Writing

Why I Tell My Story: Theater & Raising Awareness #disabilityawareness #cerebralpalsy

When I first started writing my solo show, “Walk With Me” about growing up with cerebral palsy and learning to walk again at 13, it wasn’t even a one-woman show. In all honesty, I was avoiding the elephant in the room. I was writing characters who resembled myself and my parents; I was trying to be “creative.” However, as the writing process continued, I began to realize that I had to do this one alone. I had to tell my own story, use my own voice, and, no matter how painful, share my own memories.

I first got involved in theater around the age of 7 or 8 because my mother thought it would be a good thing to do and enhance my social skills. I obviously fell in love with acting, and here we are. Growing up, my perception of why people act, whether in theater, film or television, had been a self-serving one. Actors want to be in the spotlight. We want to show our talent. We want to win the coveted Oscar. The End. It took me a while to realize that theater, film, and television could be more than just a self-indulgent vehicle for people who want to be in the spotlight. It could be more than just a money game.

It wasn’t until I was in college when I realized that theater could really help people. Theater education can help those of all ages relate to one another. The reason humans tell stories and fables, recite poetry, is to help each other relate to the world around us. The reason I finished writing my show is to help others understand another perspective. I was born with cerebral palsy, and while I still question on a daily basis why,  I am slowly coming to an answer. I was born with a disability, with the health issues I still deal with, and am using those struggles to help bring awareness to others. I am using my love of theater, my acting ability, and training, to tell my story.

Last week, I performed my show in the most unlikely of places: a hospital. My neurologist from when I was a baby had come to see my show when it premiered in November at the People Improv Theater. The next day, I received an email about doing the show at Boston Medical Center as part of their Grand Rounds. For those who may not know,

Grand rounds are an important teaching tool and ritual of medical education and inpatient care, consisting of presenting the medical problems and treatment of a particular patient to an audience consisting of doctors, residents and medical students. The patient was traditionally present for the round and would answer questions; grand rounds have evolved with most sessions now rarely having a patient present and being more like lectures. An actor portrays the patient in some instances.

Grand rounds help doctors and other healthcare professionals keep up to date in important evolving areas which may be outside of their core practice.

So, for the first time I performed my show for a room full of doctors and medical students. In a way, I helped bring the patient perspective to the forefront. There was a Q&A afterwards with myself and my parents, questions varied, but the most common one was “How did you come out so normal?” Well, I think that the “normal” part is still up for debate. But, I am thankful that my parents didn’t restrict what I could and couldn’t do based on my physicality. I loved theater and dancing, and I did it, despite being told I wasn’t “normal” by some. Last week, I was able to help doctors understand that the preemie babies they care for now will turn out just fine. They will lead lives, they will be human. In the end, that’s all we are: human.

I am fortunate enough to be given a gift of cerebral palsy. It’s an unlikely gift, but it’s mine. I was given the different-ability of seeing the world around me, of moving, of being on this earth. Everyone has a story, we just have to be open enough to listen.

My show will be at the PIT again in March, April, and May. Tickets are available now:

http://thepit-nyc.com/event/2017-03-07-walk-with-me

 

 

 

Goals for 2017

Last year, despite what was going on in the country and the world (that’s another blog post for another blog and time) I’d say 2016 was a good year professionally for me. As we enter 2017, I have so many goals I want to meet.Because of the strides I took last year, I am confident that this year will 1000 times better. Last year, it was important for me to make connections, and I did. I got into rooms with casting directors I would have never imagined I would because I have an awesome agent and manager who are in my corner. I was able to hone my audition skills. My solo show premiered at SOLOCOM in November, and will be returning to the PIT in March, April, and May. Plus, I’m already off to a good audition start this year with a film audition I had 5 days ago. So, I’d say that 2017 is going to be about using what I learned last year, and putting all that knowledge and skill I acquired to work. Happy New Year Everyone!

  • Goal for 2017: Play a cyber genius on a prime time drama. I mean, I finally have the headshots for it.

Walk With Me: Coming To Fruition

I started writing my solo show Walk With Me in 2010 after my father told me, “Write your story.” That was six years ago. Slowly, I have been writing my story, in various different drafts, with various different concepts of what it should be. Over the past six years, I’ve had numerous people interested in directing it, and countless suggestions of where to put it up, who to market it towards, and so on. I think it has taken me this long to complete because I literally had to get to this point in my life to be happy with it and be in the right place at the right time for presenting it. I was nervous (still am) about opening up to an audience about my cerebral palsy, my numerous surgeries to correct my leg, and exposing who I really am.

I am a firm believer in the fact that there are truly things that happen, people we meet, places we end up, where there is no explanation. Life’s little miracles if you will. Two years ago, the day after my 30th birthday, I signed up for classes at the Peoples Improv Theater. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I had some improv experience from doing theater as a kid, and in college (we basically played Whose Line Is It Anyways? in the basement of our theater, but it was fun.) But, I didn’t have nearly the amount of training that I’d want to have in improv, by the age I had become. I had researched the three main improv programs in the city. One is touted as being a catapult to SNL, and it has name recognition, but I found it intimidating, and nearly impossible to get into a Level 1 class due to its high demand. I had heard of the PIT before, heard good things about it, and it looked like a fun, yet extremely professional place to start my improv journey. At the suggestion of a casting director six months earlier who told me that I should take some improv classes, I signed up for my first class at the PIT.

Whenever I begin a new class, especially an improv class, I always sort of feel it necessary to disclose the fact that I have CP (cerebral palsy) not due to the weird physical way I might move, it might be lagging some time especially if I have to get up off the floor, but also because of my two shunts in my brain. Not that I have to be treated with kid gloves or anything, I just have to be careful. Sometimes, improv can get out of hand if your not careful, so I was cautious to say the least. All I said at the beginning of class when we were told to tell something interesting about ourselves is, “I have cerebral palsy, it’s mild, but if there’s something I can’t do physically, I’ll adjust, don’t worry.” I left it at that. By the end of the class, my Level 1 tteacher pulled me aside and gently motioned back and forth between us, “We’re compadres,” he said. He had CP too. Of all the people to take my first improv class with, my teacher would know what I was going through. That amazed me. Over the next year and a half, I threw myself into improv, as well as musical improv, each time saying the same little blurb at the beginning of class. By the time I got to Level 5, I sat in our meditation circle and used it as my “elephant in the room” and cried for about 5 minutes. A few other people who I had been in previous classes with were in that class, and they knew why it was still difficult for me to state that I have this thing looming over me.

I’m normal. That’s the problem. I’m too normal. Damn it. People in all of my classes, people in every day life always comment on how “normal” I am. A good friend of mine even point out to me yesterday, ” You know it’s crazy I never even paid attention to the fact you had a disability!” which is true. That’s awesome. However, with Walk With Me, it’s the years of hiding this huge part of who I am so that I can be normal. I had to go through a lot as a kid, it helped make me who I am today. Without those various surgeries and my parents love, support, and fighting to get me good medical care, I don’t know where I’d be.

In a way, this play is a love letter to my parents, a “Thank You” if you will. It’s also me saying , “This is a part of me. This is me making peace with my 13 year old self.” As my director put it, “Stephanie, you having CP is the LEAST interesting thing about you.” And it’s funny because I’ve waited my whole life for someone to say that to me out loud, not just, “you seem so normal.” I am officially 3 weeks away from getting on a stage and telling my story. Ironically enough, it’s at the PIT during the 4th Annual SOLOCOM Festival . Whether or not my show is hilariously funny remains to be seen and is up to the individual. But that’s not the point. Tbe point is, it’s finally me saying, here’s my story, if you want to listen.

Life also has a way of coming full circle in the weirdest way possible. About a week and a half ago, I emailed my pediatric neurosurgeon on a whim. He’s in a video  that I have and might use in my show in some capacity of the Children’s Hospital Telethon. I found his emailed, and wrote him a short message about the show. This is the email I got back,

Dear Stephanie,

What a light in my day to hear from you! I am so pleased that you reached out to me, and  am truly excited to hear about your journey over these past decades. I couldn’t be happier for you, and you certainly have a right to be proud.

 I am trying to change my schedule in Boston in order to be able to attend your performance on November 20. Coincidentally, my daughter, Kaila, is the Director of Classes at the PIT Comedy School.

 I hope to reconnect with you in November.

With best wishes and congratulations on the World Premiere,

 Karl

This just goes to show you that fate is sometimes a thing, and it’s awesome.

See you on November 20th at the PIT for the world premiere.