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Artists With Disabilities Want More Than Representation, They Want Work

At the arts celebration “A Series of Fortunate Events,” actors, visual artists, and musicians with disabilities showcase their creations and their talent. But the event goes beyond representing art, it is also a platform for artists to advocate for their own place in the North Carolina arts economy.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Betsy Ludwig, executive director of Arts Access, about the showcase and about how people with disabilities are fighting to take back their own narratives. Ludwig is joined by actor Douglas Kapp and musician Chris Hendricks of the band Castle Wild. "A Series of Fortunate Events" runs through Wednesday, May 16 in various venues in Raleigh.


Actor Douglas Kapp on the assumptions artistic directors have made about his abilities:
I have most often sensed people reticent to bring me on board because they don't know if I can handle the physical demands of the part. And most of the time it's my job to try and convince them otherwise. And I hope artistic directors will keep that in mind as they're going through a list of actors – and if they see a disability  – how can they reimagine that?

Kapp talking about an artistic director who was unwilling to accommodate his disability:
I was hired for a part a few years back. And he knew of my issue. But when I got there he immediately took away the big part – because again, the physical demands – and I tried to talk him into reconsidering the way he would stage it. He said it just wasn't going to be possible.

Arts Access Executive Director Betsy Ludwig on promoting actors with disabilities:
[Doug Kapp is] very funny, and he's a really gifted actor, but the more we can get him out there or support that work, the easier it's gonna be for the next person ... That theater director does it one time, and they're just gonna have opened up their parameters of what an actor or an actress has to look like. So I think that's the cool point of this festival: is to not have a special or separate festival but just to give people a bigger platform to work in the arts.

Musician Chris Hendricks on the capacity of artists with disabilities to tell their own stories:
Artists are supposed to be great storytellers, and part of being in the arts [means] you have to be a good storyteller. And what person who hasn't experienced a condition doesn't have a story to tell. It’s such a wonderful aspect of who we are as people. Success is forged in our own path.

Hendricks on Hollywood’s relationship to actors with disabilities:
90 percent of the time, Hollywood should reach out to the breadth of talent that exists in terms of people having conditions. Because oftentimes their wit, their charm, their mind is 100 percent there. Especially in terms of the roles they play. I have good friends that are tremendously talented who have seen tremendous success. Jamie Brewer on American Horror Story – she's also on Broadway [in] "Amy and the Orphans"  – and she's just crushing it right now. She's one example but there's so many ... I think that there's a line, and I think that Hollywood often times does turn an eye away from a talent that they know exists because they assume there's a hardship that also doesn't exist. They assume it's going to be a pain for them. And that is just not the case a lot of the time. 


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Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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