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The Joys and Challenges of Being a Performer With a Disability

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Ever since I was little I have always wanted to be a performer. It started when I was picked at 4 years old to be Mary in my primary school production of the Nativity. I have kept on pursuing my passion with workshops, classes, GCSEs, AS Levels, BTECs and a degree. My one-person performances in the car are legendary.

Throughout all of this, the only thing that has changed is my disability. The pain is worse, and the fatigue hits me with such a force that some days just trying to sit up straight can be difficult. Despite the Botox and ankle braces I’ve worn over the last four years, I lose my balance or my legs are so stiff that standing for a long time is too much. And when in bigger cities I use a walking stick to get about.

I think back to how much stronger I was 10 years ago; I was barely on medication. I needed hardly any pain relief, no muscle relaxants, no medication for my IBS, Nothing for my heart. No antidepressants. Just inhalers. Now I’m taking a small concoction three times a day just to function.

As an actress I have to preserve my energy. I must take care not to overdo it in one rehearsal, performance or shoot day or the next day I will be unable to perform. The day before an audition I have to focus so hard on my lines, but again make sure I don’t overdo it so I don’t have brain fog the next day and forget my lines.

But what you won’t see me do is complain about my condition. You will see me get up and do my scene. In a recent performance I was doing a physical theatre piece and I was being thrown about. When in rehearsals my cast mates knew about my condition and made sure I was OK with the movements we were doing. I allowed myself to trust these people. We all worked together; if there was a move I couldn’t do, we adapted it to fit me. This was amazing and I felt really included.

There are plenty of directors out there that are probably scared to hire disabled actors because they don’t know what needs that person will have. My advice is to ask in the audition room; you may be surprised at what they say. Yes, I’m in pain all the time. My legs will stiffen up so much that I struggle to walk and stand. I have to massage them and wear my braces and compression socks to stop the swelling. And will be tired, covered in Bruises. But the thing is with this is that I want to be a performer more than anything so I have dedication.

Getty image by AlphaSpirit.

Originally published: September 16, 2019
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