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LA Talk Radio
Featuring one hour with DSiAM’s Gail Williamson and David Zimmerman on actors with Down Syndrome, with call from Lauren Potter and Robin Trocki of GLEE and Jamie Brewer from AMERICAN HORROR STORY.
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Why an Acting Career for someone with Down syndrome or other Developmental Disability?
Babies born with Down syndrome, are perhaps the youngest humans ever taught to be actors. Once they get a diagnosis they are rushed off to therapy to learn the skills that typical babies learn by playing in their cribs. Children with a diagnosis of Down syndrome suddenly find themselves meeting a host of new adults (therapists) who will “direct” them in reaching the milestones of babyhood. Moms will get their little ones ready to go for therapy, where they will sit and wait until the therapist is ready. This is very similar to being on a set waiting endlessly for the crew to get ready for a scene. Once with the therapist, the child is instructed to do a task, and the task will be done over and over, just like a scene in a film or TV show while following the notes and suggestions from the director. The therapist might also want to document the child’s ability and progress with the task, so he will film the child expecting him not to pay any attention to the camera in the room. This has always sounded a lot like the acting process to me.
I once had a conversation with a young man who was perusing acting and had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome/disorder (a high functioning form of autism). He told me he acted every hour of every day of his life. He said if he acted on the natural impulses in his head, no one would want to be around him, so he acting liked he thought he should act in order to have friendships and relationships with others. I think this is also true for many individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. To survive, they learn to act the way all the therapists, teachers and we parents have “directed” them to act.
When a child with Down syndrome takes their training from the therapy room to the stage, it continues to enrich the child’s life skills and experience. When parents’ sign up their typical children to be in Little League they’re usually not planning the child’s professional ball playing future. The motivation and goals may be more like; learning to be part of a team, exercise for a healthier life, meeting and making new friends, leaning to take turns, share equipment, perseverance, good sportsmanship and so much more. When a parent of a child with Down syndrome introduces their child to the performing arts, they shouldn’t be doing it to prepare for their child’s future career as an actor, they should be doing it for the same reason the parent signs up their typical child to Little League, to enrich the child’s life. An acting class can help a child accomplish important life skills; staying present in the moment, articulation, leaning to listen before responding, how to take turns, making new friends and so much more. If by chance the student is hired for a professional acting job, that’s the icing on the cake, not the reason to pursue acting.
Since 1991 I have been encouraging people to introduce their children with Down syndrome and other disabilities to the dramatic arts. I saw early on how much good it did for my own son’s development and thought the secret needed to be shared. I also thought that perhaps, if there were more children and adults with disabilities trained to be actors, there might be more “icing on the cake” now and then, and then every child, no matter the disability, would be able to grow up with role models that looked like them on the televisions in their homes.
It’s happening, and there are more people with disabilities like Down syndrome in television and in films today. I have had the joy of being a part of many of these productions through the work that my son Blair has done and through the work of others I have helped cast, or coach on sets.
Today, children and adults with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities are able to find individuals like themselves on television and in film. These young people are expressing a desire to be actors and their parents are hearing what they are saying and doing their best to support their children in that direction. Down Syndrome in Arts and Media is my way to assist families if reaching toward these new goals with their children. To work, you must be found. Most talent agencies are not yet feeling they can support the new career of a young person or adult with Down syndrome or another disability so it isn’t a viable place to be “found.” I have been working in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years promoting children and adults with disabilities like Down syndrome. Many industry professionals call me when they are looking for talent with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. I do my best, but I’m only as good as the people in my files. If you or your child has Down syndrome or another developmental disability and wants to pursue employment as an actor or model in the media industry please register with my casting liaison service Down Syndrome in Arts and Media and see what can happen.