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    Posted April 20, 2011

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EEO Presents "Creative Casting: Spotlight On Actors With Disabilities"

Robert McQueen, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, and Christine Toy Johnson

On April 5, 2011, the Eastern Region Equal Employment Opportunity Committee presented a staged reading of INTERNAL BLEEDING by Councillor and EEOC Co-Chair Christine Toy Johnson, featuring film and television star Daryl "Chill" Mitchell and directed by Robert McQueen. This was the culmination of a short workshop exploring casting an actor with a disability (Mr. Mitchell) in a role that is written as both disabled and non-disabled. It was followed by a discussion about the process led by Sharon Jensen, Executive Director of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts. The cast also featured Ann Harada, Eddie Aldrich, Helen Farmer, Jaygee Macapugay and Ariel Estrada.

Christine Toy Johnson said, "Though it is always assumed that a character who is written as disabled can be played by an actor who is not disabled, I wanted to make a truly good faith effort to see what would come out of considering the opposite. The play is the story of Benjamin Andrews, an Olympic bound gymnast who becomes estranged from his parents after an accident leaves him paralyzed. I decided to make it a sort of 'memory play,' told from Ben's point of view in the present, while also re-imagining the staging opportunities. This rooted the story in his current reality, making it even more profound. Collaborating with Chill's unique perspective impacted us all."

Jaygee Macapugay commented, "Chill never stopped pursuing acting after his accident. He never allowed himself to become a victim. That inspires me to release any excuses, and keep going. I was also shocked with how humble and excited he was to work with theatre actors. He said, 'I don't care what anyone thinks. We are on Broadway right now!' The two days I worked on INTERNAL BLEEDING reminded me that Broadway is a state of mind, not just a production contract."

Sharon Jensen said, "Rarely has a character with a disability been written with such honesty and dimension. Furthermore, because they cast a character with a disability with an actor who actually is a wheelchair user--something almost never done--as well as the remaining characters with actors from diverse cultural identifications, INTERNAL BLEEDING had an authenticity, believability, human dimension, and universality that I have rarely experienced in the theatre."

Ms. Johnson adds, "For years, AEA has been working towards a world where no one is excluded based solely on their race, ethnicity, gender, and/or presence/absence of a disability -- towards universal access. I believe that being open to re-imagining various elements of our storytelling can lead to all sorts of opportunities for universal access. Working this way gave us all insight into a world that isn't often discussed or explored. And to me, that's the true power of theatre."

INTERNAL BLEEDING was made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and a grant from the Puffin Foundation.

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