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Meet Gavin Thomas Drew, a Theatre Powerhouse and Accessibility Advocate in Northeast Indiana

by Brittany Smith, Input Fort Wayne

A person in a bright yellow jacket smiles and points to a spot on a large white wall lined with photos and a promotional poster for Miss Saigon. There is what appears to be a cartoon face of a large duck projected on the wall with a light projector.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Input Fort Wayne
Gavin Thomas Drew in "Equals," a one-man show he wrote.

As Fort Wayne's theatre scene grows, Gavin Thomas Drew is working to ensure that audiences and theatre makers from unrepresented groups are both welcomed and supported.

This story originally appeared in Input Fort Wayne, a digital news magazine focused on the dynamic communities, businesses, and residents of Northeast Indiana. 

As a child, Gavin Thomas Drew watched his VHS of “The Wizard of Oz” so frequently that it had to be replaced multiple times. So when he saw a flyer at his preschool in Wisconsin for a children’s theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz” he knew he wanted to try out.

“My mom told me that I was too young to even audition according to the flyer, but we would go and if I was cast as a rock, then I would be the best rock ever and if I was the grass, I would be the best grass,” he says. “We’ll just go with low expectations.”

A small child in a green leprechaun suit and hat sits on a step painted to look like the Yellow Brick Road.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Input Fort Wayne
Gavin Thomas Drew as the Mayor of Munchkinland.

He made his theatre debut as the Mayor of Munchkinland in that production, and after, Gavin says he fully embraced the world theatre– it was his Olympic sport.

“A lot of kids use theatre as just like a hobby, something fun, but it became really clear at a very young age that this was my Olympic sport,” he says. “I took it very seriously and so from then to now, it was five, six, seven shows a year, even as a kid. There was never any other option. A lot of parents want you to have a backup plan. I did not have a backup plan. I knew that this was what I was going to do.”

Now, 26 and living in Fort Wayne, he has made a career out of theatre, serving as the artistic director for Summit City Music Theatre and teaching theatre to high school students at East Noble High School in Kendallville, Indiana. In between those two jobs, he also directs and writes.


A smiling person wearing glasses, khaki pants, a khaki vest, and an ascot tie sits in a large green chair.
Photo Credit: Never Creative LLC
Gavin Thomas Drew

After graduating from high school, Gavin attended Oklahoma City University, one of the nation’s top 10 schools for musical theatre, to continue pursuing a career in musical theatre. 

During his junior year, he woke up to discover that he had lost all of his hearing overnight. For someone planning to be a musical theatre actor, he says it was extremely devastating. He left school after that.

“It’s a huge moment,” he says. “We mark time in our family as before and after. It was devastating. It was heartbreaking.”

But he didn’t let the loss of his hearing keep him from the world of musical theatre. Instead, Gavin pivoted, keeping himself in the atmosphere he loved, but as a director. 

Today, he still acts but only on occasion, and has won awards for doing so. He won an Anthony Award for his role as Igor in the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s production of “Young Frankenstein” and he won a Broadway World Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Snoopy in Summit City Music Theatre’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Early this year he debuted a show he wrote about the experience, “Equals.” The one-man show was written with the age-old formula– comedy equals tragedy plus time.

A man with glasses and a khaki vest holds a playbill up to the camera. On it is the title "Equals" and a singular figure looking up at the word.
Photo Credit: Never Creative LLC
Gavin Thomas Drew with a playbill from his one-man show, “Equals.”

“The idea was that I would explore, as a test subject, this equation with my circumstances of losing my hearing at a really young age, but with the hopes of an audience being able to watch it and immediately see themselves inside of that equation and that you can use this equation to look at your life in a different lens,” he explains.

While the experience was heartbreaking, Gavin says this pivotal moment in his life gave him something else to focus on.

“I quickly realized that there were not accommodations in place within the arts for any disability,” he says. “And while we do a lot of talking about being inclusive in theatre, music or dance or whatever, inclusivity to us typically is ‘everybody’s welcome,’ but how do we actually welcome underrepresented groups into our art form?”

He says he started to fixate on the idea of finding out what inclusivity looked like in the rehearsal room, on stage and in the audience. He found that most theatres do a pretty good job of accommodating audiences.

“We allow for ASL translation,” he explains. “A lot of big theatres are doing visual description for the blind. We even have sensory-friendly performances for autistic individuals or neurodiverse individuals, but what we don’t do is allow them into our spaces as actors.”

As Fort Wayne’s theatre scene grows the way audiences experience local theatre is also changing. For example, Kitchen Sink Theatre creates productions for audiences who typically have the most barriers to accessing live theatre.

Gavin found the lack of accommodations for actors on stage led to an overall lack of representation in the arts.

“A huge problem that we have is that we’re not seeing neurodiverse and disabled actors on stage,” Gavin says. “And that’s the problem– we can’t see ourselves doing something if we have nobody representing us in those spaces.”

Other Fort Wayne organizations have noticed this lack of accessibility too. The Arts United Center is set to under major renovations, part of which is updating the building to be more accessible to audience members, performers, and those helping with production.

Gavin started conversations with neurodiverse and disabled individuals about what needed to be put in place in rehearsal rooms and on stage so that they could be part of the art form, not just witness it. Because each individual is so different, there is no one-size-fits-all fix to having a more welcoming theatre production, so Gavin says it’s best to address it on an individual basis.

At Summit City Music Theatre, he says they are committed to inclusivity, which includes acknowledging that there is always more to learn and understand about creating an inclusive environment. They also advertise on casting material that they cast individuals of all abilities, all races, all sizes, all genders, and all sexual orientations. Then, as people come in to audition, they have a conversation about what the actor would need to be able to fully participate in the production.

“While we do a lot of talking about being inclusive in theatre, music or dance or whatever, inclusivity to us typically is ‘everybody’s welcome,’ but how do we actually welcome underrepresented groups into our art form?”

Gavin Thomas Drew
A person in tortoise shell glasses, sandy blonde hair, and a khaki vests speaks in front of a camera pointed at them. They are sitting in on a green couch and photographed in profile. Behind them, a group of people are stopped in conversation.
Photo Credit: Never Creative LLC
Gavin Thomas Drew

“Being able to have that conversation makes all the difference,” Gavin says.

While one theatre company making changes to be more inclusive does not fix the industry as a whole, he says he believes that industry change happens from within, which is a point he frequently makes to his students at East Noble High School.

“If we want to see a problem fixed, like inclusivity in theater, you’re the people to do it right now,” he says. We’re not waiting for the industry to change. We can change it.”

A person with short blonde hair and a powder blue suite smiles at the camera holding a golden award.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Input Fort Wayne
Gavin Thomas Drew with his Anthony Award for Outstanding Supporting Male Performance as Igor in “Young Frankenstein.”

From small rural towns in northeast Indiana to big city productions, Gavin says anyone participating can help impact the arts industry, which is one of the reasons he loves working with high school students.

“I love it because I’m getting to work with the future of the industry,” he explains. “We use the word industry so much as artists, but the industry is anyone that’s making art. I think that that’s one thing I try to drive home with my kids at school– the industry is not this far off thing. If you’re choosing to be an actor and participate in theater now, you’re already a part of that industry.”


At the age of six, Gavin and his parents moved to Ossian, Indiana. Gavin left Indiana for college and then in 2021 he returned to Fort Wayne to take on the position of artistic director for Summit City Music Theatre, where he is responsible for choosing the shows and programming, casting those shows, and hiring directors. Typically, they put on four shows a year.

While the theatre community continues to grow, Gavin says he finds it inspiring to see the community grow and collaborate.

“I think that what’s inspiring me to keep moving forward is all of the possibilities we have in our city, as well as the insane amount of talent,” he says. “I think that the more experience we can give actors, musicians, and audience members in Fort Wayne to see something new, to broaden the scope of the arts, their views of the world, then I will keep doing this.”

Not only does Summit City Musical Theatre share an on-stage talent pool with other organizations across the city, but they also share venues, and sometimes production talent. Gavin says it’s not uncommon for him to call someone from another theatre company to help with a task like lighting or choreography.

“One thing about all of the creatives in Fort Wayne is that everyone wants to see each other succeed,” he says. “I can call someone from the Fort Wayne Civic Theater and ask them, ‘Hey, is there any chance you can help me out with some lighting?’ And they’re going to help me out, which is fantastic because we are such a small pool.”


You can learn more about Gavin Thomas Drew at the Creator Space event at the Cinema Center at 6 p.m. on May 16, 2024. 

Follow Gavin on Instagram here.

Learn more about Summit City Music Theatre here.