Early For Everything: What Acting Has Meant to Me. Being An #Actor With A Disability

Really, I’m early for EVERYTHING.

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I’ve always been early for everything. When I have an audition, I get there at least a half an hour, if not an hour before. At an EPA (Equity Principal Audition,) the monitor hands out white cards. On those white cards we have to check off our ethnicity, gender, and name any disabilities (if applicable) anonymously. I always check “Caucasian/White,” ” Female,” and write “CP” on the blank line next to disabilities. See, I am an actor with a very mild form of cerebral palsy called hemiparesis. The left side of my body is weaker than my right side. When I was born 3 months early, at 1lb. 10oz., the right side of my brain swelled and bled. Therefore, the doctors put what’s known as a shunt in my head which drains the cerebral fluid into my abdomen and redistributes it into my bloodstream. I’ve always thought the built-in aqueducts in my body were pretty cool. Anyways, I’ve always been “different.” Technically, I can be categorized as “disabled,” but I’ve always had a disdain for that word. I prefer “differently abled.” Sure, I can walk, talk, and come off as seemingly “normal.” Inside, however, is a fire raging.

Sometimes, I feel like I am the human embodiment of the double-edged sword. I’m normal, yes. But I’m not normal enough to be “normal.” In case you were wondering, I also have a distaste for the word “normal.” I’d rather be myself than normal, but there are days when I wish I could wake up and know that I could walk without a limp, or a giant scar on my hip, or the shunt in my head. Sometimes, I wish I was a blonde bombshell. Sometimes, I wish I were an Angelina Jolie femme-fatale. Most of the time though, I just wish for acceptance. Having a disability in show business, and talking about it openly was almost non-existent until recently. SAG-AFTRA has a campaign called I am PWD (Performer with a Disability.) It brings awareness to the visibility of performers with disabilities and even characters who are portrayed on television and film.

When I was 13, I had to learn how to walk…again. My right leg/hip/foot were all crooked and it took nearly 2 years for me to walk again. During that time, I continued to act. I was able to be girl on stage who wasn’t a freak. While I was on stage, I was able to be the vivacious daughter of Mr. Fezziwig in a Christmas Carol, or smile and be goofy as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Most importantly, I was able to tell a story. I’ve always loved telling stories. And, for a brief moment, I was the storyteller. People were laughing with me because I was funny, not at me because I walked like Frankenstein’s monster. As I grew older, acting has held a different meaning for me. I am able to tell a story in a way that others can’t. I am able to bring my unique physical and emotional attributes to a role. I am able to make people look at the world in a way that they might not have before. I still have lots of goals as an actor. Yes, I want to be on Law & Order: SVU, or make people laugh in a romantic comedy as the best friend. It’s funny because when I go into an audition room, the casting director, producers, and other people behind the table have no idea what struggles I have had. They don’t see a girl who was 3 months premature at birth or a teenager who learned to walk again after nearly two years. They see an actress who has performed a monologue and they’ll see more throughout the day. But I hope for a brief second that I can have an impact on someone’s view of the world. I can tell a story. My name is Stephanie Gould and I am a survivor, I am an actress and a writer. I am me.

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