-Gregg Moxgala, Artisitc Director
Mrs. Brown turned on a television. I was excited. A movie? But I was quickly disappointed when it seemed to be some boring news report featuring President George H.W. Bush speaking behind a podium and signing some sort of paper. What we were watching was the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I had no idea what the ADA was. A that point I didn’t care, because I was too engrossed in my copy of Mary Shelley’s, "Frankenstein", which I was now reading secretly under the table. The television went off, and after a few moments the adults in the room all began to comment on what a momentous occasion this was.
I remember thinking,
“If this is such a momentous occasion, why isn’t the entire school watching?”
I walked back to class alone. The sound of my metal braces echoing through the hallways. As I glimpsed my ungainly shadow limping and looming huge beside me, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
I have always had a great affinity for The monsters. The freaks. Most likely because I felt like one. Luckily, there is a place where the malformed find grace. Where the hideous can be beautiful. Where strangeness is not shunned, but celebrated. This place is the Theatre.*
I believe Theater offers one of the greatest venues for perceptions about Disability to change. Among other things, it provides visibility, creates community, and serves as a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas.
2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. I believe over a quarter century ago in that room off the library that landmark bill became something more for me.
Americans with Disabilities Act.
Americans with Disabilities…Act!
This is a directive.
A battle cry.
It reminds me that I am in control of my own destiny. We all are.
Equality is not a given, however. It is a work in progress. I think the work being created with equity, inclusion and multiculturalism in mind, is the most exciting and daring happening today. I want to add to that work and conversation.
The Disabled Community, and the experiences of that community, are incredibly varied and complex. I believe the very thing that makes Disability hard to define and codify is the same thing that makes it inherently dramatic in nature. And worthy of active exploration.
I am a thirty-something crippled white guy. I was the third of four children raised by a first-generation Italian mother with strong Catholic beliefs and a father who spent twenty plus years in the United States Navy. I was born with a disability, and while I take issue with the statement that,
“My Disability does not define me,”
Because, honestly, how could it not, Disability does not consume my life. Most of our lives are taken up with love, and loss, and work, and sex, and family and the day to day struggle for our lives —just like anyone else.
It is my firm belief the creation of new works and the re-appropriation of existing works would help frame our experience in a historical context while simultaneously creating new mythologies. It would perhaps, finally allow us to take ownership of our personal and collective identity.
We are an incredibly rich and diverse community with many stories to tell.
So why aren’t we?
Currently, I can think of three (3) pervasive, entrenched narratives when it comes to stories about the “Disabled Experience:”
- Overcoming Adversity,
- Being An Inspiration/Inspirational
- Death with Dignity.
One of the most common refrains I hear from the Disability Community in relation to our lack of visibility in the cultural mainstream is something along the lines of,
"Did you know that people with disabilities make up 20% of the population but only 1% of characters on TV? And that 95% of those characters are played by able-bodied actors?"
These statistics are great on paper, and very alarming, but, and what I’m about to say here may be unpopular but (I can’t help it I was born this way), it is not the Hollywood studios or the Television networks’ or various streaming platforms’ job to make the work for us. Nobody handed roles or vehicles to members of the African American, Asian American, LGBTQ, you name it communities...members of these communities organized. They started theatres. They made their own work. They developed talent from within their own communities.
We are not doing this. For a number of reasons. But I have limited time, and I can’t get into all the myriad reasons right now. It’s difficult. Just know that. But does that mean it can’t be done? Does that mean we shouldn’t even try?
I found this interesting…Take this recent NY TIMES feature article from November about Transgender Artists, specifically transgender writers working in the Theatre. The headline read,
"Transgender Playwrights: "We Should Get To Tell Our Own Stories First"
Contrast that to an article a week earlier that appeared in the LA Times, about the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability in Beverly Hills. That particular headline read:
“Disabled Actors And Advocates Plead To Hollywood: 'Give Us A Chance, Please!'"
I’ve never known of a problem that was ever solved by merely complaining about it. Believe me, I’ve tried. And to quote a character of John Patrick Shanley’s,
“You’ve got to be brave for yourself in this world, because nobody else is going to do it for you and nobody else cares.”
Nobody cares about Disability. Nobody is going to care until we make them care. Until we show them how.
“If it ain’t on the page. It ain’t (gonna be) on the stage.”
I know what the problems are. We all know what the problems are. What I don’t hear are solutions. It’s obvious to me that we have work to do. The difficult work of actually engaging members of disparate communities, engaging decision makers at larger institutions and organizations to have serious discussions about content generation, about training and professional development for actors, writers, technicians, stage managers, dramaturgs and administrators from within our communities.
Scholarship. Advocacy. Activism. These are absolutely necessary, but I’m a Theatre guy. I am an actor who has become an artistic director out of necessity. I am trying to be a leader. Most days I don’t know what I’m doing. I do know that true leaders don’t make followers. They make other leaders. We should be inspiring others. The next generation and the generation after that.
Broadway which coincidentally over the last two seasons has seen plays like, The Elephant Man, Richard III, Cripple of Inishmaan, Glass Menagerie- and it’s coming back! Disability is everywhere…Since the birth of radio and mass media, Broadway has been termed, “The Fabulous Invalid.” I find this fascinating. The stage is set. This is ours for the taking. Don’t just talk about it.
People With Disabilities! Act!
That’s what I’m going to do. What I am trying to do. I don’t know if it’s possible. Maybe you can help? My company, The Apothetae, is an experiment. An experiment whose mission is to, produce works that explore and illuminate the, “Disabled Experience.”
I put that in quotes, because I’m not sure what that means. I don’t know my own History. I don’t know that we have a collective History. I think...If we have any collective identity it is one of performance- Freak Shows, Court Jesters, Anatomy Theatres, etc.
I think that I would like to continue to find the Disability community through my artistic practice, because I know that The 'Disability Community' is a series of communities, with a series of histories and a series of stories- just beginning to be told.
*This is a line from, "Resurrection," Season 1 Episode 3 of, SHOWTIME'S Penny Dreadful. The episode was written by John Logan, and is the first appearance of Dr. Frankenstein's Monster