Friday, August 31, 2018

New A&E documentary gives viewers look into lives of Deaf people

From Parade:

Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who lost most of her hearing as a toddler, is an executive producer of the A&E documentary Deaf Out Loud (September 12), which follows three predominantly deaf families as they raise their children in a hearing world. 
“People use different terms to refer to us—hearing impaired, hard of hearing, hearing loss,” says Matlin, 53. “The misconception lies in the fact that deaf people all think alike, talk alike and live alike, and that’s not true.” 
 In a 2017 interview, Parade asked Matlin if she thinks there have been inroads into acting roles for the deaf community. Here’s what she had to say:
“Yes, but not enough. Though deaf and hard of hearing people as well as people with a disability make up 20 percent of our population, only 2 percent of roles in film and TV feature actors with a disability and of that 2 percent, 5 percent are played by actors who actually HAVE a disability. It’s 30 years since I won the Academy Award as the first deaf person to receive this honor and we still have to talk about the lack of inclusion? It’s a sorry situation.”
A&E says the documentary special follows the lives of three predominantly deaf families who utilise different communication modalities in everyday life. 
The show delves into the various ways deaf culture is expressed and embraced in the United States. Misconceptions exist about deaf individuals – from schooling to employment and raising a family. The documentary aims to change these misperceptions and bring awareness and better understanding to the public at large. The three families will show viewers the diversity of deaf culture today, and how it differs from hearing cultures.

“People with disabilities need to see positive representations of themselves, both as people with satisfying personal lives and as people who can perform successfully in the workplace,” said executive producer Jonathan Murray. “Those positive images will change for the better the way the greater society sees people with disabilities, opening up more opportunities for them.”

Get a sneak peek of the A&E documentary Deaf Out Loud here: The documentary premieres on A&E September 12.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ali Stroker on "Oklahoma!" and Bringing Disability Representation to Another Iconic Musical

From Teen Vogue:

Ali Stroker is working to make the Broadway world more inclusive — one iconic musical at a time. 

The actor, who made history in 2015 as the first performer in a wheelchair to be cast in a Broadway show, will be appearing in the upcoming Off-Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!directed by Daniel Fish, coinciding with the classic musical’s 75th anniversary. Ali first gained notoriety after appearing on The Glee Project 2 back in 2012 and eventually appearing on Glee as a guest star. Now she'll be starring in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie, the headstrong and hilarious friend of Laurey, the show’s protagonist (who will be portrayed by Rebecca Naomi Jones). 

Ali, who has used a wheelchair since she was two years old when a car accident left her paralyzed from the chest down, tells Teen Vogue that providing visibility for the disabled community in such a mainstream musical as Oklahoma! is especially meaningful. “I remember in college, always considering Oklahoma! and Rodgers and Hammerstein being like classical musical theater, if there is such a thing,” the actor says. “To have people that are diverse playing those roles, I think just adds something really exciting to the production and the story.” 

Of course, if Daniel Fish’s previous iterations of Oklahoma! at Bard College in 2015 and 2007 are any indication, this might not be your typical production of the timeless musical. Both previous productions had been set in the round, an immersive theater method in which the audience surrounds the stage. That means audience members became part of the rural town community, eating chili and drinking lemonade served by the actors themselves. Ali tells Teen Vogue that, while she doesn’t know a lot about Fish’s upcoming remount yet, it will likely “be different” than what one might expect. 

Incidentally, Ali landed the role of Ado Annie in an unconventional way as well, with a story that proves she was destined for the part. She tells Teen Vogue that after auditioning in person, she was scheduled to appear in New York City for a callback. “I was in Cleveland [at the time], doing Spelling Bee at the Cleveland Playhouse,” Ali says, adding that she attempted to fly back to New York for the callback, only to have her flight canceled at the last minute. Thinking quickly, she enlisted the help of her boyfriend, and together they made a tape to send in for her callback. 

“You make so many of those tapes as an actor these days, because so many things are on tape,” Ali says with a laugh. “You always think: ‘No way I'm going to get the part.’” But this time, she landed the part, proving that sometimes taking risks can pay off. 

For Ali, that kind of thinking isn’t new. She tells Teen Vogue that having a disability has felt like the perfect training for being in the theater industry, noting that she’s had to “be creative, think outside of the box, and solve problems my entire life — not just my career.” She first caught the acting bug at age seven, when she played the title role in Annie in her hometown of the Jersey Shore. 

“Theater, for me, was more than a hobby,” Ali explains. “It was a place I could go where I felt like myself, and I felt limitless ... Theater is what saved me. It's what gave me purpose and courage and confidence to keep moving forward. It also has given me a real sense of success, which I think is something that I have a very particular experience with, because of being in a chair.” 

And there’s no doubt that Ali’s involvement in theater has now given others purpose and courage as well. When Ali was cast in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, it was the first time that a performer in a wheelchair ever appeared on a Broadway stage. “It was a huge wake-up call to me that there's so much work that still needs to be done for my community,” she tells Teen Vogue, adding that the production, which also included deaf actors, completely changed her life. “I remember young kids with disabilities coming to see the show and being like, ‘I didn't know this was possible, and now I've seen it done, and I know it is.’” 

Being able to provide that representation was huge for Ali, simply because it was personal. “I remember being younger and just looking everywhere for someone who looked like me, and it didn't exist,” the actor says. “When you see somebody else who looks like you, who is in your similar position, you somehow are given confidence that you're going to make it. That's why representation is so important. The stories that we see portrayed, they’re from our own.” 

But Ali knows that the Broadway community — and pop culture in general — still has a long way to go. “I would like to see disabled actors cast in all different kinds of roles, not just a part for somebody who's disabled,” she explains, noting that she’s trying to prove this exact point with her career. “Just because I'm in a chair, doesn't mean I only go in for roles for women in wheelchairs.” 

Given Ali’s trajectory in the theater industry so far, it’s clear that she’s paving the way for others to follow suit — and that she's not stopping. “I hope that people with disabilities and their stories are being portrayed on stage,” she says of Broadway’s future. “It's a moment to see someone's story represented. And it’s such an opportunity, as artists, to share.”