Oftentimes when we watch television, a film, or go to the theater, we are made to think. We see representations of various characters, and more than likely, we can see parts of ourselves in them. When you are a differently-abled actor, those opportunities to view an actual portrayal of yourself are few and far between. It goes far beyond the portrayal of a disability. As a differently-abled actor (I have a mild form of cerebral palsy), seeing someone who is like me, not just making their best attempt to portray me, has always been something I long for. All of my life, I’ve wanted to see myself. I wanted to know that there were other little girls out there with crooked legs and weak limbs, crutches, and wheelchairs. I wanted to see myself. Apparently, when I was around six or so, I had remarked to my mother that my physical therapist was “like me” (due to having cerebral palsy herself) which made me happy.
As an actor, I want to give back. Theater lends itself to this because we as performers are in the same physical space as our audience. We breathe the same air as our audience, and they go through experiencing the story and its emotions alongside us as actors. We also have the opportunity to show people themselves. As Hamlet says, we “Hold the mirror up to Nature.” Up until recently, the mirror has been foggy. It hasn’t been able to reflect those who don’t see themselves. Slowly, we are making our way through that fog. Deaf West’s successful, landmark production of Spring Awakening has recently been brought to Broadway (along with the first actor to appear on Broadway who uses a wheelchair in real life–Ali Stroker).
Now, I find myself as an actor in another ground-breaking production with a differently-abled cast in William Shakespeare’s Richard III. Traditionally, Richard has been portrayed as a hunchback, and everyone else around him is “normal.” However, in this production, Richard is unaffected by any physical affliction. It’s those around him who have different-ablities (disabilities of some form) and are the normal ones. We take center stage as a differently-abled cast, and in turn, are able to show those little kids who might be asking themselves, “Will I ever get to see myself?” that the answer is a loud and proud “YES!!”
This production, this cast, and this director have contributed to one of the most rewarding experiences for me as a performer and a human being. I am so grateful that we will be able to show our audience that theater can be a powerful tool that is therapeutic, all-inclusive, and amazing.
For more information on Nicu’s Spoon Theater’s production of Richard III, please visit www.spoontheater.org. The show is at the Secret Theater from September 29th-October 11th.
Directed by Stephanie Barton-Farcas
Featuring: DIANA BENIGNO, JOE GENERA, STEPHANIE GOULD*, RACHEL HANDLER, IAN GREGORY HILL, JESSICA LEVESQUE, FENTON LI, NICHOLAS LINNEHAN, ALEXANDER NERO, ESTELLE OLIVIA, ESPEN SIGURDSEN, RANDI SOBOL, GUY VENTOLIERE* and PERRI YANIV*
*Appearing courtesy of the Actors Equity Association