Staging Untold Stories

  • Actor Gregg Mozgala and director Kristjan Thor rehearse the play "The Penalty."

  • Actor Gregg Mozgala rehearses with director Kristjan Thor.

  • Actor Gregg Mozgala, founder of The Apothetae theater company.

By Tara Bracco

Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, talks about theater’s ability to break down barriers and explains why he founded The Apothetae, a theater company dedicated to creating full-length plays about the experiences of people with disabilities. The company’s first production – “The Penalty,” by Clay McLeod Chapman, with music by Robert M. Johanson – begins June 14th at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side.


It is perhaps pleasant to pluck the fruits of vengeance. But patience, I require a devil’s patience. (Reading a scene from “The Penalty,” by Clay McLeod Chapman.)

Disabilities is inherently dramatic in itself. My body’s constantly in conflict with me. My brain thinks that my body is in a constant state of emergency.

I have spastic cerebral palsy, which I’ve had since birth.

In seventh grade, I took a speech and drama class. The first assignment was to do a dramatic speech, and I ended up choosing the Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech from “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare. And I was just good at it, and realized that people were looking at me for a completely difference reason. I finally had control of my audience.

I think art has a way of cutting through barriers, breaking down boundaries that other forms of activism don’t quite get to. I think theater is so great because it’s immediate, it demands that you show up and it demands that you participate.

I didn’t know of a single disabled playwright or I didn’t know really of a movement that really encapsulated or made visible my experience as a disabled individual.

There are characters in literature that have disabilities, but professionally as an actor, I know there aren’t [roles] in the larger theatrical canon; or in film and television, it’s very few and far between. And more often than not those roles go to non-disabled actors, and those actors get critically lauded for it.

So part of the work with my company and The Apothetae is to create these stories and create work that illustrates what I’m calling the disabled experience.

The onus is on us. You can go to someone and say, ‘you should’ve used actors with disabilities in these parts,’ and that’s all well and good, but I feel like we should be creating our own material. We should be telling our own stories. We should take control and command of that role. Because nobody is going to do it for us.