EPISODE 17 – Entertainment and Education at Playhouse on the Square – October 15, 2022

Curtain’s up! Listen to Marcus Cox of the Playhouse on the Square be interviewed by Bart, the Vista Points podcast host, Choose Your Path. This historical Memphis tradition has entertained the Southeast for decades – including loved ones who live with a disability. Learn how the theater serves all ages and anyone with a seeing, hearing or ambulatory impairment. Plus, find out what a special needs trust pays for when considering education or entertainment!


Greetings from our Middle Tennessee studio. Welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path,” where the Vista Points staff are committed to improving the quality of life for people living with disabilities.

I’m Bart, your podcast host. My role is to walk with you on this journey of discovering and using special needs trusts. If you’re listening to this podcast online, I want you to make the most of your experience.  We have a feature to help you understand the podcast. You can turn on closed captioning by clicking the C-C in the shadowed box of your video screen.

We address a variety of topics related to special needs trusts. Today, we continue educating you by interviewing business partners who also serve people living with disabilities, chronic illness or who have special needs.

Today, I am glad to welcome Marcus Cox, Director of Community Relations with Playhouse on the Square in Memphis. And now, as they say in the theater business, the curtain’s up!

Bart: Hi, Marcus. I’m happy to interview you today for our Vista Points, Choose Your Path, podcast. I’ve heard many good things about your organization and the entertainment it provides the entire Southeast. Let me introduce you to our listeners.

Marcus Cox is a native of Memphis, TN and graduate of Watkins Overton High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.  He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theatre Performance from The University of Memphis and has performed and traveled as a professional actor across the United States.  Marcus serves and maintains membership to multiple organizations including the Metro Memphis Attractions Association, the Young Professionals Council for Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Miss America Organization and Americans for the Arts.  As the Director of Community Relations for the Playhouse on the Square, Marcus is tasked with curating current and establishing new relationships between Playhouse on the Square and neighboring businesses and community organizations.  He serves as the bridge of each department within the organization and partners within the Mid South region. He is a member of the Young Professionals Class of 2021, a 2019 Kindle Awards Recipient and Who’s Who Among American Marketing Professionals.  Marcus is married to his wife, Tasha, for 19 years and they have one daughter, Kelsey, who’s 15.  Marcus and his family are now members of Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova and serve in the Marriage and Family ministry. Welcome, Marcus!

Marcus:  Hi Bart. I’m happy to be here on the Vista Points’ podcast and speaking with you. 

Bart: Marcus, I’m glad you are, too. I have to say, your passion for the community and entertainment is clear in your biography. Will you tell us a little more about your passion for entertainment and your role with Playhouse on the Square?

Marcus: Sure!  Ah, theatre and arts in general have always been a part of me and my family’s life. I have an older brother who is a professional musician and my sister is a published author. I could not imagine doing anything else with my life honestly. I have always been a storyteller. As an actor and creative, I have been blessed with the ability to tell the stories of others. My hope is to move audience members in a way that elicits change. As Community Relations Director at Playhouse on the Square, I jokingly call myself the Door Opener. It is my job to find connections with our community to what it is we do at Playhouse. In addition to our mainstage productions, Playhouse on the Square runs a number of community outreach programs for the betterment of our city and region.

Bart: I’m glad to hear about your story and what brought you to work in theater. It’s always been a part of the entertainment industry which has been of interest to me – to watch and to be a part of, when possible. It must be a great place to work.

Marcus:  Oh, it is, Bart. The Memphis theater community is such a tight knit family. It is not like this in other parts of the country. Here we look forward to everyone succeeding. You know, it takes a community of people to produce a theatrical performance – onstage, backstage and in the audience. There is something for everyone. One area in particular interest to me is how we serve people with disabilities in our audience. 

Bart: Well, that makes sense. Darlene Kemp, the Executive Director of Vista Points, told me that you’re the right man to talk with about how theater serves people with disabilities. Would you tell me more about this?

Marcus: Absolutely, Playhouse on the Square works under a three part mission: We want to Create a safe space for our people to create, tell the stories that represent our vast community, and most importantly, never deny anyone access to the arts. Now, once upon a time, that last part just meant serving those with financial hardships. In the past few years, that word “access” has expanded into every possible boundary that keeps folk from our doors. The obvious things are good parking, accessibility ramps, theatre seating, and restrooms. But we have now included listening devices, live narration for those with sight impairment, sign language interpreters, large print programs, and more. Soon we will also offer sensory sensitive performances for our family shows. We know there are young ones who need extra care and parents sometimes feel they would not be welcome in a theatre setting. Instead of those families trying to fit into our box, we are looking at ways to make things better for them.

Bart: That’s interesting. Would you tell me more about the specific services you offer audience members with audio needs? 

Marcus:  So, we have two. One is the old school UHF radio devices. We connect the sound feed from the stage and broadcast it directly to the audience member as they enjoy the performance. They no longer have to strain to hear what is happening onstage. It is really good for musicals, too, because our sound engineer mixes the performances so that there is always an even blend between the music and those singing onstage. The second device is for patrons with sight impairment. We have a narrator keyed into this device that will narrate the actions onstage as the patron sits in the audience. It is the same device used at The White House for guided tours. 

Bart: Wow, Marcus. I hadn’t considered these services before. This is interesting. I wish everybody would provide these services.  Please tell me more about the theater’s visual services provides for those who need them?

Marcus:  With prior knowledge given, we can arrange for ASL interpreters to narrate productions for the hearing impaired. We work with Deaf Connect in Memphis. They are terrific partners and really good at their jobs. As I mentioned earlier, every show has large format programs so audience members can get whatever information we have shared in our programs and be a part of the full experience. Then, at both Playhouse on the Square and The Circuit Playhouse we have live feeds from the stage to the lobby. This is in an effort to cater to those who may need to step out of the theatre for any number of reasons. They can care for themselves but not miss any of the production.

Bart: My goodness. I feel like a whole new world has opened up. Now, I can imagine there are people who want to attend the theater who have ambulatory needs. Can you tell me about the services the theater provides them? 

Marcus:  Yeah. One of the biggest misconceptions about our theatre is that we do not have parking. And, I don’t know who started that rumor, but it is 100% not true! We can offer bus and handicapped parking and every door is accessible for every mode of ambulatory transport. We have seating for wheelchairs in numerous spaces in our auditoriums as well. Those spaces come with companion seating. So, your loved one or caregiver can stay with you as well. Areas with steps have been recently fitted with iron rails created and installed by our friends with the Memphis Metal Museum and they are beautiful works of art. We have really put some thought into making the theatre experience as enjoyable as possible.

Marcus: Now, Bart, one thing people need to know in order to use these services is how to pay for their admission. While the theater gives free and discounted tickets throughout the community, it’s important for your listeners to know how a special needs trust pays for their admission. Can you speak about that?

Bart: I’m glad you asked me, Marcus. Of course, I’d be happy to answer that important question. The special needs trust pays for the admission of the beneficiary and one caregiver for each entertainment experience. Today, of course, we’re talking about the theater, but the special needs trust pays for admission to all forms of entertainment. To do this, the beneficiary or the caregiver needs to first contact the Vista Points office, speak with one of our employees about the upcoming event. There are many ways available to pay for this type of entertainment.  The staff will work out payment with the beneficiary and/or the caregiver.

And, no offense, but I can imagine one caregiver might be interested in your spring performance of Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 which is based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Another caregiver might be interested in attending the summer performance of Jersey Boys, the Broadway smash. (It) takes the audience behind the scenes and the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. They are both great but really made for different types of people. However, there’s no reason the entire family can’t go to both. It’s just that the special needs trust only pays for the one beneficiary and one caregiver per performance.

Marcus: Ha. Thank you for that promotion, Bart! Yes, we’re excited about these and other performances coming up. The most updated list of performance dates and times is found on our website, playhouseonthesquare.org.

But, while we’re on the subject, it’s one thing to learn about the theater online and another thing to experience it. How can someone with a special needs trust address transportation to the theater?

Bart: That’s a good point, Marcus. The mileage to and from the entertainment is reimbursed by the beneficiary’s special needs trust. It’s simply a matter of tracking mileage, turning it in, and then waiting to be reimbursed. It’s that easy. The special needs trust manager can provide forms or answer questions unique to the beneficiary’s needs, if there’s any concerns.

Bart: Well, this is turning out to be quite an interview!

You know, I have heard interesting things about the classes you offer. Would you tell us more about them? After all, we now know the special needs trust pays for these classes and the transportation to get to them!

Marcus: Our Department of Theatre Education offers theatre classes for youth starting at Pre-K all the way to our senior adults.  We are taking a break with classes for the Fall. But will be back this Winter, starting in January. Schools and Senior Living Communities can enjoy a number of shows this season at our matinee performances during the weekday! There will be matinees for The Wizard of Oz and The Scottsboro Boys coming up soon. The Summer Youth Theatre Conservatory will return in the Summer starting in May. Our young Thespians will get the opportunity to meet friends, learn more about theatre arts, and perform on a professional stage!

Bart: That’s so good to know. Those classes might be a reason to go to Memphis! 

Now, as we close this podcast and draw the curtain on this conversation about entertainment, please give our listeners your closing thoughts about the benefits of entertainment for anyone living with a disability.

Marcus: I want to go back to Playhouse on the Square’s mission. We firmly believe in making theatre accessible to everyone in our community. We feel that with all we have discussed today, that we are doing that. But, we will not be satisfied. Our team is committed to doing all we can to share these experiences. And, what I ultimately want to see is Playhouse on the Square not only making stories onstage available to those with disabilities, but those in the community with disabilities feeling comfortable enough with us to share their stories on stage with us as well.

Bart: Thank you, Marcus. Your passion and commitment to entertainment and community are tangible. I feel it. I hope the listeners do, too. I hope also they choose to experience Playhouse on the Square – whether they live in or near Memphis or when they visit the area. To plan your next theatrical experience, first visit the theater’s website at playhouseonthesquare.org.

And, thank you to our listeners for tuning in to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, the Vista Points podcast. I encourage you to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you can be notified of our latest episodes as they go live on the 1st and the 15th of every month. The Vista Points YouTube channel is named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as in special needs trust.

You can find past episodes on the YouTube channel. You can also find past episodes on the Vista Points website at vistapoints.org along with a transcript of each podcast. The website again is vistapoints-dot-O-R-G.

If you don’t already know, the episode topics are in response to listeners’ questions! If you haven’t asked your question yet, I encourage you to ask and share other concerns online or by calling. When you’re online, visit our Facebook page named Vista-Points-Inc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C. While you’re there, you can send us a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M, by clicking on the Messenger button which looks like a sideways lightning bolt. For those who are comfortable, ask your questions via Facebook!

Or, voice your concerns by calling the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076. Each of the Vista Points team wants to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can.

Now, it’s time for our, take our virtual curtain call for today’s episode. Enjoy your day with your loved one and have a good night at the theater! Come back for more about special needs trusts and reference past episodes of Choose Your Path anytime.

Regardless of where you are or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to our next steps together and speaking with you soon.