“You should be seen for this play/musical/movie…they are seeking actors with disabilities, and that is SO IN RIGHT NOW.” I have heard this phrase multiple times in the past year, and met it with a mixture of excitement and distaste. Excitement that casting directors are seeking artists with disabilities, yet distaste that disability representation is phrased like a trend or phase. What about being the best person for the job, regardless?
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that disability representation is slowly on the rise. After all, throughout my training, I heard multiple teachers say: “You should avoid film and TV auditions all together” (because of my vision impairment), and I have gone into rooms with casting directors who say, “You sounded great, but your eyes were all over the place…you need to fix that.” As I get older, I have been hearing less of these limiting comments, and more encouraging ones. However, the work of disability inclusion in the arts is just beginning, and I am ready to see disability integrated into entertainment in an honest, raw way that this industry has been hesitant to embrace.
Last November, my friend Kallen and I went to a new musical: SAM’S ROOM at the cell here in NYC. Sam’s Room told the story of a nonverbal teen. Through dynamic storytelling, we got to experience all of Sam’s struggles as a teen who felt trapped in his own body, without a way to communicate. We got to see Sam as an everyday teen, not as a tragic figure, super-hero, or charity case. We saw how disability affects relationships. We laughed, we cried, and our hearts opened up to Sam’s story. The authors of this piece crafted a narrative that was inclusive and truthful. For the first time ever, Kallen (my co-producer for Able) saw her own brother who happens to be nonverbal, represented on stage. From that moment, Kallen and I both knew that it was time to work towards dynamic inclusion in this industry. In the case of SAM’S ROOM, this inclusion came through the writing…but we are ready to see it in the casting, producing, and directing side of the industry as well.
This summer, Kallen approached me about working together on a docu-series of sorts featuring artists, writers, comedians, directors with disabilities…as well as the folks advocating for them. In a matter of a month, ABLE was born. Our new web series will consist of 15-20 minute quirky interviews with artists living with disabilities, as well as their advocates. Disability is often tip-toed around because people are afraid to say the “wrong thing.” We want to educate. We hope ABLE will allow people to normalize the diversity of the human condition. By starting these conversations, we also want to educate writers to craft more inclusive narratives. We hope that industry professionals will continue to open their minds to more inclusive casting. How incredible would it be to see more actors with disabilities leading a company in a Broadway musical, in the starring role on a TV show, .or solving the conflict in a feature film? We are ready to see more art that mirrors ALL the people who love and support it. After all, people with disabilities make up 20% of the U.S. population.
If you are reading this post and are feeling just as enthusiastic as we are, please head to our crowd-funding page and watch our video.
Then, donate if you can, and share our link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/able-a-series#/
We are ready to spread the word, and we are ready to see lasting change in our industry.
Alie B. Gorrie is an AEA actor, currently residing in NYC. She has performed off-Broadway in Bastard Jones and on the national tour of Seussical as Gertrude McFuzz. Favorite regional: Penny in Hairspray and Carrie White in Carrie! She is currently originating the title role in Alice in Alice’s with Out of the Box Theatrics, and she has played almost any animal, cupcake, or whimsical creature in TYA shows across NYC. Favorite concert credits include singing BGVs with with Kristin Chenoweth, Andrew Lippa, and Vince Gill. She is the founder of Songs for Sight, an organization that has raised over one million dollars for young people living with low vision. www.aliebgorrie.com
Headshot: Matthew Murphy, Bastard Jones Photo credit: Carol Rosegg