Incorporating the Variety Artistes' Federation

Natalie's Story

Equity's new Casting Manifesto is so vitally important to Deaf and Disabled performers.

As a professional actress I have worked in this industry as both an able-bodied actress and as a disabled actress. The difference in how I was treated after becoming a wheelchair user was almost farcical. It was almost like no one would now take me seriously as a professional actress. 

I'd apply for roles where before I became disabled I would have got an audition for, to suddenly being told by my agent, there is no use me applying for a role that doesn't state the character is disabled. After 6 months of silence on the audition front, I decided to do an experiment, and took that I was a wheelchair user off my Spotlight page. 

Within a couple of days I was offered an audition. I read the script, and there was no reason that it couldn't be played by someone in a chair. 

So I rang the production company to see if the audition room was accessible. There was a deathly silence at the other end of the phone.  I then got quizzed on would I be able to manage a 6month shooting schedule? Would it not be too far for me to travel to the audition?

Would I be able to cope with long shooting days. 

Questions I very much doubt I would have been asked if I was an able bodied actor, as I'd never been asked this in the past.

So I went to the audition, read the scenes. Only for the director to turn around at the end and say 'oh you can act can't you!' I can't print what my response was, as it was somewhat colourful. 

There have been two occasions where they have invited me to an audition, knowing that I'm in a wheelchair, only to be met by a flight of stairs when I get there. And then to be asked if I could get up on my bottom and they'd carry the chair. I am not alone in this situation. I know an alarming amount of people who have been expected to do something that either degrades them, or is just physically obviously an impossibility. 

One of my colleagues not so long ago had to do the audition in the car park because the building was not accessible. Yet they knew he was in a wheelchair. 

The problems don't just lie with physical obstacles. I have also had Deaf colleagues who have turned up and an interpreter has not been provided. 

My last example is one that seems in trend at the minute. Companies becoming 'inclusive' is in yet another 'trend'. So big touring companies are conducting only what I can call a tick box exercises. For instance, recently one particular company are staging a nationwide tour for a big named production. But only thought about casting a more inclusive cast at the last minute. So sent out a brief for disabled artists. However when an Equity member who has a physical impairment, one of a number who went asked if all the venues they were touring at were fully accessible. The answer was 'oh I'm not sure they all are'? It's like companies want to look like they are opening their doors, but when it comes down to actually carrying things through, and fully understanding what is involved, they back out. As in the case above, in the end they cast an able bodied actor. 

This Casting Manifesto is Equity showing its stance on ensuring best practice. For Deaf and Disabled artists, it is an important step towards challenging the industry's perception and treatment of us. And one that Equity can [keep] building on, not just in educating people about best practice but making sure it's being followed through.