On Sunday July 9, 2023, I was sitting at a table in a ballroom with my youngest son Aaron and my husband Mike. We all had our Sunday best on – Aaron in a rented three-piece black suit and gold tie, Mike in his wedding/funeral suit and me in my mother-of-the-bride dress from my daughter’s wedding four years ago. We had eaten our fish and polenta dinner and were two hours deep into the Leo Awards ceremony for excellence in the British Columbia film industry. At the table were Aaron’s co-directors, producer and assorted supporters of the short film Chicken, which was nominated for three awards.
Aaron’s category of Best Performance by a Male in a Short Drama finally came up. Mike had his head down with his eyes squeezed shut. I was wide-eyed, holding my breath. Aaron was doing the sign of the cross (we aren’t religious, but I guess he was praying?). The clips announcing the six nominees seemed to take hours.
Finally they were at the end of the names. “And the Leo Award goes to… Aaron Waddingham!"
Our table erupted like a live volcano. We were all on our feet, clapping, hollering and hooting. Aaron moved faster than he has ever moved in his life along the long path up to the stage. His director Emma Pollard, who was accompanying him on stage for support, had to jump out of her chair and run after Aaron in her high heels.
Thankfully Lucy McNulty, Chicken’s co-lead, writer and co-director, recorded the chaos from our table.
We watched the video afterwards and Lucy asked, “Who is that screaming Aaron’s name?” We realized it was Lucy herself shouting Aaron’s name; her pure enthusiasm at the moment had become a blur of joy.
I had typed out Aaron’s speech ('just in case' we kept saying) that he dictated to me and put it in large font like I do for all his scripts. When he got up on stage, he shook the hands of the presenters and pulled his speech from his suit jacket pocket like he’d done it a million times before.
Thank you to Jane Charles for sharing her video of Aaron's speech.
I steadied my breathing to focus on every word that Aaron said. Wet tears were falling out of my eyes. Aaron’s dad was bent over sobbing (he’s a softie from way back). Aaron spoke powerfully and clearly. There were two standing ovations that evening, and Aaron was rewarded with one of them.
The rest of the evening was filled with elation tinged with disappointment Lucy had been nominated for two awards – one for screenwriting and the other for Best Performance for a Female in a Short Drama – but she didn’t win. I had wanted so badly for her to be recognized – for without her brilliant script and performance with Aaron, he would not have won his award. I’m grateful that Lucy’s graciousness and pure excitement for Aaron’s win gave us permission to fully celebrate that evening.
Aaron finally got his beer – we had gently suggested that a drink would be best after his category was announced – and he cruised around the reception area with his Leo trophy, interrupting groups, telling them I WON, and accepting handshakes and hugs. I think he must have spoken to everybody there. His glee was unrivalled.
Right before we left, a gentleman came up and told Aaron how impressed he was with Chicken and the range of his performance in the film. We found out afterwards he was a well-known Canadian director who had made the time to congratulate a young actor. It gave us a glimmer of hope that this recognition will lead to more acting opportunities for Aaron. I don’t want to be greedy, but I’m hoping hard that this award will show the world, as Aaron said in the last line of this speech: People with disabilities can act.
I woke Aaron up early the next morning. He is attending a theatre workshop this week, culminating in a performance on Saturday. Working actors work even after award gala parties! (He also has a part-time job as a dishwasher in a local brewery, which is also a very actor thing to do).
He rolled out of bed groggy from a late night, hungover from excitement. He called his sister in the car – hey sis, how’s it going he said. How are you feeling? she asked. Good, I’m good, Aaron said. He is good.
He brought his Leo Award to the workshop to show the facilitators. He proudly stood beside the award gleaming in its display case like he was like an NHL player bringing the Stanley Cup to the local bar. We might be carrying that – surprisingly heavy – Leo Award everywhere with us now.
Looking back at Aaron’s life the past twenty years, there are many people to acknowledge and thank. I also have a thing or two to say about the non-believers - the people, systems and society who underestimated my boy over the years.
But right now I don’t want to distract from his win. At the end of the day, it was Aaron auditioning, Aaron memorizing lines, Aaron on camera, Aaron giving his best performance.
As a mother, I say that there is nothing more rewarding than watching your child become more themselves. You go, Aaron. It's your turn now. Your mom and dad are so very proud of you.