An Actress of Uncommon Ability Featured in UAlbany’s Spring Production
By: Elizabeth McCormick
Disability representation is lacking, both on screen and on the stage.
GLAAD’s yearly Where We Are On TV report found that only 2.1% of characters on primetime television are characters with disabilities, even though people with disabilities make up 13.3% of the population.
Only a fraction of characters with disabilities on television were played by disabled actors. In the theatre, opportunities are starting to slowly open up for actors with disabilities.
Ali Stroker made history as the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage in 2015, four years ago. Since then, there have only been two notable productions on Broadway that featured actors with disabilities — The Glass Menagerie with Madison Ferris, and Cost of Living with two disabled actors, Greg Mogzala and Katy Sullivan. Cost of Living won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Though representation is lacking, the UAlbany Theatre Programs upcoming play, Our Country’s Good, features an actress with a disability: Teisha Riley. She plays both L.T. Dawes and Claire, a prisoner.
Teisha is a junior here at UAlbany, who was born with cerebral palsy. After majoring in Paralegal Studies at her local community college, she realized that wasn’t for her and transferred here to pursue a degree in Theatre.
Teisha agrees that opportunities for disabled actors in theatre are expanding, and says “it really is a perfect time for me to be learning and pursuing acting professionally.”
However, she does believe that her cerebral palsy can be a barrier when it comes to getting roles in heavy dance musicals.
“The theatre program here has been really great about making sure I am comfortable with what is being asked of me and allowing accommodations to be made if needed,” said Teisha.
Coming to UAlbany was the best decision I have made in terms of my training. All the faculty in the theatre [department] have been nothing but, encouraging and supportive. Having my first show here be directed by Chad [Larabee] is so fitting because he’s really played a big part in me becoming comfortable in my own skin as an actor.”
When asked how her disability has impacted her, she said “I’m now very aware of how I move and have had to accept the fact that it is different from everyone else,” she adds, “Most importantly to me, it has taught me the true meaning of the phrase ‘where there’s a will there’s a way.’”
Director Chad Larabee welcomes all actors with disabilities to UAlbany productions. He believes they can “weave new layers of understanding into a character,” and that “part of the UAlbany Theatre Program’s success lies in our desire to be inclusive of everyone who wishes to create theatre.”
Director Larabee gave high praise to Teisha, saying “I am grateful that Teisha has been so fearless in allowing her disability to play a part in our telling of Our Country’s Good. An actor’s job is to use every aspect themselves in the creation of a character, if anything Teisha is able to bring added depth to the characters she plays because of her disability.”
See Our Country’s Good, showing from March 7 – 10th, 2019, on the Main Stage in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are priced as follows: Advanced Student Price – $12, Day of Show Student Price – $17, Advanced General Price – $17, Day of Show General Price – $22.