha Gould: Inclusive Theater
J. Samatha (“Sam”) Gould is a real estate lawyer in her professional life, but her personal passion is running the Open Door Theater. Sam is an unpaid volunteer working an additional 20-40 hours a week alongside a team of unpaid volunteers including the theater board, production staff, and actors. Since 1980, Open Door Theater has had a unique inclusive mission to provide a theatrical learning experience to families and people with special needs. Their most recent production of “Seussical, the Musical” included 91 actors ranging in age from 9 to 75, with 30% self-identifying as having special needs. Open Door also focuses on accommodations for their audience, offering shows that are ASL interpreted, open captioned, sensory/Autism friendly, or audio-described. Open Door is a shining example of how a community can embrace and celebrate diversity.
Sam came to Open Door in 2001, to share a family theater experience with her much younger siblings. It was immediately obvious to her that there was something exceptional about this company, whose sole purpose was to make theater accessible to anyone and everyone. Not in spite of, but because of the diversity of population, Open Door’s productions are multifaceted, and awe-inspiring.
Since that first encounter, she has made the company’s inclusive mission her own, striving every year to expand and improve accessibility by removing boundaries, educating and bringing theater to as many people as possible in the community. Sam does not believe that it is enough to simply invite people with differences to participate. She proactively learns about the needs of and listens to the community around her to configure performances differently to make them as welcoming and accessible as possible to all patrons, actors, and crew. She encourages everyone to participate onstage and off in the communal sharing of a live performance. In her own words, “I am so fortunate to make magic with an extraordinary group of friends every year. I do not get paid to run Open Door Theater, but I am richer in experience, than I ever dreamed possible.”