A 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.
Quantum Leap is an American television series that was broadcast on NBC from March 26, 1989 to May 5, 1993, for a total of five seasons. The series was created by Donald Bellisario, and starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a quantum physicist from the near future who becomes lost in time following a time travel experiment, temporarily taking the places of other people to “put right what once went wrong”. Dean Stockwell co-starred as Al Calavicci, Sam’s womanizing, cigar-smoking sidekick and best friend, who appeared as a hologram that only Sam, animals, young children, and the mentally ill could see and hear. The series featured a mix of comedy, drama and melodrama, social commentary, nostalgia, and science fiction, which won it a broad range of fans. One of its trademarks is that at the end of each episode, Sam “leaps” into the setting for the next episode, usually uttering a dismayed “Oh, boy!”–Wikipedia.com
There’s one thing Wikipedia left out. It’s one of the greatest television series to incorporate basic acting exercises. When actors were little kids, they probably played “make believe” like all the other children. What we actors didn’t realize at the time was, we were actually doing some of the most basic acting exercises. We’d play the teacher, the mother, even the animal. One of the theater/improv games I still enjoy is “freeze” where a performer is able to tag anyone out of the scene and start a new scene. Essentially, that’s what Quantum Leap was as a series. The main character is often disoriented and needs time to re-gain their footing and adjust accordingly to the circumstances around him. Scott Bakula played everything from a young kid, to an animal, even a different gender and race without the use of special effects or offensive makeup. He played the characters as they were, all of the time, we as an audience were seeing him as he actually looked. The most basic of acting games was now utilized in a complex television series.
What I love is that Bakula was able to play all these different characters while maintaining is primary character of Sam. However, the most interesting parts may just come from the supporting cast around him. The actors who had to act alongside Bakula and treat him as if he were a kid, woman, animal or gangster. It’s amazing to look at the series from an acting perspective because it reminds me of scene study classes. Part of me wishes that all series were as amazing as this one. If you’re an actor, watch it. It’s a great learning tool and a wonderful reminder how much fun pretending is.