It was my final circle up at Transcendence that stirred my heart into action. I’ll never forget Brad calling out, “WHAT ARE WE HERE TO DO?” Then the whole circle responded, “SERVICE.” I couldn’t help but tear up. In that moment, I was surrounded by the most selfless artists I had ever worked with, the most passionate volunteers, and the unmatchable TTC staff. For most of my college and NYC years, I’d grappled with how to combine my passion to help others with my passion to perform. It was at TTC where I learned that the two are not so separate from each other. In that circle up I understood that if we (as artists) are not pursuing this career as a way to help others…we are probably doing it wrong.
During my first week back in NYC, I found myself in a brainstorming session with my friend Kallen. She presented me with the idea for a new series called ABLE that aims to fill a gap of missing conversations around disability within the entertainment world. In these episodes, we would join various figures in theater, film, television, and entertainment with real experiences in and with the differently-abled and neurodiverse communities to discuss how storytellers can create more representative and truthful narratives. Oh my gosh, I thought, this is the exact opportunity I have been yearning for. I was IN instantly, and signed on as a co-producer and co-host for the series.
Many folks in the Transcendence community may not know that I am an actor with a vision impairment. I have lived with an eye disease since birth, and I have limited sight. My eyes shift involuntarily, as they are always trying to get the best point of focus they can find! While I am a self-proclaimed “cockeyed optimist,” my journey to being an actor on a professional level has not been easy. Some casting directors and educators have told me that my vision impairment will hinder me, and some have even told me that no one will take me seriously because my eyes look different. Others say my low vision can be seen as a catalyst for creativity (those are my people). From personal experience, I know the entertainment industry is moving towards inclusion, but there is still work to be done.
This is where ABLE comes in. Today, we are seeing more and more disability inclusion in the entertainment industry. Look at the Spring Awakening Revival, shows like Breaking Bad and Glee, and poignant plays like Amy and the Orphans. However, we want to make sure that this inclusion is not simply a casting “trend”. Inclusion in casting must become a lasting reality. We hope the guests we interview will educate and empower our viewers to understand disability differently. Disability is often tiptoed around because people are afraid to say the “wrong thing.” We hope ABLE will allow people to normalize the diversity of the human condition. By starting these conversations, we also want to educate writers to craft more inclusive narratives. We hope that industry professionals will continue to open their minds to more inclusive casting. How incredible would it be to see more actors with disabilities leading a company in a Broadway musical, in the starring role on a TV show, or solving the conflict in a feature film? We are ready to see more art that mirrors ALL the people who love and support it. After all, people with disabilities make up 20% of the U.S. population.
If you are just as excited as we are about ABLE…I would love to hear from you. You can learn more here, and donate to our first season. The love and encouragement I experienced in Sonoma served as a catalyst for ABLE. I am forever thankful for everyone I met at Transcendence and for the life lessons I learned each day. And Brad, thank you for that service circle-up that brought me back to my WHY: I must combine art and service if I want to make lasting change.