The Theatre Development Fund

Blog: The Theatre Development Fund

In this post, Lisa Carling, the Theatre Development Fund's Director of Accessibility Programs, answers our questions about the organization and the success of its programs and services.

Can you provide background on the history of the Theatre Development Fund?

Theatre Development Fund (TDF) was created in 1968 in the conviction that the live theatrical arts afford a unique expression of the human condition that must be sustained and nurtured. TDF acts on this conviction by making it possible for people who could not otherwise attend the theatre to do so. Over the past 44 years, we have enabled more than 80 million admissions, and in so doing, have returned more than $2 billion to thousands of theatre and dance productions.  In an era of diminishing cultural participation, we are actively engaged in researching and building audience development programs which will help ensure audiences for the live theatrical arts for generations to come. 

What types of services does Theatre Development Fund provide?

TDF provides a variety of services to help keep theatre, music and dance healthy in New York City and across the country. These include ticket programs such as our TDF Membership, TKTS Discount Booths in New York City and education programs. Our "Open Doors" program just became the first arts education program to be given a TONY Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. We also have a more than 80,000 piece theatrical costume collection that is available for rent at low cost to not-for-profit organizations across the United States and an access program called TAP (TDF Accessibility Programs) which makes theatre accessible to people with disabilities.

What is your role at the Theatre Development Fund?

I am Director of TDF Accessibility Programs (TAP), a department of services for people with physical disabilities. Through our new Autism Theatre Initiative, we're also providing services for individuals on the autism spectrum.

What types of services does the Theatre Development Fund provide for people with disabilities?

We provide a variety of services for children and adults with disabilities, including our Accessible Seating option which provides members with a wide range of physical disabilities orchestra seating at half-price. We also offer services like Audio Description for those who are blind or visually impaired and Sign Language Interpreting for deaf or hearing impaired audience members. You can check out a full list of these services here

What have been some of your greatest challenges, working with TAP, TDF's accessibility program, and what have you done to overcome them?

Some of the greatest challenges are persuading producers to make their performances more accessible to people with disabilities and being patient until the time is right for both the show and the venue to accommodate our ticketing needs. TDF/TAP is designed to make half-price orchestra seating available for our members with physical disabilities because surveys over the years have indicated that our theatergoers are not able or willing to purchase full-price tickets. With many of the hit Broadway shows, patience is the key. We wait until the producers and the box office are able to schedule dates for us with orchestra locations at half-price, even if it means waiting a year, two years or longer.

What has been the most fulfilling moment for you through your experience with the Theatre Development Fund? 

The most fulfilling moment was watching the families with children on the autism spectrum attend The Lion King last fall. The joy on the kids and parents' faces was priceless. All the anxiety of pulling together this "first" on Broadway made it worth it-just to see how the families reacted to attending a performance in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Why would you encourage people to become involved in the organization? How can they become involved?

If you love live theatre performances and wish to share that experience with others who have never been or can't afford to go, I suggest getting involved in supporting TDF's outreach programs. Whatever amount you can give helps to support our services for people with physical disabilities and individuals on the autism spectrum.

Can you provide any anecdotes on how you've witnessed the organization's impact? 

Right after TDF's autism-friendly performance of The Lion King, a mother told us that her little boy, who never shows affection, took his sister's hand on the escalator ride down from the lobby. That, to me, is an example of the power of theatre to change people's lives in the most unexpected ways.

What would you say is the Theatre Development Fund's main goal, or what does the organization hope to achieve in the future?

TDF is working to stay true to its mission to make theatre accessible to everyone!