Denver Actors Fund in Action: Don Gabenski

Financial-aid recipient: Don Gabenski has been performing for 15 years with Phamaly Theatre Company, which exists to provide performance opportunities to actors with disabilities, and more recently Spoke N Motion, Denver’s only fully integrated dance company. Phamaly highlights have included playing the patriarch Jacob in “Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” The Wiz,” “Guys and Dolls,” and going “half-monty” as a Kit Kat Boy in “Cabaret.” But he’s always had the most fun performing in Phamaly’s annual “Vox” series of original sketch comedies that don’t shy from the personal — or the political. One year Gabenski, who has cerebral palsy, wrote and performed a memorable satiric parody he called “Medicaid Pie” to the tune of “American Pie,” making the blunt assertion that the more you work, the less qualified you are for Medicaid. Until recently, Don also has worked as the longtime receptionist at the Denver Center’s Newman Center for Theatre Education.

His medical story: When you are a permanently disabled person, your life revolves around two wheelchairs — one a primary, and the other an essential backup. But when you are always in one chair or the other, and you rely on them to get around in all kinds of conditions, they break down. A lot. And unlike when your car blows a gasket and you can pull into a service station for a relatively immediate repair, a person on Medicare needs a doctor’s approval to take his wheelchair in for service — a process that can leave a disabled person without a chair for weeks. Don explains his situation this way: “As a physically disabled actor and dancer in the Denver community, my power wheelchair serves as my life. My chair gives me the ability to go out into the community and entertain people. Over the past couple of years, I have had almost continuous mechanical issues with my chair, which has forced me into a wheelchair that has outlived its usefulness after 10 years of almost continuous service. Most recently, I had to use that chair just to perform in “Annie,” and I was almost forced to leave the production because of a serious mechanical issue.”

In 2009, Don Gabenski played a dealer who offers Alice a little help down the rabbit hole in a comic sketch about the disabled in “Vox Phamalia: Re-Dux.”

How we have helped: We have provided Gabenski with $3,529 for the full purchase of a new wheelchair. And it’s a bargain, with a list price of $5,099, Bonus: This will be the chair Don now uses for rehearsals and performances with Spoke N Motion. So it will be used not only for practical, everyday purposes — but also for the making of art!

How you can help us help Gabenski more: Even with this boost, Gabenski is in for a tough financial year. His projected income for 2018 is only $15,480. If you would like to direct a specific, additional donation to Don — just because — simply mail checks made out to The Denver Actors Fund (with Don Gabenski’s name in the topic field) to P.O. Box 11182, Denver, CO, 80212. Or use this donation link. If you use the online option, be sure to designate that your donation is targeted for Don Gabenski. Otherwise, your donation will be applied to the replenishment of the Denver Actors Fund’s general fund.

A message from Don: “Because of the love and support of the many wonderful people in my life, and the unending generosity of The Denver Actors Fund, my worries are now over.  With the purchase of my new power wheelchair, I will be able to continue to do what I love most.  I can continue to entertain people and put smiles on faces for years to come. I cannot properly close without expressing my undying love and gratitude to The Denver Actors Fund, Suzanne Yoe and Anita Edwards for their love and support; DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden for her brilliant idea; Steve Wilson, Regan Linton, Paul Behrhorst, Jenna Bainbridge, Debbie Stark and Ronni Gallup for believing in me and my abilities for 15 wonderful years at Phamaly;  Erin Ramsey Breitenbach, Matt Wagner, Jim Berman and the awesome technical crew at the DCPA; Clint Flinchpaugh, Mike Kimbrough, Dwight Barela and the DCPA engineering staff for keeping me and my chair running non-stop for so long. Last, but certainly not least, thank you Teri Westerman Wagner for creating such a wonderful company in Spoke N Motion that  gives anybody the chance to go out and touch people’s lives. Thank you for your love and friendship, and for teaching me that if you believe in something strongly enough, that anything is possible.”

Read testimonials from other Denver Actors Fund beneficiaries here

Note: At the Denver Actors Fund, anonymity of aid recipients is presumed and fully protected, unless and until the recipient chooses to have his or her story told.



To DONATE the Denver Actors Fund, please CLICK HERE (with our humble thanks)


Video above: The Denver Actors Fund receives the Colorado Theatre Guild’s 2016 Community Impact Award.

The Denver Actors Fund is a modest source of immediate, situational relief when members of the local theater community find themselves in medical need. To date, the Fund has allocated more than $200,000 to artists facing medical need. In addition to financial relief, a team of more than 60 Denver Actors Fund volunteers offers good neighborly assistance including meal prep and delivery, child care, transportation, errands, construction, pet-sitting and more. For more information, visit our web site at DenverActorsFund.Org.


To apply for Denver Actors Fund aid: Fill out this brief online form here



Send checks made out to the Denver Actors Fund to:
P.O. Box 11182
Denver, CO 80212


Tuesday, Dec. 19: The Nightly Met Christmas Special at the D.L. Parsons Theatre in Northglenn, hosted by Avery Anderson and Annie Dwyer, featuring Anna High, and Ryan Chrys and Rough Cuts. Tickets $8-$10. All proceeds go to The Denver Actors Fund. BUY TICKETS

Monday, Jan. 22: Denver Actors Fund Monthly Film Series Presents … “500 Days of Summer” at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaon’s Lake, with live entertainment from cast members from DCPA Cabaret’s “First Date.” Half of all ticket proceeds benefit the Denver Actors Fund. BUY TICKETS

Monday, Feb, 18: Denver Actors Fund Monthly Film Series Presents … “Dumb and Dumber at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaon’s Lake, with live entertainment from Breckenridge Backstage Theatre’s world-premiere comedy musical. “Totally Awesome ’80s Ski Town USA.” Half of all ticket proceeds benefit the Denver Actors Fund. Save the date. Tickets not yet on-sale.


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By John Moore

Award-winning arts journalist John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the United States by American Theatre Magazine during has 12 years at The Denver Post. Hen then created a groundbreaking new media outlet covering Colorado arts an culture as an in-house, multimedia journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He also founded The Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that has raised more than $600,000 for theatre artists in medical need. He is now a journalist for hire as the founder of Moore Media Colorado. You can find samples of his work at MooreJohn.Com. Contact him at