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On Disability & Intersectionality in the Age of Zoom

Equity in the Arts

This post is the fourth in our blog series A Place of Exposure, curated in partnership with The Apothetae, which takes its name from the first article written about The Apothetae and Lark collaboration in 2015. We launched this series in honor of the 2020 round of our Playwriting Fellowship for a Deaf/Disabled writer, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both the Fellowship and series are dedicated to uplifting the multiplicity of voices and experiences of Deaf/Disabled communities. These are the perspectives of people who have worked to create or support new plays, and re-appropriate existing plays, in order to present the experiences of Disabled communities as part of our cultural landscape. By providing a platform to explore these varied and complex experiences, we aim to highlight the fact the 'Disability Community' is a series of communities, with a series of histories and stories - just beginning to be told.

In this post, three artists with disabilities discussing navigating the many varied aspects of their identities, including race, age, queerness, ethnicity, and more. Nik Anderson, A.A. Brenner, and Ryan J. Haddad share their multi-disciplinary methods of theater making, and how they are finding their paths in the midst of a pandemic that has brought accessible technology to forefront, in a field that previously hadn't embraced it. Their conversation is available to read or watch below. And be sure to check out the rest of the series as well - links to all posts are featured at the bottom of this page!


Nik Anderson, A.A. Brenner, and Ryan J. Haddad
 

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT


A.A. BRENNER: Alright guys. We’re amidst a pandemic. So what do we want to do about that? What have you been doing with your art? Have you been doing anything? Have you been taking a break? What’s been going on with you all?

RYAN J. HADDAD: Oh I’m sure I’ve taken too long of a break. I’ve spent a lot of time just laying horizontally in bed for weeks and playing words with friends. But now I’m sort of pushing myself to do some revising of some older projects. I can’t quite get myself to generate new writing content, but I can look at things and cut them and rearrange them. I’m hoping that gets me closer to generative writing.

AAB: Are you editing specifically for zoom stuff or?

RJH: No, I have readings, whether they are zoom readings or not, I have stuff coming up that I have to get a script to so I want the script to be better than it was last time. And so that’s what I’m doing. But people are like “what are you writing that’s new?” And the answer, at the moment is “nothing.” I have them somewhere back here in the brain to be excavated at a later time. How about you guys?

NIK ANDERSON: For me, I’ve been teaching and the end of the semester is this week, so that’s been fun. About to have more time and more space, but I’ve just been in survival mode and trying not to fall into the capitalist trap of having to produce work right now. We’re in these times, these “unprecedented times” as people keep saying. Whereas the word “unprecedented” begins to lose its sense

RJH: Meaning

NA: Yeah. You’re like, “Well maybe there was a precedent for all of this, and we just didn’t see it.” Sorry, but not sorry. I run down my list when they just come out of nowhere. I have these documents that I’m doing month-to-month. I have like April Creativity document, I have a May creativity document that’s just my own personal artistry stuff that’s like ideas I have or just thoughts I have or things I want to explore later, or things I have at the back burner things  like different dances I can start choreographing via zoom now that I can record and see how they translate in person to where the zoom object you’re holding to do the zoom becomes the other person. I’m doing some creative—Ideas like to come to me, but I don’t like to follow through unless I know what the plan is for them, and there's no plans right now so I don’t need to do any follow through right now. I can just let the ideas come and be like “Okay.”

RJH: What about you, A.A.?

AAB: Well I just finished my second year at Columbia. So as you were saying, out of school.

RJH: Out of three?

AAB: Out of three! So thesis year, no classes. Well one class that’s like a professional development class, and that’s kind of it. And my thesis. So I’m trying to take a break, which is crazy because I feel like I've just been going straight through. My body wanted to lie horizontally as soon as this happened, but zoom classes were still a thing so there was still homework so that was a bit crazy. But now I’m totally crashing and that’s great. It feels great to just take a rest. In terms of stuff that I’m working on, I had a show, Transgressions, that was supposed to go up at Columbia, literally the day that Broadway shut down was supposed to be opening night, and we ended up closing also before even opening. It’s been a wild time. We did get lovely production stills, and we’re ready to go. I’m making a few edits for whenever theater resumes and were able to present the show in some way. But it’s bizarre having that go on pause right before it was about to happen. Other than that, I’ll have to start working on my thesis at some point. I’m working on a trilogy of living room plays about millennials in their living spaces battling different forces of toxicity—both internally and externally—which hilariously feels very appropriate for this time. I conceived of this before this happened, so it’s going to be very interesting to see the different resonances in that. What’s going to change in those shows that I’m working on based on the current moment? What isn’t? Obviously you don’t want to write, or you could write a pandemic play, I’m sure people are. But we also don’t want to watch stuff, or I personally am not interested in watching something that’s like, “Here we are in quarantine.”
 

NA: The environment of this moment and having to deal with your identity internally or externally—just speaks to, especially my experience as Disabled with emotional like psychiatric disabilities and emotional stuff. So now I’m seeing all these people. I feel like I’m more prepared for this moment, and now I’m seeing all these people not doing well at dealing with trauma and things I have dealt with. All of a sudden my alone space is crowded with people, and it’s becoming more accessible with zoom but also we’re still going about it in an inaccessible way with just zoom fatigue. We’re still trying to do too much. I mean, I’m not. Personally I’m not. I’m trying to do bare minimum. 

RJH: I say no to the zoom things that I don’t want to do. People are asking, asking, asking, asking. And there are some where it’s like “Yes I want to work with this person. Yes I want to have this conversation. But no, I don’t want to do this xyz thing.” So I just say no. I don’t have the space, and I’m limiting digital time, which is only a half truth because we’re all just sitting with our phones 24/7 anyways. 

NA: It just feels crowded. It just feels socially crowded. And I think people, as this goes on, the more socially isolated we are, the more people are going to be going towards mental health crises. Which is also like, the disability experience can be so universal in different ways. Anything can happen to your body over time, and anything can happen to your mind over time. So we’re having to deal with the realities of our bodies and our minds in this time in ways that, I think as Disabled people, we have more experience navigating these inaccessible structures. I don’t think us as a society, that’s why things have to be accessibility. We have to be accessible to people. We have to try to open things up instead of having a world that is built with accessibility built in. We’re trying to be more like that. You all know the history of the world we’re living in.

AAB: It’s interesting now to see people being like, “Gee maybe I didn’t need to go into the office.” There’s things that we were missing and are missing as you said, and it’s leading to more fatigue in other ways. All the times… My great aunt had polio and was a teacher in the Brooklyn Public School system for 40 years, and at first they didn’t want to let her teach because they said, “How are you going to get up the stairs to get to the classroom?” I feel like on a larger scale, the moment that we’re in now, anyone who has been denied entry, first of all that shouldn’t happen because we have the ADA. Hypothetically, spaces are more accessible physically. But now at a time where nothing is physically accessible, we're seeing there are other ways to make things accessible. So what do we do after this moment ends where folks who, for whatever reason, would be better served accessing something through zoom or any of these other forms of communication? So what’s going to happen? Will this continue, or will we just say, “oh well that’s over now?” Will people still understand when people need other accommodations? 

RJH: I left New York on March 13th, the day after Broadway shut down. That was it for me. Broadway? Bye! Like Broadway and there was no meat at Trader Joes. And I was like, “The Meat is gone? What?” So I came. But I think about my life there, and I’m very eager to come back as soon as it’s safe, but I keep getting told by my close friends that the New York I miss so much doesn’t exist right now. Like everything I want to do there or the people I want to be with, it’s not happening. There are two instances where, for me, what I choose to do in terms of access is seen by a lot of people as privilege. Privileged people do this. Privileged people take Ubers or Lyfts instead of taking the subway because they have the money to do that. And privileged people get their groceries delivered because they have the money to do that. And it’s like, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been doing that as a freelance artist who sometimes has great months of income and sometimes has complete zero months of income, but it doesn’t matter, from A to B I’m still going into a car instead of traveling seven avenues to the nearest accessible subway station. I have friends who are also Disabled who say, “Well I live in Brooklyn, and I have to take a bus 30 minutes just to get to my… So who are you to talk about your seven avenues?” But the choices that I make to preserve my body so that when I show up to a space to be a creative person or just to be a social human, I’m not wiping sweat off my body and about to pass out, or falling asleep in the middle of a rehearsal because I’ve chosen to conserve my energy by spending more money on a car. I can’t carry eggs or a gallon of milk. I can carry a lot of other groceries on the walker, but eggs, I’m sorry, are going to crack three minutes after stepping out of  the Trader Joe’s. So I’m going to have them delivered, and now everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s doing it. And there have to be ways in which those things are made more affordable universally so that people can continue to use those services if they choose to. It’s sort of like, well look, you all pointed the finger or thought a certain thing about me when it’s just really a physical need for me. And now it’s also a physical need for you, and what does it feel like to equate those two things? I don’t know. That’s just my rant.

NA: No I was on that rant!

AAB: Also, I have friends who normally get groceries delivered who are now having a hard time getting delivery slots and things like that. That happens because of overwhelming demands, suddenly the folks who need accommodations aren’t able to get them, so it’s, you know, just… the need isn’t special. It’s just a need. What do you do about that?

So I guess we started talking about this—how we negotiate our identities personally affects our professional practice. I guess Ryan you were talking about taking Ubers and doing the things you have to do to make sure you are working. What other things do we do? How do we find that our identities are informing our work?

RJH: Well could we, to the extent we are comfortable, just go around for those people who may be watching or reading who don’t know us, say what our identities are, and what those intersections are?

NA: Yeah, I can start. I can start us. I’m like in the circle, Let me begin! (Laughter). My name is Nik. Nikomeh. Nik. I use they/he pronouns. I’m trans-masculine, genderqueer or gender expansive, and Disabled—psycho-social disabilities, so I also like to identify as neurodivergent or neurodiverse. Did I say Queer? I’m like Queer, bi, all the… what is life? Yeah. That’s me. I was like, “What is else is part of me” Those are the parts that come to mind when you say that question. Also! I forgot one! Autism too! In the neuro-divergent/diversity thing. I like to say that. 

AAB: I’m A.A., A.A. Brenner. My pronouns are they/them/theirs or she/her/hers. I identify as a nonbinary, masculine-of center-woman. Love how all those things can be true, just go with what goes well with you, so that’s what works for me. What am I ? I’m a playwright at Columbia, second year MFA candidate there, and also just playwriting in the ether. I’m also Disabled. I have cerebral palsy. Fun stuff. And I’m Jewish, which is an extra fun identifier, so put that in as well. 

NA: I forgot to say that I’m a multi-disciplinary theater maker, so I do music and poetry and acting and choreographing, and teaching artist. I have too many identities that I have to literally write them all down to list them when it comes to these listicle things.

RJH: For some reason, I thought that stringed instrument was a rolling pin or something. I was like, “Are we baking?”

AAB: Super multidisciplinary!

NA: It’s a ukulele. I forgot it in my bed, and then I laid back, and it was like “Hello, let me introduce you!”

RJH: I’m Ryan, I think we didn’t say our names, but whatever. I am a gay Disabled man with cerebral palsy. Cisgendered man, he/him/his, and I am of Lebanese descent, third generation Lebanese-American. I’m a playwright and an actor and solo performer. Solo performer is kind of the merging of playwright and acting, some people would say solo performance is not playwriting, which is bullshit because it is. If it’s good, it is.

NA: If it’s good.

RJH: So that’s sort of all the identities mushed into one. I tried to honor the identities when I’m making art as much as I can, but some pieces lend themselves to being gay, and some pieces lend themselves to being Disabled, and some pieces are starting to lend themselves to being Lebanese-American because more and more people are interested in the fact that my last name is Haddad, even though I grew up not thinking about the fact that my last name was Haddad, but everyone in New York was like “What? What? What?” Okay so I’ll write about that I guess, if you want. What’s interesting is that I find that I have two plays that come to mind—my first solo play is called Hi, Are You Single, in which it’s assumed, or it’s just given that I’m gay, and we don’t discuss the implications of what it is to be gay because the story is about being Disabled inside of the gay community. But then there’s another play which is called Good Time Charlie in which it is assumed or just a given that we don’t talk about that I’m Disabled. The gay identity across generations in the same family is the emphasis and is the focus. It doesn’t mean—you know, I walk on stage with my walker, and there it is. The disability is there, so why do I have to point to it? One of my favorite talk-back memories (We all love a talk back, don’t we?) is during a reading, I was doing a reading of Good Time Charlie and there were—this was in California—there were lots of Disabled people in the audience who came out to support who were very excited that a Disabled playwright and performer was being showcased, and I felt grateful to have them. But, in the talk-back somebody said “Everything in this piece rings so true to me and my experience except the fact that your parents, the character of your parents, do not read to me as the parents of a Disabled child.” And I said, well thank you. Thank you so much, because the character of Ryan in this play is between 25 and 30. I’m grateful that in my lived experience my family is not talking about the fact that I’m Disabled anymore. They got over that when I was two and three, before I was even conscious of what was going on. I understand that it’s not everyone’s experience, but I don’t think that every piece needs to touch on every individual experience. I’m talking about from my personal experience, and if you find in yourself that you resonate with that story, great. That’s the goal, but it’s not supposed to check every box for you just because it’s representative of something similar. So how do you find yourselves navigating both serving your individual identities together but also speaking for audiences that have those experiences that may or may not have a lot to say in response to what you’re putting out?

AAB: I don’t know. I have found that the more specific I am, the more people have to say. And even if it doesn’t necessarily resonate exactly with their experiences, there’s usually something within the show itself that they can resonate with because at the end of the day, yes we’re writing about things that we’ve experienced, and yes, our experiences are going to be unique based on our identities. But also, at least personally, I write a lot about loss, a lot about reckoning with one’s own mortality, about co-dependent relationships. And these are things that transcend identities. It’s personal experiences, and even if you’re not Disabled or Queer or whatever it is that I’m focusing on in this specific piece, because, I agree with you Ryan, I also depending on the show focus on certain aspects of my identity more than others just based on what feels like more of a fit for the piece itself. And I don’t even think about it. It’s just, I’m writing a character, I’m writing a story; this is what I’m dealing with  now. And intersectionality is a thing. Pretty much everything I write is Queer in some way, and sometimes it’s Disabled. Or sometimes it’s Disabled and also a little Queer. And sometimes it’s not explicitly Jewish, but it is Jewish. But I think at the end of the day I have found, the more specific I make the play itself the more others connect to it. And also, while I usually do reflect some of my own lived experiences, and sometimes a lot of it in a specific piece, I will also write based on my friends’ lived experiences. I’m also interested in the differences, or the so-called differences between our experiences, and the ways people try to navigate that or think they are really different from each other when in actuality, we are all kind of the same in our own ways. So, I don’t know. It’s just fun to explore that and just fun to get these characters together and talking, and see different identities on stage based on my own experience of people with different identities on stage. 

RJH: Before we go to Nik, I have a quick follow up question for you A.A., which is, when you write from your friends’ experiences, do you ask permission to do that?

AAB: I do. Usually I’ll write it first and then mention that I've started writing it and ask “Would you mind reading this? Are you cool with it? How can I best represent your experiences and make sure it’s truthful and honest?” One of my earliest full-lengths was called God is Dead and April is Getting Married, and it featured prominently a Mormon character who was getting married who was also Queer. And so for that play especially, and whenever I’m really delving into an identity that, sure I have some experience because I have a friend, obviously it’s different than if it’s you, right. So I made sure to not just ask that specific friend “are you cool with this? Can you read this? Can you let me know what feedback you have? How I can make this more truthful and honest?” But I also had other members of the Mormon community read the play and  make sure it resonated with them and their experiences, and specifically the Queer Mormon community. You want to make sure that you’re being honest, and I strive to just be honest. 

NA: For me, as a performer-creator type person, I think that I'm always trying to, all of my perspectives are so intermingled with each other that it’s really hard, in actuality to divide my Queerness from me as a Black person in the world, me as a neurodivergent person in the world. They are different identities, but the intersectionality of them within myself is so, that core perspective is something I try to take and put into whatever I’m performing. But also as I’m channeling that voice, that voice is all those people or has all those identities as a poet. Something about me has to be expressed, so often I will—things about race spiral into things about gender spiral into things about accessibility and the world, and things about the body and things about the mind, and so all these things for me are connected. But even as a performer/person in the room, I don’t always like to do the entire, “Here’s all of my lists! Here’s my entire list!” In the room. I can’t always share my entire self with every individual person. So I try to navigate—I’ll say my pronouns, and if we need to have more conversation about that then we can. Because I also have a service dog, so my invisible disabilities are visible when I walk into a room. Not when I’m on the zoom, unless I (moves camera to show dog) I show her off. And even then, she doesn’t have her vest, so you don’t know unless I put her vest on. 

RJH: Aw look at the face!

NA: I know look at the face. And it’s hard when there’s a person who’s like, “Hi let me touch you!” But I have to be like “Hi, don’t say hi. She’s got to focus on me. She’s working.” She’s still working here, but working from home is different. It’s different. We’ve all experienced that. I usually come in and I have to ask for that first, is “please leave the dog alone.” And my pronouns. So those are the kinds of things I have to lead with. But also the kink in my hair. My racial identity, being light skinned too. It comes with me into the room, especially these artistic rooms. Ryan, as you were saying before, it’s like the “what are you?” question. It’s “Where are you from?” “I wanna know you as a person of color” and that’s such a theater industry thing. It’s probably also a society thing. It’s such a weird thing.

RJH: I agree. It’s such a specific thing to theater, and that’s why, when I bring it to the attention of my family as Lebanese-Americans/Arab-Americans, they go “What did you just say?” It’s because nobody has had to visually scrutinize them the way we are visually scrutinized when we walk into a room. The same is true at the other side of the table. When, as the writer, when you come in and/or I’m considering you for a role, I’d like to know if I’m getting it authentically correct and if we’re not going to have any taboo moments because what I perceive the person to be is not actually what they are, but again, they want to know, and they also can’t really ask those questions. Sometimes, I’ve only had one experience where professionally they just said, “by the way…” But it was after I had already booked the role, so I didn’t feel like I was in any kind of jeopardy of it being taken away from me, so I told them I’m Lebanese-American, and they were all “Oh Wonderful!” They were so excited to go and check that diversity box too. But it’s a very interesting thing, the visuals of theater and performance. Obviously it’s a visual medium; of course it is. But to be so obviously put into a box when obviously all of us clearly have expansive boxes, and maybe even have treehouses made of all the boxes that we have. It’s a very interesting, particularly for our industry, very interesting thing. 

NA: And then there’s how we each navigate that. I feel like I had to do a lot of learning when I first got out of school of, don’t just take anything that gets offered to you. I mean, I think that’s just a life skill in general, but I think there’s something especially racial things that I didn’t know going out into… It also was just, everyone was more backwards then too. 2014 or whenever I graduated. How do we continue to make art that accurately represents people in their entirety in ways that they don’t feel like they don’t have to perform all those boxes for people at all moments, if that makes sense.

RJH: I find that when you’re in those scenarios with people who are trying to tell you what to do with your own play or project—if you’re talking race, ethnicity, it’s of course. It’s a must. If you’re talking disability, at least nowadays, cross your fingers, of course. In theater at least, they are saying of course, it’s a must. Even trans-nonbinary, they are saying uh-huh. They are nodding their heads. But then you get into that fourth one, which we all seem to be in, which is gay and Queer. And people are like, well, hm. That’s when they stop nodding their head. There was a very gay play on Broadway in this last season that was very very heterosexually or hetero-presentingly cast. Only later qualified to expand the identities of those in the cast after it was called into question. And I’m wondering how we navigate that. If we’re really pushing for authenticity, if we’re all Queer in some area of the spectrum, if people are going to continue to say “well what about this wonderful straight actor?” You just go… Oh god.

AAB: I know. I think we just have to keep pushing, you know? If we just shut up and give them what they want then of course they are just going to be able to keep doing that. It’s on us, unfortunately, to just keep asking for it until it doesn’t become this weird question. 

So it looks like the next thing to discuss is our own evolution of how we’ve been members of the Disability community in our professional lives. So who wants to start that off?

RJH: My disability is purely a mobility disability. It’s a visible mobility disability. I have a walker. You can’t unsee it unless I’m sitting in a zoom like this. But even if I start to do this with my hands, you go “ooh something is happening.” So I would say that when I was young, I worked very hard to acclimate and immerse/integrate with non-disabled people. There was a perception that because I was physically Disabled that I was also intellectually Disabled, so there were early attempts to get me into special ed, which my parents vetoed. But I also had to veto and be like, “Why are you taking me out of this class at 2:10? I don’t understand why I’m in this room by myself.” It was a big push, a big push. I just watched this extraordinary film called Crip Camp, which you all must see if you have not. But they mention this kind of, when they are passing the law about I want to say it might have predated 504 but it also might have been part of 504, that public schools, when allowing Disabled people to enter public schools, there would be one school per district that would… Sorry, What I’m saying is that in the public school, at least where I grew up, based on Crip Camp, I learned that it was probably a national thing that every public school system had to have one building per category that met the ADA requirements and the Disabled people could go there. But only one, so for elementary school, junior high school, and then high school. In my scenario, I was not in the neighborhood of that school, so they were just going to put me there because that’s where all of the Disabled people went. And I was like, “Excuse me. No.” Because I had two older brothers who went to the high school I wanted to go to. My father went to the high school I wanted to go to. And yes, I ended up going to that high school, and that school had to make a lot of adaptations. Even though they couldn’t take a jackhammer to the stairs, they had to find a way to allow me to exist as a student in that school. So I didn’t have a ton of integration with Disabled people or peers until I went to something called the Ohio Youth Leadership Forum in the middle of high school, and then I went back as a counselor in college, and it was all different kinds of people with all different kinds of disabilities, and it was really this crash course in, “How do you exist in a space with people who are different than you?” Even though we are all Disabled, we are so different, and if I don’t know how to interact with the Deaf or Hard of Hearing community or the Blind community or the neurodiverse  community. All of these differences were all in one place. That was the beginning of my education was, like Crip Camp, of, “Here we all are. How do we get along? And how do we not make fun of each other for our respective disabilities?” I, of course, was not making fun of people, but I was watching people get made fun of by other Disabled people and I was like, “Do you not get it? Like woah?” And then I came to New York, and being introduced to Gregg and The Apothetae, and Jesse Yates, a dear dear friend of mine, and all these different types of artistic disability communities, that brought the way—what I knew about inclusion, both inclusion in theater and broadly—and how to be cognizant of other peoples experiences and needs in a way that, if you don’t have that broad education and evolution, then you’re just in a lane by yourself. And we, by ourselves, are not the definition of Disability as a whole. That’s my speech. 

AAB: Amazing.

NA: I love that.

AAB: I guess that…

RJH: No there’s more! You each have to talk about your disability.

NA: I can go next if you want.

AAB: Yeah go for it!

NA: Cause you each mentioned somebody who was, well multiple people, who were part of my experience too. I have to let the cat out. The cat wants to go in, the cat wants to go out. When I was young, I was different. When I was a little baby. When I was growing up, I was in an all white, well not all white, but mostly white neighborhood. I experienced bullying, that social weirdness. That outcasting effect of like “you over there.” That had effect growing up. So as I was growing up and my parents were able to, “You need to take all the arts,” because arts really worked for me—music and dance. They kept me busy with that kind of stuff. Performance really helped me deal with things emotionally and find my expressive voice, especially verbally/linguistically, learning so many things that are really important life skills that people usually under the autistic umbrella learn, or aren’t taught in the right ways I think is a better way to put it. There was this point when I was young when I was evaluated for intellectual retardation, and then they just stopped. They didn’t go deeper. I feel like, especially being assigned female at birth, that was something that is a common theme for people on the autism spectrum that are non-binary or female identified growing up, is not getting diagnosed until their thirties or something like that because it’s so much easier to quote-unquote socially mask as a femme person, or the way you’re taught to handle it by society. I think performance helped me in a lot of ways, but it also helped me act, perform neurotypical-ness enough to not have my teachers—because I could not pay attention in class and I could still get good grades. Anyways. I had no concept of that, but at the same time really struggled mentally and suffered trauma from not learning about race and how people were treating me because of race. But also because of gender and all those other things. I went through this period of spiritual growth and transformation, like a breakdown but a break through. These periods can be really scary when you don’t know what’s going on, but I had a breakthrough when 45 was elected, and I started trying to get to the root of—I was gender questioning for a long time, even if I didn’t necessarily have the words for it—so I was getting to the root of my gender identity. And then  there was a conversation I had with Jesse at the time because I was in all of these radical mental health spaces and I was also in autism spaces as a teaching artist, so I was learning about autism from that side of things, which is always sort weird because you’re like, “Why does this work for my brain so much” it’s like you’re having this Ah-hah! Moment of this is ‘Me’ things. And also then just the state of autism organizations being lead by people who are in control of autistic people or parents or the caregivers, so I could see, even as a teaching artist in those spaces, how people would silence people who are nonverbal or make fun of them. Things that aren’t good ways to give care. Just not good ways to give care. It was interesting being able to, at least for a while, the organization I worked for - we’re not talking about it, we’re not going there - but being able to communicate with people in ways that are not just verbal. I think there’s an intersection between dance and moving your body, and nonverbal communication, and autism that I was…I hadn’t quite gotten yet. And then I had this conversation with Jesse Yates about our disability experiences. You definitely should do a blog about her one of these days about her experience. Even though she’s physically Disabled, my psycho-social disability, understanding that I didn’t know that I had it, that was something that we shared together. That you can have something going on with you that you don’t even understand is going on with you, and that’s okay. Growing up, I was never diagnosed, but now I have community. I was able to meet people from understanding these things about myself. Arts is connected to that. I’ve just been an artist and trying to express myself and use arts to heal myself and my community. There are just so many things that were under the surface for so long, and now they are rising. Ever since I got my service dog two years ago, I’ve been so taken care of. Even though if people understood more and let her work more, it would be better if the world was better, even just having her has helped me so immensely. I’m more grounded. That’s what she does for me. I can talk about these things and I was in so many dark places because I didn’t have tools or support. So I had to find those supports and learn these tools of self-advocacy as I was also trying to learn and understand my identity at the time. And be an artist! And be an artist and juggle these things at the same time. 

AAB: Totally can relate to the idea of things bubbling and not knowing that they are there but kind of knowing that they are there. So obviously I’ve had CP my entire life, but I actually didn’t know it was CP until I was 12 or 13. My parents just told me that my legs were different, and that was it. I had heel cord lengthening when I was four. Before that I had braces that I wore all the time. Then after surgery it went to night braces and orthotics every day. Now I just wear my orthotics. I walk with a little swag, so most people are like “Aw your walk is so cute.” And I’m like “Yeah, I’m Disabled. How about that?” And actually, the first time that happened to me was in ninth grade, and I thought that the guy who complimented my walk was making fun of me because growing up people always made fun of me. But actually he was hitting on me, and I had no idea. I thought it was hilarious like I have CP and all I got was this cute walk. But I didn’t find out until I was at a doctor’s appointment and the pediatrician asked, “How’s the CP going?” And I said “What’s CP?” And I went home, and I googled it, and that’s how I found out that I’m Disabled. From there it took me many more years to discover there’s a whole community of Disabled people out there. I had almost no idea because I spent literally my entire life in the non-disabled community, not even knowing I was Disabled. Second of all, once I knew I was, not really knowing what to do with that because I had never considered myself part of the community. It wasn’t until college where I had the good fortune of meeting a dear friend of mine, Jordan Berger, who is now at NYU Law studying Disability Advocacy and law obviously-

NA: Yes!

AAB: Yeah, she’s amazing. And actually we were, we met in all places on a wine tour, because I went to Cornell and that’s just what happens. And we started talking about Disability and she just got me way involved in the community right off the bat. So if it weren’t for her and that wine tour, I wouldn’t be here right now which is really insane. Jordan has been a great friend and really encouraging me first to get involved in the community, learn more about the community, and then I started writing about my experiences as a person with CP, which is something I never did. I’ve been writing plays since ninth grade. I’ve been writing other things since I could write. But it wasn’t until I was about 22 that I wrote anything with a Disabled character because it had been erased for me just due to circumstances, was erased in my writing. I didn’t even think to write about it. And when I did, it was so freeing and amazing to just put my full experience out there in a way I had never before. I wrote a character who has CP, but the play is not about CP, which as we know, that’s what we love. That’s what we stan. Not that there’s anything wrong that’s directly about Disability itself. Gregg and I wrote a show about driving through Disability history essentially. But it’s also, the representation is amazing. Showing your full self is amazing, and different parts of myself that I didn’t even know were parts of myself and communities that I didn’t know I was a part of. It’s been so amazing to continue to grow in that way and learn and meet more people and become more invested in the community. It’s really soul-affirming for me, and I wish more people knew. In my case, my family thought they were doing the right thing in not telling me because they didn’t want me to feel like I was different, but actually in so doing, they incidentally blocked me off from a community of people I could have connected to. It’s almost more isolating than it would have been otherwise. But I’m happy I found my way here, and I’m happy to be here. The water is great. The cookies are great. Whatever metaphor you want to use.


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