In my first blog post, I delved into some of the reasons why I rejoined the acting and singing world in the bright lights of the Big Apple, after a long, long absence. While I still have a long way to go in terms of major roles and engagements, I want to relate the ups and downs along the journey from then ‘til now – most of which have so much to do with my wheelchair – can’t leave home without it!
What drew me back to the field happened entirely by chance, as have many other events along the way. I’ve collected antique cars for years, and have on occasion rented them out to various film productions doing ‘period’ pieces. One of our wrecked cars even appeared in a production at the Long Wharf Theater. One Sunday night in August (2012), I was scanning the CT Film site to see if anyone was seeking a car I might have, when I came across a casting call for the ID Discovery show Unusual Suspects.
It seemed like a fun and interesting shoot, pretty close to home, so I decided to go for it. However, knowing the ways people sometime view people with disabilities, seeing only the ‘chair, not the person’s potential, I took a different approach. Rather than submitting to the local casting call, I decided to contact the casting director herself – even though she was located in Los Angeles. I emailed Kelli Lerner, owner of Kelli Lerner Casting, explaining my situation and how I thought that my ‘chair might preclude me from being seriously considered for a role.
Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later, I received an email back from Kelli. She explained how ‘She knew exactly how I felt, as she also had a disability (epilepsy) and was fully aware of the additional challenges that disabilities can present in the entertainment world.’ She also promised me a role in the show! Sure enough, three days later I was driving to Danbury, cast in the role of Tony – a featured background player, interacting with the lead actor (who unfortunately later gets killed and cut into pieces on the meat saw in the kitchen.) Talk about a serendipitous connection - for my ‘meeting’ Kelli, not the poor guy and the meat saw!
That day, I was hooked…and a sponge. Thanks to the loooong downtime between scenes, there was plenty of time to meet and talk with my fellow actors. Fortunately, they were patient with me, as I peppered them with questions – how did you get into the biz, how do you hear about jobs and auditions, what’s she/he (the various crew members) doing over there? And a few personally important questions as well – are there many people with disabilities in NYC productions, and are theater, TV & movie sets generally accessible?
I was given so much information to my first inquires - the casting websites to sign up for, good resources to approach for roles, coaching and marketing, union vs. non-union issues. When I emailed Kelli Lerner from the set to thank her for the opportunity, she also referred me to helpful connections in New York – as few productions actually filmed in CT. All of which I was so thankful for, because as soon as the director yelled ‘Action!’ I felt a charge run through me like few times before. I knew this was the world I wanted to be back in. And that day, on that accessible set (the very restaurant where that horrific crime took place), my wheelchair was not an issue at all. My character was seated at the dining room table with my ‘date,’ and the director made sure to include the ‘chair in various shots as well. To him, it just added variety to the scene.
However, it was the answers to my last two questions about disabilities and accessibility that have proven to be a taunting challenge on an almost regular basis since I’ve ‘come back.’ Some, like transportation issues in and around NYC, have been partially unscrambled. Being such an old city, physical access is still a major hurdle at times. The biggest barrier to breach is in the minds of some, but thankfully not all, of the people we as performers must present ourselves to on the way to being cast for theater, TV and film work. But it can be done – so stay tuned!