PEP Theater Resources
This page has links to writings that may be of interest to theater workers. If you have written something that you think would be useful for others to read, you may submit it for consideration to PKWalker@aol.com
Headshots & Resumes by Pamela Walker
How to Get Representation in the Entertainment Industry by Gail Williamson
Acting is Full Time Work! by Pamela Walker
Entertainment Industry Employment & Disability Assistance Websites by Douglas W. Gordy, Ph.D
Performers with Disabilities: Myths and Realities by Pamela Walker
Notes for teachers of people with disabilities by Pamela Walker
Easy Production Pointers for Providing Access by Pamela Walker
On the question of Allies by Aprille Annette
The Kennedy Center is launching an online newsletter dedicated to helping people with
disabilities pursue careers in the performing arts. The newsletter will cover several areas, including interviews with successful artists, job finding resources, exemplary support and educational programs, and advice about rights and advocacy issues. They are looking for input on the following:
- Names of actors, musicians, dancers, playwrights, directors, composers, choreographers, set designers, costume designers, sound designers, lighting designers, makeup artists, administrators and marketers, who would be willing to share their success stories.
- Information on outstanding programs that have helped people in the performing arts who are disabled (arts programs or educational programs).
- Questions about how civil rights laws impact performing artists.
- Advice on what to cover.
Send information to email@example.com.
ADA CD-ROM (American's With Disabilities Act)
This free CD-ROM, produced by the Department of Justice, contains a complete collection of the Department's ADA materials. It includes the Department's regulations, architectural design standards, and technical assistance publications.
Documents on the CD-ROM are provided in a variety of formats, including HTML, WordPerfect, and text (ASCII) to enable people with disabilities and others to gain easy access, translate materials to braille, or use screen readers. Many documents are also provided in Acrobat PDF format so that they appear as they do in print and permit the publications to be reprinted by personal computers.
Order the CD-ROM via the Internet at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adatacd1.htm or by calling the ADA Information Line at 1/800-514-0301 (voice) or 1/800-514-0383 (TTY), 24 hours every day.
BRIEF NOTES ON HEADSHOTS AND RESUMES
by Pamela Walker
HEADSHOTS are 8 1/2 X 11 (or 8 X 10) photos, usually black and white, that you
send to be considered for an audition. (It used to be 8 X 10 photos were the
standard, but either is acceptable now; I have had casting directors tell me
that the smaller ones can tend to slip down in a pile and be overlooked.) People
with noticeable disabilities debate whether it is better to show a disability
or not. It used to be that headshots meant the head only. But now, many casting
directors prefer 3/4 shots so that they can see your body type. In a 3/4 shot,
you can show just a bit of a wheelchair or cane without the disability taking
over the photo. Some feel that it’s better if the casting director knows about
the disability in advance, because if a disability is going to eliminate them,
they won’t waste their time and hopes. Others feel that they don’t want to
get eliminated without an opportunity to show what they can do and so choose
to not show their disability in their headshots. You’ll have to decide what works for you.
Headshots take an initial investment, but are necessary for auditions. There
is the cost of getting the photo taken and the cost of having many (500-1000)
prints made. Also, you should always look like your headshot; a major change
in your appearance often means new headshots. They can be as little as $175-ish
($99 for headshot, $75 for 300 lithographs) up to much more. See Callboard
magazine for advertisers to get a ballpark figure.
RESUMES should be a 1 page (only!) history of your acting, performing, speaking,
acting studies, ect. It gets stapled back-to-back with your headshot. A 24-hour
phone # is crucial on the resume, either a machine or a pager. Again, the same
debate applies about whether to identify a disability on the resume. Even if
your disability is not one that would be apparent in a photo, if it will be
apparent when working, you might consider mentioning it on the resume. This
can be done in subtle ways such as listing both wheelchair height and standing height if you use a wheelchair.
Another way is to list something in your interest section, such as “disabled
List the most impressive works first; don’t list dates. If auditioning for theater, list those first and give priority space to those. If auditioning for a commercial, change the order so that theatrical experience shows up later. Never list theatrical experience under Film/TV. (Note: If you are auditioning for a commercial, leave any competing companies off your resume—i.e. if auditioning for B of A and you did a commercial for Wells Fargo, leave it off.) Don’t list extra work unless you really don’t have anything else to list.
Listing directors and teachers is important. It’s a smaller world than we realize
and many of them know and respect each other’s work. Especially if you have
taken a class or worked under a well-known director, be sure to list it. (I
went to a panel discussion where one of the panelists was the person who did
the voice for the “Got Milk?” ad —that went on my resume as a voice over workshop
with him…it may be a stretch, but it ain’t a lie!)
SAMPLE RESUME FOR THEATRICAL ACTORS:
Your Professional Name
Any Union affiliations
City, State Zip Code
Ph # (include area code)
Height: (in feet and inches) *
Weight: (in lbs)
Title of work
"Episode or film name"
(current list available upon request) OR list companies
Title of work
(Current list of clients available upon request)
NOTE: Indicate if portfolio is available.
Type of training
Name of Instructor (especially well known ones)
(indicate if on-going)
List a few one or two word descriptions of activities that create an image or refer to verbal skills, (i.e. licensed driver, wheelchair basketball, fluent French).
*If you use a wheelchair, you might want to put your wheelchair height and your standing height.
(EXAMPLE: 5’10”/4”3” wheelchair height)
form developed 1995 © talent bridge
HOW TO GET REPRESENTATION IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
by Gail Williamson
[ The following article was first published in Opening Stages, an email newsletter produced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: www.kennedy-center.org ]
Many people with disabilities aspire to be models, actors, musicians, athletes, entertainers and public speakers. After spending more then ten years advocating for people with these very hopes and dreams, I am often asked where to go to start and what kind of representation is available. I will attempt to share my knowledge with you. I am sure there are more resources out there, and I hope that this article will lead them to me. So here goes...
How do I get started? If you are going to be contacting individuals or companies that provide representation you need to present yourself in a very professional manner.
- Have a photo that looks like you. With any letter you send requesting representation the individual receiving your correspondence will need to know what you look like. If you are a musician, I would suggest a photo with your instrument. If you are an entertainer, have your photo include what you do: dance, magic, vocalist etc. For athletes you might consider a photo of you racing, climbing, skiing, or whatever you do. If you are a public speaker, a head shot showing you dressed in professional clothing would work well. For actors you need a natural looking headshot of you looking into the camera. If you use a wheelchair, a hint of it in the photo works well. For modeling you will want to show various looks. If you do not want to start with the expense of professional photos, send an excellent snapshot and be prepared to get the professional shots when you secure the representation. This is a very competitive industry and a non-professional looking presentation will leave you out. Professional photo sessions run from $75 to $500 and up. I believe you can get some excellent ones in the $200 to $300 range. Remember that you do get what you pay for. After you get your great headshot you are going to want to have it reproduced. Multiple photo reproductions of 8 x 10's run about $1 each, and lithographic reproductions can run as little as $.25 each. Your name should appear below your image on the reproductions.
- Have a clear typewritten resume or biography to include in your package when you are seeking representation. Again, you must look professional to compete. Include the things that are pertinent to the profession you are seeking. Don't include everything you have ever done. I would suggest including your disability in the bio/resume. You can be very brief -- for example, wheelchair user, walk with crutches, deaf use ASL, blind use cane or dog, little person, mild developmental disability, Down syndrome, etc.
- Send a brief, typewritten cover letter explaining who you are and what you are seeking. Include your mailing address, phone number and e-mail address. You can also include any support materials you might have, like magazine or newspaper articles about you and your work or notices of your past appearances. Follow up your letter with a phone call about a week after it has been mailed and ask if they are interested in representing you.
- Who do I contact? Well, it depends on what kind of representation you are looking for. I will list some of the contacts I know about and what kind of representation they provide, then you decide which ones to contact. Kasarian, Spencer and Associates (member of the Association of Talent Agents) - representing professional actors with disabilities in the Southern California area. The agency is large and represents children and adults in theatrical (TV and film), commercial and print. They also have sports/stunts and dance divisions. The agent to contact at KSA is Riley Day. He and his assistant Leslie Stokoe represent many individuals with disabilities and are looking to add more, including ethnic types. Most KSA clients are members of one of the performing unions like SAG, AFTRA or Equity, but you don't have to be a union member to be considered for representation. KSA works on general contract, collecting a fee from their clients' earnings. You can contact them at www.ksawest.com. Go to the performers with disabilities department, and you can access Riley Day's e-mail. Also on the home page you can see some good examples of headshots.
- Damon Brooks and Associates (booking representative) - representing public speakers and entertainers for events and fundraisers at colleges, corporations and organizations. Marc Goldman's service is very well known. He makes the necessary travel and accommodations arrangements for his clients, which are covered by the organization doing the hiring. Damon Brooks takes a percentage of the fee they negotiate for their clients. You can reach Marc through www.damonbrooks.com. This is another great website to view headshots.
- Beautiful Kids (management company) - representing children with special needs ages 6 months to 18 years for print, commercial, video and film. They work nationwide. Ginnie Commo has been doing this with great success since 1994. Beautiful Kids charges a fee from the clients' earnings for their services. See the website at www.downscity.com/beautifulkids/about.htm for the specifics needed to register your child with Beautiful Kids.
[update note: beautiful kids has been sold to elaine gordon at 516-623-7736 and there is no longer a website.]
- ModelTech, Inc. (management company) - looking to enlarge their talent files to include people with disabilities of all ages and ethnicities for the New York and East Coast market. Ann Harvey has been doing this for years and worked before in the disabled community. ModelTech's fees are a percentage of the income the client receives from a booking. To learn more about ModelTech, Inc. go to www.modeltechinc.com. Again, you will find great examples of headshots on this website.
- The Non-Traditional Casting Project (a free casting service) - representing children and adults to the print, television, film, theatre, commercial and video market in New York and nationwide. This non-profit advocacy organization has online talent files to promote inclusive hiring practices and balanced portrayals of persons of color and persons with disabilities. To be included in their talent files you need to send a headshot and resume and include any accommodations you require. Sharon Jensen is well known, and many casting directors use her services. To learn more about the Non-Traditional Casting Project go to www.ntcp.org.
- The Media Access Office (a free casting liaison and referral service) - representing
people with disabilities of all ages for acting in television, film, theatre,
commercials and videos, as well as print. They also provide referrals for speakers,
entertainers and some behind the camera employment opportunities. This non-profit
advocacy group is supported by the California State Employment Development
Department and the Friends of the California Governor's Committee for Employment
of Disabled Persons. They require members to fill out a new client packet.
In front of the camera talent must provide 10 headshots and resumes as well.
You can check out the office at www.disabilityemployment.org then click on
the Media Access Office icon on the left side menu. The office represents talent
nationwide and is located in North Hollywood, California. Gloria Castañeda
is the program coordinator. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-752-1196
to request a new client packet.
[UPDATE NOTE: There is now also a branch of MAO in Northern California, ran by Doug Gordy who can be reached at 925-602-1542.]
ACTING IS FULL TIME WORK!
by Pamela Walker
Whether you currently have a gig or you are between parts, don’t let anyone tell you that acting is less than full time work. If you total up all the hours spent each week in pursuit of this career, it far exceeds 40 hours a week. For example, how many hours each week do you spend:
- in acting or voice classes
- preparing and practicing for class
- looking for/bugging an agent
- getting/sending out headshots
- checking hotlines
- reading magazines/newsletters/newspapers for industry tips & info.
- watching actors on TV talk about acting
- looking for audition opportunities on the Internet, in Callboard, etc.
- going to movies to study how other actors portray characters
- grooming (tweezing, shaving, tanning, dieting, exercising, swimming)
- preparing for auditions
- traveling to auditions
- consoling self/evaluating self after audition
- making contact with “friends” who might make a difference
- working on a screenplay
- getting massages, facials, acupuncture, hair cuts, etc.
- preparing monologues
- going to psychotherapy or support groups
- doing vocal warm-ups and exercises
- practicing facial expressions in the mirror
- praying (or your equivalent) for the courage and faith to go on
How will I ever have the time to do a part when I get it!
Be open to a variety of types of work and the possibilities are there...feature films, independent films, student films, industrials, commercials, stage plays and readings, voice-over, moderators, games, CDRom voices, improv, performance art, cable TV shows, poetry readings, modeling, extras, stunts, stand-ins...
copyright 1995 pamela walker
ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY EMPLOYMENT & DISABILITY ASSISTANCE WEBSITES
by Douglas W. Gordy, Ph.D
PLEASE NOTE: This is a list of websites that MAY be useful in your search for employment in the entertainment industry; and/or with disability issues. Be aware that there are now hundreds of such services, many of which charge a fee (which are subject to change), that none of them guarantee you work, and that many of them also go defunct quickly … so let the buyer beware! Check out the free services first, and THEN decide which, if any, of the others may be worth the expense. -- Douglas W. Gordy, Ph.D., Media Access Office North
actornews.com: LA based resource for actors, posting free audition info.
www.artistwebsite.com: For both SAG and non-union performers. Charges $25/yr. currently for resume posting.
ata.ucla.edu: Coalition of Inclusive Arts website.
www.backstage.com: Affiliated with the theatrical industry trade-paper, has an extensive database divided by region; charges $9.95/month for posting resume (or $119.40/yr. pre-paid), but also sends out free (limited) casting notices online.
www.bradmarks.com: Provides a no-cost executive search service for professional industry positions paying $150,000 + (fee paid by hiring company).
www.breakdownservices.com/access/awindex.htm: Has free listings of LA area projects with sides being used at auditions.
www.castnet.com: Charges $49.95 for posting services; had filed bankruptcy, but seems to have bounced back.
www.CastQuest.com: Resume posting for $6.95/month; also has free casting notices service for members.
www2.castingworkbook.com: Online talent directory of over 30,000, which fills 2,000 jobs monthly. Includes link to casting notice information. Monthly fee currently $6 for a photo portfolio, $16 for video.
www.craigslist.com: Has databases by region of free postings by people advertising for various gigs; the 'artists' section usually has quite a few opportunities for largely non-paying student films and theatre auditions.
www.crew-net.com: For below line crew talent jobs only. Current fee is $19.95 per month.
www.ddtp.org: Website for the Deaf & Disabled Telecommunications Program, for access to specialized phone equipment.
www.disabilityresources.org: Reviews materials available for people with disabilities; nothing specific on entertainment industry.
www.eej.com: [Entertainment Employment Journal] Posts (mainly non-performance) job ads online; you may also subscribe to print version. Current fee is $109/yr.
www.employnow.com: Fee-based online talent directory of the Film, TV and Commercial Employment Network. Also contains free job notice search and link for stand-up comedians.
www.film-connection.com: Training program that places non-performers in film, recording and radio crew positions in their local area. Fee-based.
www.futurecasting2000.com: Job listings for non-performers in the Internet Audio/Video field.
www.disabilityemployment.org: Official website for the Calif. Governor's Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons, which also contains a link to the Media Access Office webpage.
www.HollywoodReporter.com: Website for industry trade journal contains links to many types of industry jobs. Low cost fee (free for 1st 10 inquiries, 10 cents for each additional).
www.igodap.org: Website for the International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers.
www.inhollywood.com: Provides production (pre/current/post) info on films for $49.95/yr.
www.laughingsquid.org/tentacle: Free mailing list that sends out postings via email.
www.culturedisabilitytalent.org: [Culture! Disability! Talent!] Referrals for art/media employment to members; co-sponsors annual SF benefit for performers with disabilities and also an annual film festival.
nadc.ucla.edu: Site for National Arts & Disabilities Center, which has a wealth of information, including applications for grants of up to $500 and a great links page to other resources.
www.natpe.org: National alliance for media content professionals, primarily TV and PSA work. Contains a job database for such.
www.ncd.gov: National Council on Disability website; helpful info on disability issues.
www.npi.ucla.edu/cddn: Calif. Developmental Disabilities Network link.
www.pacdbtac.org: Website for the Pacific Disability & Business Technical Assistance Center, which provides a wealth of valuable information and assistance on disability issues for the Western US.
www.setworkers.com: Website for United Setworkers Association LLC for above and below line crew talent only.
www.showbizjobs.com: Free job search database that can be accessed by region & other criteria; primarily non-performance jobs.
www.showbizkids.com: Talent directory for young performers to post headshots & resumes (agents have free access). Current fee is $175 per year or $49.95 initiation fee plus $12.95 monthly dues.
www.skillsnet.net: Primarily for media experts in animation, software development, etc.
www.talentclick.com: Has an exclusive contract with Westside Casting, which utilizes this talent base for about 1,000 film jobs/yr. Charges $79.95/yr. for its services.
www.thecastingsite.com: Resume/headshot posting for $40/yr.
www.thespian.net: Has free film audition casting listings as well as online resume service; otherwise primarily a fansite.
www.tinselnet.net: A website out of Las Vegas which contains nationwide postings of film, tv and theatre auditions.
www.tvistudios.com/auditions: Maintains a free posting of auditions, mostly within LA area.
www.tvjobs.com: Nationwide job searches for TV and radio, both on-air (i.e. news reporters, etc.) and crew positions. $20/yr. to subscribe.
www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm: National website on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
www.wid.com: [World Institute on Disability] Non-profit public policy center for research on disability issue. Co-sponsors CDT's annual benefit of performances by people with disabilities. Northern Calif. Specific Websites
www.arc-alameda.com: An Independent Living and vocational training service for the developmentally disabled; part of the larger ARC network (www.thearc.org).
www.bavc.org: [Bay Area Video Coalition] Information on video and independent filmmaking in the area.
www.castingconnection.com: Provides online casting breakdowns on SF film productions. Fee is $53/yr.
www.cforat.org: The Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley is probably the best local tech resource for people with disabilities. Call them: (510) 841-3224
www.creativityexplored.org: Two galleries/workshops in SF specifically for people with disabilities who work in the visual arts.
www.deafmedia.com: Berkeley-based organization for hearing impaired artists.
www.edhooks.com: General information for actors from respected area coach/teacher.
www.filmoakland.com/whatshotline/whatshotline_castcrew.htm: Website for the Oakland Film Commission, which posts listings for current projects within Oakland.
groups.yahoo.com/group/BayAreaTheatreBums: Free email-based mailing list for theatre in Bay Area.
www.ilrcc.org: [Independent Living Resource, Contra Costa] Non-profit East Bay resource center specializing in youth with disabilities.
www.madknight.com: Previous home of PEP, the Professional Enrichment Program, providing help & info for theatre artists with disabilities.
www.media-casting.com/index.html: Casting Agency for Sacramento area jobs; requires registration with fee.
www.reeldirectory.com: Has extensive online database of people in all phases of local film industry, as well as print version. Costs $50 for initial listing (which includes copy of print version); $10 for each additional category (deadline mid-Feb. for submission).
www.sfcasting.com/sfindie.htm: Has a free posting of auditions in Sf Bay Area, mostly film.
www.theatrebayarea.org/public.html: Site for local center for theatre info; contains a variety of links to other resources, including limited access to Callboard articles.
www.welcome.to/icsf: Local casting service for independent filmmakers.
PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES: MYTHS AND REALITIES
by Pamela Walker
PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES MYTHS AND REALITIES MYTH: There aren’t very many roles that call for a disabled character. REALITY: There are actually quite a few, but non-disabled actors usually play them. The following films, most playing in major film theaters within the same year, featured at least one lead character with a disability: Scent of a Woman, Bennie and Joon, Waterdance, Passion Fish, Proof, The Piano, My Left Foot, Gump, and Smoke. Non-disabled actors filled ALL of these roles. MYTH: The disability has to be a major part of the plot if it is shown; otherwise the audience gets confused and keeps wondering why the character is disabled. REALITY: This is the same excuse used for years to exclude actors of color, but it has been shown that audience members are adaptable and intelligent. Now that disabled people are seen in every day life, it is not unusual to see a character whose disability is part of their description, but isn’t necessarily a plot point. MYTH: Disabled people should not be used in commercials because it looks insulting or as if the advertisers are making fun of the disability. REALITY: Advertisers are finally starting to recognize that disabled people have money to spend. Even those who are on public benefits have to buy food, clothes, phone services, banking services, etc. When a Deaf mother sees a Deaf actress in a commercial for baby diapers, it’s not hard to guess which brand she will buy next time she goes to the store. Levis, AT&T, and Bank of American are just a few of the companies that have realized that with over 38 million disabled consumers in our country, it pays to use disabled talent in ad campaigns. MYTH: Acting is strenuous; disabled people are fragile and don’t have the stamina. REALITY: Some disabled people have more stamina than most non-disabled people! Others might not be able to handle long, hard hours; however, they are realistic about what they can or can’t do and would not audition for or commit to a job beyond their ability any more than a non-disabled actor would. MYTH: People (audiences) don’t want to see disabled people and be reminded of their own vulnerability; it makes them uncomfortable. REALITY: Many people who “pass” as non-disabled have been appreciative of and have related to characters who have some of their own physical limitations such as Carpal Tunnel, mastectomy, back problems and hearing loss as a result of aging. The more people see disabled characters that continue living full lives, the more people realize that their own mortality is nothing to be afraid of or to close their eyes to. MYTH: (Fill in a myth you are aware of) REALITY: (Fill in the reality) 1996 © Pamela Walker, Talent Bridge
NOTES FOR TEACHERS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
by Pamela Walker
NOTES FOR TEACHERS WITH DISABLED STUDENTS IN CLASS 1. Remember: We are resilient. If you inadvertently step on our toes, it won’t be the end of the world. We might kick back, we might cry, but most likely we’ll let it go or just say, “Hey, you just stepped on my toes.” Coddling us is likely to interfere with our training more than stepping on our toes. 2. Get in touch with any fears you have about becoming disabled. As an actor, our body is our instrument. Seeing a disabled actor might subconsciously bring up fears about what would happen if one became disabled. These fears can sometimes get projected onto the disabled person. 3. Be aware of the obstacles that disabled people face in classes and in getting to class. Recognize that you don’t need to anticipate those barriers, but rather be a partner in problem-solving how to eliminate those barriers that interfere with a person getting the full benefit of the class. Some that might come up are physical and transportation barriers, economics, communication barriers, and negative or stereotypical attitudes. Know that the world at large does not encourage folks with disabilities to be actors. 4. Keep the same expectations as you have for the non-disabled students. Don’t let the awareness of #3 cause you to lower your expectations for disabled students. For example, regular commitment and attendance is a must, but sometimes dealing with transportation and other obstacles can make a student late -- look at each case individually. 5. A word about terminology: It is important, but it can be learned. People with disabilities can have completely different preferences regarding how to refer to their disability. But, as one actor said to a casting director, “I don’t care what you call me, just call me!” The use of the term “disability” is generally preferred over “handicap,” but even that varies from one part of the country to another and among different individuals. However, almost all of us cringe when we hear the word “special” in reference to disability. 6. Recognize that a disabled person is responsible for themself. Bottom line is that you are not any more responsible for a person with a disability in your class than you are for a person without a disability. Do not be over-zealous or over-cautious with the student with a disability. Do not handle them with kid gloves, but don’t ignore them either. Grant them the same respect that you would any student in the class. Accommodating a disability might mean extra thought has to be given for how to implement a lesson, but it does not mean that the lesson should be more or less important than for the other students. Do not try to protect the disabled student from the reality that this is a tough field requiring hard work. Talent Bridge © 2000 ...ooo000OOO000ooo... “Think of the Color Blue” Pamela Walker (c) 2000 As a union actress, I’ve had the fortune of studying in the SAG/AFTRA Conservatory. A prominent Bay Area actor and well-respected teacher was the guest teacher one week during my first term in the Conservatory. There were 15 of us in the group and each one took a turn in the front, applying the tools the guest had given us to an improvisational direction from him. My peers were given complicated situations – they’d learned their husband was having an affair, or that they were pregnant, or they up for an important honor. Watching each actor before me wrestle with the depth of his or her character, I was looking forward to the challenge. Finally, it was my turn. As I wheeled to the front, the instructor’s nervousness was not apparent – as an excellent actor he was able to cover it well. But I knew when he gave me a direction that he did not know how to see me as an actress – he could only see me as a disability. His direction was “Think of the color blue.” “Think of the color blue” has become a shorthand way for me to refer to the disparity in professional development between actors with disabilities and those without. The pervasiveness of this kind of oppression is much more harmful than whether or not there is a ramp to the stage. It keeps us from being able to develop our skills to a competitive level. A few years ago I was chosen to strut my stuff at the TBA General Auditions. Although I felt like a fish out of water, not having had much professional training, I pushed myself to take advantage of the opportunity to show the casting community that there are performers out here who are disabled. I hoped to plant a seed into the thinking of some of them. I looked out at the large, intimidating group of folks with their pens in hand and made my entrance. A woman in the audience gasped when she saw my wheelchair. (I’m not making this up.) I had to immediately tell myself that I hadn’t heard it, because I had to perform. I don’t know whether she gasped because someone spilled something on her just as I entered, or whether the shock of a disabled person on stage caught her by surprise. Actually, I think she thought the wheelchair was a prop and could not believe someone would stoop that low to get noticed. Regardless of why she gasped, it hit me like a brick after the auditions, affecting my confidence at my next audition. A year ago I was hired to help with casting for a working play at the Magic Theatre, “Summertime,” written by Charles Mee. My job was to manifest an eclectic group of exceptionally skilled performers with atypical bodies. I was excited! — There were some wonderful parts available for performers with disabilities. The job proved to be quite a challenge -- people with atypical bodies don’t get much opportunity to develop their skills to the level of exceptional. The director, Kenn Watt, and I stretched our minds to define what we meant by “atypical bodies” as we beat the bushes for people to audition. Although there were many actors with disabilities, most had had limited opportunities to develop their craft. Two days of auditions slots were filled with non-traditional and traditional folks. The eventual cast of nine was to be a mix of the types of people usually seen on stage with those not often seen. It was a creative adventure and lots of fun, but I found myself crying after the auditions. Already, it was obvious that there was a big gap in skill level between many of the performers with disabilities and those without. It was apparent by more than just their performance…choice of audition pieces, presentation of headshots and resume, dress and attitude. It was blatantly easy to see who had been in classes and had had other opportunities to practice their skills. Many experiences we have can help us to take talent and turn it into skill. Doing extra work, sharing pointers with other actors, auditioning and auditioning, getting bit parts, taking half-day workshops… but, for performers with disabilities, there are many physical and attitudinal barriers to getting these experiences. And, we’ve all been told talent isn’t enough by itself. I worked behind the scenes during rehearsals for “Summertime,” trying to pass on some of what I’d learned through the back door. Some of the actors who were cast did not have ensemble experience and even basics, like knowing the relationship between actor and director, needed explained. We all worked hard and it paid off -- “Summertime” was a hit and was picked up by the Magic for a full run (and the run even got extended!). In many ways it was an exhilarating project, but the experience was also very hard and left me sad... Sad that there aren’t more opportunities for people with atypical bodies to develop their talent into a skill. There are some excellent, skilled actors with disabilities out there, who have managed to hone their craft, but the numbers are few. I hope that this number increases and that the next time a casting call for some juicy parts goes out to disabled performers, the director finds it difficult to make choices based on abundance rather than scarcity. For this to happen, disabled actors would need to assert themselves into the acting community and take those classes and go on those auditions -- even the ones that don’t call for a disability, just to practice. And, perhaps more importantly, the theater community would have to broaden it’s thinking. Including the voices and perspectives of actors with disabilities can only enhance our performance community. It’s time for folks to open the definition of “non-traditional casting” to include people with disabilities. And, when disabled performers do brave the obstacles and bluff their way into the hostile terrain, please don’t tell them to “Think of the color blue.”
EASY PRODUCTION POINTERS FOR PROVIDING ACCESS
by Pamela Walker
Easy Production Pointers for Providing Access By Pamela Walker Promoting the Access you provide --State your facility’s level of access on the materials that you send to the general public. [If it is only partial wheelchair access (i.e. bathrooms are not accessible), be sure to indicate.] --If you provide interpreting or audio description for certain shows, state which ones. --If you have assisted listening devices available, state how one obtains them. --If you provide large print programs, let people know. --Ask people to identify if they are wheelchair users on a reservation hotline, so that you will be prepared for seating them. Seating Especially small houses find that having removable seats works best, so that they can sell the seats to both non-wheelchair users and wheelchair users. Often this is in the front row with a level stage. In situations like this be sure to let the director and stage manager know that wheelchair users in the audience will likely protrude onto the stage area more than folks sitting in folding chairs; this way they can plan blocking and stage design accordingly. Also, remember that people who use wheelchairs have a right to sit with the people they came with, so a seating arrangement that allows this is important. Discount There are two different reasons that establishments provide discount tickets to people with disabilities and each one has a different rationale: --If you offer low-income rates to seniors and students, it makes sense to offer it to low-income people with disabilities also. If you feel that this leaves room for abuse, you can ask to see proof of disability (i.e. Medicare card). If folks balk at this, be sure it is understood that these are low-income tickets and that Student I.D. or proof of age are required for the other low-income tickets. --Sometimes there is no choice but front row for people with disabilities. Perhaps the theatre layout only has wheelchair seating in front, or perhaps a person has low vision, or perhaps a person is hard of hearing and needs to read lips or watch an interpreter. When a person with a disability needs to sit in the front row or a near-stage section and those tickets are more expensive than elsewhere, it is the right thing to do to provide those tickets at the price of the cheapest house tickets. At least one additional ticket at this price is usually offered for their companion. Matinee For many reasons (transportation, for example) it is easiest for many people with disabilities to attend matinees. Please offer at least one. Production Poison If you plan to use any chemicals (i.e. hairspray), perfumes or incense during a production, please advertise this so that people who would have health reactions to these products will be warned. Likewise, if a strobe will be used, let people know, as it could trigger seizures for epileptics. It would be good to indicate these things on advertisement literature, on a sign at the entrance, and in a pre-show announcement. Facility Poison Do not use air fresheners (i.e. as spray, in the toilet, or on the wall) in the bathrooms, because many people have reactions (i.e. migraines) to these products. Also, please do not allow smoking in the facility and be sure to locate any outdoor smoking area away from the main entrance or wheelchair entrance. A notice on promotional materials requesting people to not wear perfumes is a controversial issue, but more and more people are doing this. It is being realized that many “cold” and “flu” symptoms that people have (even non-disabled folk) are related to these types of products. People with physical disabilities, however, often have a lower tolerance to these toxins, due to such things as the overuse of antibiotics in their medical histories. Large Print Programs Have a few large print programs (a simple 18 font) available for those of us whose aged eyes aren’t what they used to be and for folks with low vision. Upstairs from Theater Many small theater venues have a second floor that is not wheelchair accessible. Often this is used as a gallery for visual arts. Until those floors can be made accessible, a person who can’t negotiate stairs may have no idea of what is influencing the people who go up and down those stairs. A photo exhibit of homeless people, for example, would put other theater goers in a very different frame of mind than an exhibit of pop art. One simple way to include the disabled person in on the upstairs experience is to have a photo albumn downstairs that shows the exhibit. This can be easily and cheaply done with a digital camera and a color printer. Location & Transportation If you have a permanent facility, there is not much you can do about your location. However, should you plan to relocate or for activities that utilize other locations, keep in mind that many people with disabilities do not drive. Many rely on public transportation for getting to and from events. Things to consider are that bus lines are not necessarily wheelchair accessible even if they say they are (i.e. what is their frequency of lift breakdown?) and that some services only run certain hours (i.e. a subway stop near a show means nothing regarding availability for a night show if it closes at 9PM). On the positive side, some cities have taxi services that can accommodate wheelchairs. Talk to people with disabilities in your area to check out what locations are easy for them to get to by transportation. Advisory Committee For all the above and other issues that will come up in providing access for people with disabilities, it works great to have an advisory committee of people with disabilities set up. Find artists in your community who have disabilities and who can think creatively about solutions to access issues. This not only helps to insure that you have expert opinions at your disposal, but it also creates paths for advertising your events to the disability community. [NOTE: The Screen Actor's Guild's web site has answers to frequently asked questions regarding the ADA and the media industry. It also give useful information on working with performers with disabilities: http://www.sag.com/disabilityfaqs.html]
ON THE QUESTION OF ALLIES
by Aprille Annette
There are many wonderful individuals and organizations working to include people with disabilities in the arts. These allies are doing great work to move things forward. However, there are also many people who think they are allies, but who are not. I have identified three kinds of pseudo-allies: the Missionaries, the Vultures, and the Do-gooders. People who run programs defined as helping people with disabilities may be one, two or all three of these. This is not exclusively non-disabled people -- I’ve seen disabled pseudo-allies also. However, most pseudo-allies are non-disabled people who are getting a lot of mileage out of “helping” disabled people.
A Missionary gets points for helping us, but the problem is that they are often helping us their way. They get points; we get used.
Remember: Nothing about us without us!
The Vulture exploits
us, often making money off of our needs, our art or our lack of power. When a
Vulture makes money off our art, it is often more money than we make off of it. The Vulture started multiplying at an incredibly fast rate after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Do-gooder is motivated by a conscious desire to help the less fortunate and a sub-conscious desire that is patronizing and condescending.
We need allies and are grateful for the true allies. And, some of our best allies started out as pseudo-allies. Invariably, talk of this type produces the question of “How can I tell if I’m a true ally or a pseudo-ally?” Usually, it is a true ally asking this question, because the pseudo-ally often doesn’t even have a clue that this problem exists.
The answer is rooted in power dynamics. Here’s one clue: If someone appreciates your work and leaves you feeling powerful, they are probably an ally; if they leave you feeling grateful to them, they may be a pseudo-ally.
Where is the power in an organization that presents artists with disabilities? Is it all in the hands of non-disabled people? Are there board members, staff, and advisors with disabilities within the power structure of an organization?
Below are more of the telling signs of a possible pseudo-ally:
- They use terms like “courage” and “inspirational.”
- They get lots of publicity, with their self in the photo.
- Non-disabled people make most of the artistic decisions, without consulting people with disabilities.
- They don’t encourage or develop people to move beyond their program.
- They don’t think about whether or not they are an ally or a missionary or vulture or do-gooder; they get defensive when the issue is brought up.
- They use terms like “these people;” they use the terms “us” and “them” more than the term “we.”
- They give extreme praise when it is not justified.
copyright 2000, Aprille Annette