My son and I have been engaged in a long running argument.
Kyle loves being in High School Theater. In fact, he’s gravitated to various theatrical programs and productions, both at church and school, since he was a young boy. He loves the stage and works very hard at it. Bias aside, he’s good!
The pursuit hasn’t been easy. Cerebral palsy can limit his ability to be cast for the physically demanding roles. Prior to high school, he regularly won major parts, but the productions are now more heavily produced and carry a certain level of expectation. Regardless of how competent an actor, no director will tap a disabled person for the lead in the Lion King musical, where the part calls for dancing and lifting fellow members of the play over his head.
Because of these limitations, Kyle usually ends up in the back row of the chorus line or with a small part with a few toss-away lines. He is regularly disappointed, but always seems to take the situation in stride.
If only his parents were so understanding and easy going.
And herein lays the crux of our argument.
Kyle is a very accepting young man and dutifully auditions regardless of the production, no questions asked. I’ve grown frustrated not by the roles he’s won, but by a fact entirely outside his control. Semester after semester and year after year, the theater teacher has continually selected fast-paced musicals, punctuated by heavy doses of singing and dancing. This season’s production, West Side Story, is Kyle’s last play before graduation. I highly doubt the director will cast a young man with Cerebral palsy as the tough guy leader of a high school gang.
In other words, with his physical limitations, my son’s chances of procuring a leading role are non-existent even before the first audition call.
A caveat: I’m not one to pull the victim card. In his defense, the teacher has said he never picks plays with any particular student in mind. He apparently just selects what he thinks will be well-received and chooses to let the chips “fall” where they may.
I’m also aware that my son’s opportunities are many and that we’ve come a long way in addressing the great challenge of trying to level the playing field for those operating at a disadvantage. But he is my son – and I am biased. I want him to succeed; I want him to be able to be the lead in a play. In his effort to be “one of the guys” and not a charity case, he’s made all the extra work look easy. Maybe too easy. I doubt his theater teacher appreciates how much effort it requires for him to do what others find so easy.
Through it all, Kyle is ever gracious, regularly defending the teacher, and saying he doesn’t want anyone to give him a part just because he is disabled. He believes the teacher is treating him the same as he does all the other students. Kyle will also acknowledge there’s always a chance another student is more qualified for a role – or that he isn’t as good as he – or I - might sometimes believe.
I applaud my son for his mature attitude and actions. It makes me proud to see him working hard and not trying to advance his cause on a spirit or sense of entitlement. This will serve him well the rest of his life.
I also know that there are no free rides. Things don’t always go our way. Sometime we just have to move on, cut our losses and reserve our energy for other battles. I’m well aware that most kids who love theater dream of landing the big role. Kyle is no different.
But when it comes to selecting a production, should there be any consideration given for the limitations of the pool of actors at the school’s disposal? Would an all-male high school select a production requiring women actors, or vice versa?
My son believes this is my problem, but I wonder if my problem is really with a teacher and system that seems to shortchange those with a disability.