Everything Has Lead Me To Performing
I had studied fine art, experimental art, martial arts, music, fashion, acting all before dance became my focus. I grew up drawing, painting, writing songs, singing, speaking out about things I think are important because I desperately needed to express myself. Even though most of my life I have been stared I have felt invisible. I was moved by, dreamed about and was educated by powerful performers like Sydney Portier. The characters he played and the choices he made informed me that the way stories get told can impact the world view regarding difference and attraction and what is possible despite what came before us or the barriers we face daily. None of the other art forms I have participated in have elated, shocked surprised or made a difference in peoples perceptions.
Lack of funds making access to imaginative education and support available and an abundance of ignorance in the world we still live in deters and motivates me to be a performer. A bit of I’ll show you what is or isn’t possible. I would not say I bought but I rented the notion that people who use wheelchairs don’t… You fill in the blank . But after I performed my songs in front of a number of audiences, after studying fine art in Florence Italy for a year, after Modeling on the national television in Canada and the United States for a number of years. After working in film and television why not become a dancer.
I begin performing when I was a child. Being the youngest of six if I wanted attention I had to perform. I was cute so I was asked to sing with Blake Emmins on a Chipple childrens Telethon when all I really wanted to do was be shown putting the money I collected in the giant fish bowl. That lead to the uncle Bobby show. Kids can be a tough crowd and I was the only one at who used a wheelchair so at recess on the play ground or in the bathroom and eventually on the stage so I used to sing to get their attention. Later I was pursued by an acting agent because of all the attention I got as an activist pulling publicity stunts for the Endangered Animal Sanctuary or speaking out lack of access at the Ontario College of Arts and issues around Violence against women with disabilities. She was sure she could get me work as a model and work in commercials.
I guess you would expect me to say inaccessible venues and or rehearsal space are two aspects of performing that are more difficult than most people are aware. But finding rolls to play staggeringly difficult to find. Conveying to the film television world people with disabilities are very much a part of society and exceptionally underrepresented or overly stereotyped. We are mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. We are human resources, we are lawyers we are teachers we are entertainers. We represent over 4 million in Canada alone. Something like 10 percent of the population is ever increasing due to advancement in medicine and technology, return of soldiers and the increase in the aging part of society. Soon there will be fights for space on the side walks for scooters wheelchairs and walkers in addition to the already populated bikes, roller bladders skateboarders and baby strollers. Yes there is a façade of disability being represented in media via scooter commercials or PSA like “We are able” . There is the ever popular able bodied person ends up in wheelchair via tragic accident and is played by ambulatory actor “because of the walking flash backs” or what I call “drive bys” (some one wheeling across) in the back ground. There is also the overwhelming number of illnesses that need funding for research and awareness. The Ignorance of what it takes to be a performer, what kind of time, endurance, practice, education, tolerance, patience with ourselves and others and Lack of respect for needs and requirements in order to perform like performance space, set up, warm up ability to be seen by the audience to a appropriate surface to perform on and or in conditions that are best for performer and audience.
Something well crafted, well executed and moving takes you on a journey that is ART.(A Real Treasure) When I say well crafted I mean it is accessible. Accessible to me means it invites you in and or is a perspective you hadn’t thought of that might make a difference in how you see other situations in life.
I can not claim to be so grand as to state I have changed the world of art however I suppose the internet plays a part in world exposure. My contribution as an artist has changed the world of art because I am not a typical dancer. I am not what is expected. I train and work on being open to other ideas and other processes as I can. Part of that training is life and the myriad of ways I must adapt or translate? You won’t find to many dancers in wheelchairs in their 40’s. I also prefer to work in as many methodologies and with as many different cultures (minorities) as possible to learn and share our experiences. I believe working together we become stronger artists.
I suppose audiences receive Performers with disabilities more seriously than perhaps they once did. I believe that is based on the way they are presented. I saw more representation of a variety of disability and multiculture in the 70s’ and 80’s. Then the turn of disability into super human like the Million Dollar man or the Bionic woman. Million dollars not far off the track our assistive devices are expensive which is another topic all together. Interestingly I have more and more people with disabilities in the audience. Which in my mind, beggs the question is that because there is more access to performance or is the performance more accessible. Accessible meaning all kinds of people can relate and appreciate the quality of the story or the performance. I admit that once apon a time if someone told me there was a disability this or that performance, what ever, I would think that’s nice but I don’t think so. I am not going. I am not interested. It will not appeal to me just because I have a disability and I resented others thinking I would like it just because. But once I saw performers like Alan Shain and Lynn Manning I wanted to see more. I wanted to be that good. But perception I am not sure audiences still range from “Oh isn’t that brave to A WOW. Thanks that was so moving you made me cry. I don’t want pat on the head I want a pat on the back.
There are more opportunities for performers with disabilities because of the increase of Disability Art Festivals and I do seem to get hired to do a lot of diversity oriented events which I hope means there is a wanting audience and not just placation by companies to show possibility.
- What do you feel is the most common misassumption about disabled performers? That we are either not talented just brave or we are super crips.
- What do you feel is the typical response from the public at the end of a performance? Why do you think this is the response you get? I think the typical response is positive. I think this because of applause and positive feed back. I think I get this because I work hard to achieve this response.
- What do you feel needs to be the biggest change in the performance world from the perspective of a disabled performer? Diverse representation of us in mainstream media. You know how it has been said that a women has to worker or a person of colour has to work twice as hard to get the same pay or work or recognition. Well People with disabilities have to work harder just to live an ordinary life I can’t even begin to discribe what we have to do except to say we have to make it not look as hard as it is. We have to take into account our energy our necessities just to function in an inaccessible world with inaccessible resourses places and people.
- How would you define “disability”? An uneven playing field.
- Where do think disabled performance is headed from here? With the advancement in technology and the internet the possibilities are almost limitless.
- What would you like to do next as a performer? Travel the globe professionally well paid.
- What is the ultimate goal for you as a performer? I would like to be playing a major role in an on going television series or major motion pictures.
- What do you think is the biggest challenge for a non-disabled person who wants to work with disabled artists? Why do you think this? Understanding the magnitude of disrespect and ignorance we face regularly. You can not truly know anothers experience.