Feeling Torn: A Response to Both the Praise & Criticism of #EddieRedmayne in #TheTheoryofEverything

In the past few days I’ve felt torn. As an actor, I draw from my experiences both emotionally and physically. We all do that as actors. The difference however, comes with the fact that my muscle memory, my emotional memory, and the fibers of my being are inwardly different. By all appearances, I seem like your “normal” actor, but those fibers in my being would beg to differ. Born three months premature at one pound, ten ounces, with a mild form of cerebral palsy, I’ve had to deal with physical limitations that appear minor, and triumphs that would be considered obscure because “everyone can do that, right?” As a kid, even learning to skip was a huge achievement for me. Learning how to walk again at 13 was a mountain. From a sense memory standpoint, there are things I can bring to the role of someone who deals with limited mobility or physical pain that is unique.

The problem is, everyone can bring something to the table.  Part of me understands the critics, the people who say that they should have cast someone who “understands” Hawkings’ plight with ALS, but that would be, frankly, irrational. Eddie Redmayne did research, met with Hawking, and portrayed him to the best of his abilities. With that, he was awarded the Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG Award, and ultimately, the Oscar. Hopefully Hawkings’ story, coupled with Redmayne’s portrayal, plants a seed. Maybe people will become curious and educate themselves about issues like ALS, Maybe they’ll look at Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning performance for Still Alice and become aware of early-onset Alzheimer’s’ disease. It’s an actor’s job to bring truth to a situation to the best of their abilities.

I do believe though, that actors from all walks of life need to be seen, not just portrayed and represented. Their voices need to be heard. We as actors are supposed to bring truth to the screen, so let’s do that.

Working on “Walk With Me”

crystalspecialimageA few years ago, I started working on the concept of  a solo performance that dealt with my learning to walk again at the age of 13.  A few months ago, I wrote an article about my life as an actor with a disability called Early for Everything. Expanding on that article, and continuing the work that I started a few years ago, I am writing a solo show dealing with my disability–or as I like to refer to it, “Different Ability.”  Both a gratifying and emotionally taxing process, writing this show and seeing it to fruition is both a personal and professional goal. I think there needs to be more diversity in casting, not just with ethnicity or gender, but in terms of different abilities. People with disabilities, myself included, deal with stigmas and adversity on a daily basis. Whether we are battling our demons or trying to clarify “what we have” to someone who doesn’t understand, our disabilities are always with us. The thing about us as performers that led us to be excluded from things like gym class (seriously, I was in third grade and told to sit out because I would “slow the other kids down”) becomes one of the things that makes us stand out. We are intelligent and we are just as alive as anyone else and it’s important that others realize that. Over the years, I have been scared of being myself. Even as an adult,  I have been afraid of rejection if the “truth comes out” about my cerebral palsy. Then I realized, I never let it hold me back as a kid, why let it hold me back as an adult? Writing the show has been cause for reflection–some good, some bad–but in the end I’ve realized that my voice needs to be heard. I need to help people understand that just because someone is physically disabled doesn’t mean they are any less worthy of achieving their dreams.