Last weekend, I went to audition for a friend’s play with my flatmate. We were both pretty excited; it was outside of any society because it had been deemed ‘too controversial’, and it was exciting to think that we could endorse work that wasn’t too affiliated with the university itself, an independent project.
However, when I arrived, I was struck with fear- there would be a physical movement section, which isn’t exactly my forte, but more than that the initial read-throughs of monologues didn’t seem promising. The writing was good, and the topic an interesting one to explore, but there was a major problem… the piece was sending across some very mixed messages. Without going into too much detail, the piece clearly aimed to tackle themes of communication whilst examining animal cruelty, by drawing parallels between a mute child and the animals. Whilst this was a very valiant and well-meaning attempt to address these issues, what came across instead was a direct comparison between a disabled child… and an animal. The writer was inspired by ‘A Glass Menagerie’, someone said, but all it takes is a quick google to understand that ‘A Glass Menagerie’ uses objects to display facets of a physically disabled person’s personality, whereas this used a disabled person to put across a message about animal cruelty. Furthermore, this child ‘communicated’ in a non-conventional way through art, which seemed to me a romanticisation of the reality- in a world of sign language, phones, electronic interpreters and speech therapy, giving a child an artistic outlet as their only form of expression seemed like it was limiting the voices of disabled people and of disability awareness further. I did the audition and resolved to turn the part down in the unlikely event of a recall.
I got a recall.
My world went into a spiral as I had less than 24 hours to decide whether or not to take it. I’d promised myself, and the people around me, that I wouldn’t. But there was a fundamental problem… I don’t get recalls all that often, and I’m not too proud to admit that. Maybe because I don’t perform well in an audition environment, maybe I’m not the right fit for a part, or maybe I’m just not cut out for this profession: for whatever reason, offers for parts come once in a blue moon, and it felt like a betrayal of myself to turn this down. What if this was my shot? This was a character that fit me perfectly, a show that was going to the Fringe! What if I was holding myself back for nothing and the script wasn’t all that bad? I slept on it, and decided to turn up to the recall. If I didn’t get the part, it was no longer my problem, but whilst I was there I could voice my concerns and if I didn’t get a chance to and got the part, I’d refuse to take the part until I’d read the script and seen that everything was in order.
I started walking up the hill to where the auditions were being held, my stomach churning. I had serious reservations about the whole thing, but couldn’t turn back now, surely? As many of you who regularly read this blog will know, disability awareness is something very close to my heart, both mental and physical. Many friends of mine suffer from anxiety and depression; I have a friend with a visual impairment; I was in a relationship with an autistic man for over a year. I’ve had to watch them all be misrepresented in one way or another, and even though my ex is not in my life anymore, I could feel the weight of his judgement as I kept on walking. I could edit the script; I could talk to members of the nonverbal community, make sure I was doing them justice; but how could I rid the piece of problems when the issue lay at the heart of the play’s key metaphor?
When I was sixteen, I auditioned for Moana. Yes, that Moana. They sent out an open casting call and my mum urged me to go for it. I felt distinctly uncomfortable- I’m a white British woman, it wasn’t fair for me to be auditioning for a Polynesian princess! But my mother, hard-wired to see what’s right for me as ‘right’, persuaded me: I had voiceover experience, perhaps that would be enough; it was good audition experience; I might as well give it a try. To this day, I don’t think she truly understands the way I would have been ripped to shreds by audiences everywhere, or that I would have completely deserved it. I breathed a sigh of relief when I never heard back, and another when I heard who had got the part: a talented Polynesian young woman with a beautiful voice, Auli’i Cravalho.
I reached the top of the hill and approached the building where the auditions were held. As I walked in, two benches of women were sat in exercise wear, ready for the physical theatre part of the audition. I walked over to the monologues again, re-reading them, and felt my throat close as a wave of wordless emotion washed over me. I had to make a decision. Now. The door to the audition room opened. Panicked, I ran to the bathroom and slammed the cubicle door behind me. I spent a moment collecting myself, breathing evenly, talking aloud to myself to figure out what the hell I wanted to do next. So I texted my flatmate, who was very patient, and I found all my answers from within.
Being an adult in this world means being an active citizen of a global society. Every choice every single one of us makes has an impact, and it is completely within our control to decide what we choose to be a part of, and what we’d rather not associate ourselves with. Every action, of kindness or malevolence, has a direct impact on the whole globe. We often feel that we are unable to change the world, or that we have no choice in what negative forces we are a part of. But I firmly believe that refusing to participate is as much a political action as participation. As great as this opportunity may have been for me, the potential harm it could cause was too great for me to pledge myself to it. I am by no means innocent- the Moana audition was a massive mistake and I can only thank god that Disney really wanted to do right by the Polynesian community and apologise sincerely for my actions. I hope that with a few more years of experience under my belt, I can make decisions about everything in my life- my vote, my daily habits, my relationships, and my career- that align with my moral compass; I hope I can do right by as many people as possible, and try to do wrong to none.