Updated: Nov 16, 2020
A year ago yesterday, my son’s Nintendo commercial was released. It was his first paid gig as an actor. This was a time of great celebration, not only because Aaron was working, but for the pride he felt in getting paid. I will pause here to note that one shouldn’t have to be paid in order to feel valued, but this is reality of our capitalistic world.
Our old hometown of Edmonton even picked up on Aaron’s story. I am both extremely thankful for this coverage and I long for the day when a disabled person working isn’t news anymore.
By the time his commercial was aired, Aaron had been working with an acting coach for 7 months. He took drama at school, attended a 2-week intensive Improv camp, went to weekly film acting classes + joined the LEAD ensemble at Neworld Theatre.
He went on a number of auditions, including one for Stumptown (spoiler alert: he didn’t get the part) and worked diligently on his craft by the time he landed this TV commercial gig.
Then came COVID and all auditions disappeared. His high school drama class dried up, and he switched to online sessions with his acting coach. He was fortunate that a COVID-safe Improv class started up at our local Down syndrome organization this fall and that the LEAD ensemble continued through Zoom.
The film industry opened up this summer and Aaron had three auditions. He didn’t get any of the parts. Aaron is learning that acting is a big exercise in rejection. But he still keeps going.
Now he’s added weekly private sessions with a Speech Language Pathologist to help him speak more clearly.
All of this is to say: this kid continues to work really hard to become an actor under the guidance of his supportive village. Acting is not just a dream for him. He’s done the work of understanding characters, reading, memorizing and pronouncing lines himself.
I don’t have a fairy tale ending because Aaron’s story is a long way from finished. Like all actors, he continues to toil in relative obscurity because he loves his craft. He lights up in front of the camera and his identity as an actor is important to him.
What Aaron + other disabled actors need now is opportunity.
Writers, write more roles for disabled actors.
Casting agents, be open to auditioning disabled actors for all sorts of parts.
Audiences, support shows that have authentic disabled roles. You can check out the Ruderman Family Foundation for examples of these productions.
Disability representation in film and TV matters. When the world is ready for Aaron, he will be ready for the world.
PS: Many families have asked about how to get their child into acting. (Hint: your child leads this, not you!). Aaron and I wrote about it for Canadian Down Syndrome Society's 3.21 Magazine (page 16).
PPS: Aaron can be followed on his Instagram account, where he often tags Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds in his never-ending quest to be the first superhero with Down syndrome.
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