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    Posted October 28, 2008

Breaking Down Barriers

AEA Hosts Disabilities Panel In Los Angeles: "Breaking Down Barriers" Highlights Challenges for Performers With Disabilities

By Michael Van Duzer, Western EEO Business Representative

I AM PWD Campaign - click here

Ann Stocking introducing scenes featuring performers with disabilities (James Foster, ASL interpreter)
Photos: Ed Krieger

On the evening of October 14, 2008 Actors' Equity Association presented an innovative and exciting forum entitled Breaking Down Barriers-Inclusion in the Arts and Media for Performers with Disabilities in the James Cagney Boardroom at SAG headquarters in Los Angeles. Produced by Equity's Western Region EEO Committee in association with the National Tri-Union Performers With Disabilities (PWD) Committee under the guidance of Event Chair Nancy Daly, the forum was one of the kick-off events in a three-year campaign called I.AM.PWD, designed to increase the visibility and employment opportunities for performers with disabilities in the entertainment industry.

Tara Samuel, Danny Murphy in a scene from THE HISTORY OF BOWLING
Photos: Ed Krieger

The evening began with a selection of specially rehearsed scenes from THE HISTORY OF BOWLING, DOUBT and PROOF, performed mainly by disabled performers from the Committee. And, though only BOWLING was conceived with the idea of a PWD playing the role, the performances left little doubt that casting a PWD in a role generally played by an able-bodied actor can add color, freshness and a certain authenticity to familiar fare.

After the scenes, a diverse and distinguished mix of PWDs and able-bodied panelists took over for the rest of the evening. The participants included: Actress, Linda Bove; Casting Director, Amy Lieberman; Poet/Playwright/Performer, Lynn Manning; Talent Agent, Tony Martinez; and PWD Committee Member/Actress, Ann Stocking. The Moderator for the evening was Equity Staff Member, Michael Van Duzer, who guided the discussion with a series of provocative questions.

Tobias Forrest and Teal Shearer in a scene from PROOF
Photos: Ed Krieger

The panelists were unusually open and candid while discussing the high points (as well as the low ones) in the history of PWDs onstage. Issues surrounding accessibility of theatres, problems with getting serious consideration in the casting process, the pioneering work done by Gordon Davidson and the Center Theatre Group as well as the basic fear of the unknown that so often hinders the casting of differently-abled performers, were wonderfully illuminated through the varied experiences of the panel members. After an hour of panel discussion, the floor was opened to the 60 member audience for questions as well as personal triumphs and tragedies.

Although no program could begin to solve the issue of inclusion in an evening, the panelists concluded with a cautiously optimistic call for visibility as the first line of attack. It was pointed out that Equity's system of auditions offers a perfect opportunity for PWDs to continually remind Producers that they are the world's largest minority as well as the least visible in any area of the Arts.

Actress, Linda Bove; PWD Committee Member/Actress, Ann Stocking; Talent Agent, Tony Martinez; Casting Director, Amy Lieberman; Poet/Playwright/Performer, Lynn Manning; Moderator for the evening Equity Staff Member, Michael Van Duzer
Photos: Ed Krieger

Save the Date - Saturday, October 24, 2009 - The Hollywood Disabilities Forum

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