Realwheels Academy Provides One Of A Kind Acting Training For Persons With Disabilities


A group of actors in wheelchairs perform on stage

Realwheels Acting Academy will provide professional acting training to persons with disabilities


By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability


Open to 15 participants, and free of cost, Realwheels Acting Academy offers professional level acting training to persons with disabilities, whether they're aiming for Broadway or just want to have fun in a welcoming environment.


LEARN MORE: REALWHEELS ACTING ACADEMY


Realwheels will embark on an exciting new journey, offering a professional grade acting course specifically for persons with disabilities.


One of the first of its kind, the Vancouver-based program, which starts online but will move to an in-person format as permitted, aims to build capacity, confidence, and new opportunities for disabled actors.


"Many times we get approached by casting directors looking to fill roles for disabled characters, but many actors with disabilities don't have professional training", says Amy Amantea, Realwheels actress and board president.


"There is a danger of re-stigmatizing the disability community if disabled actors go into auditions unprepared, especially with the lack of understanding about systemic barriers that prevent disabled actors from even getting to the audition space."


There's a danger of re-stigmatizing the disability community if disabled actors go into auditions unprepared

What are the barriers? Having been a non-disabled and disabled actress with acquired vision loss, Amy quickly noticed the differences between her experiences.


"Things like physical access to the stage, financials, accommodating actors with support workers, and stamina issues - it's often a much more taxing experience to be there for 5-6 hours on end, several times a week, when you have a disability."


"You also have to coordinate the use of assistive technology and ways of sharing scripts and other content among people who use them."


Despite the different needs of Realwheels performers, an unconditional bond exists which creates a trusting space where they can reach their potential.


"The great thing about Realwheels and the acting academy is that you're going to be in a community where everyone has different needs, but where you're not tokenized or singled out as the other."


"That allows you to fully explore and experiment with your skills."

Actress Amy Amantea performs in a Realwheels production

Amy Amantea performs in a Realwheels production


No Pity, Please


When Amy lost her vision, she thought her acting career was over. Finding it difficult to engage with productions that had no visual descriptions, and believing that there were no opportunities for a blind actress, she had largely given up on theatre.


At least until she discovered Realwheels.


"I attended my first Realwheels production 6 years ago, called 'Sexy Voices'."


"It was my first time seeing an inclusive production. It included audio descriptions so audience members with limited vision could follow along, and the very first description was of a person on stage in a wheelchair.


"The message was that the stage IS a place for people with disabilities, and suddenly I wanted to be back on stage with them."


Amy soon got involved with Realwheels, performing in their Comedy On Wheels productions. As much as she loved being on stage again, it was the sense of community that made the biggest impact.


"I was immediately in love when I entered the room. I was around people who loved theatre, loved being on stage, and weren't there to pity me."


I was immediately in love. I was around people who loved theatre, loved being on stage, and weren't there to pity me

"There's no re-stigmatizing in this environment. You get to grow, develop, and share with people who understand what you're saying and the issues you're addressing. When you package that in a production like Comedy On Wheels, people laugh with us, not at us."


For Amy, the effect has been life-changing.


"Realwheels profoundly changed my own life and career trajectory. I look at sight loss as a gift, because I would have never met all these amazing people without it."


An actor in a wheelchair raises his arm in a cheer

There's no pity at Realwheels


A Responsibility


Although roughly 25 percent of Canadians have a disability, only about 2 percent of characters in film and television are disabled, and even fewer are played by actors with disabilities.


For Amy, that stings.


"It profoundly hurts my soul when I see the pretending of disability."


It profoundly hurts my soul when I see the pretending of disability

"It comes from assumption, but a non-disabled actor has no idea what it’s like. The assumption is more disabling than anything else."


"People also take their cues from media, so it sends a bad message when actors with disabilities aren’t even in background as extras, not as baristas or lawyers or politicians, they're always tokenized as that person with a disability."


Michele Fontana, the acting academy's manager, agrees.


"It's a general issue. Not only is disability community being stereotyped, it's all aspects of diversity."


"When you represent a character, you have a responsibility to represent them in fitting way, so that you're part of the solution and not the problem."


It's yet another reason why Realwheels started the acting academy.


"That’s why it's so important we train actors with disabilities, so they can do a great job and not re-stereotype."


"We are very excited to start this program."


To learn more about Realwheels Acting Academy, and to apply, please visit: https://realwheels.ca/academy


LEARN MORE: REALWHEELS ACTING ACADEMY

Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to spencer@bcdisability.com!