I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a born actress. You can be forgiven for not noticing that right away. I’d bet a lot of school photographers overlooked the radiance of little Julia Roberts’ big, goofy smile. Admittedly, I have an advantage over other drama queens; I’ve spent my whole life captivating audiences from a confined space. I’m a criptress (crippled actress) who uses a wheelchair.
If you doubt me, you’re not the first. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be onstage (or even audition) for myriad reasons, some of them personally insulting. The strangest objection came from a director who feared that my wheelchair would upstage me. (To be fair, Chitara does have a sparkling blue frame that befits a diva.) I don’t mind that director’s skepticism (or anyone else’s), because I don’t think I have a destiny that can be affirmed or denied by someone else, be she earthbound or celestial. I don’t believe in The Light; I believe in spotlight.
I’m an existentialist, so I think I must find a purpose in an essentially meaningless world. Albert Camus described existentialism as the ability to “imagine Sisyphus happy.” Sisyphus is the character from Greek myth whose punishment is to roll a boulder up and down a hill for all eternity. Imagining Sissyphus happy is imagining fulfillment in a life that ‘should’ be miserable, a life like mine.
The wonderful ‘truth’ of the stage is that it contains no truth. It’s a limited space where a limitless number of possibilities can be presented, where—at least for the duration of its time in the spotlight—any idea becomes thinkable. The stage is the place where I can re-present the ‘truth’ that Sisyphus has to be unhappy (or ungraceful or unlovable or any of the many terrible things that cripples are ‘supposed’ to be). When I assume a role, I’m asking you to consider the idea that I can have whatever qualities my character has, regardless of whether those qualities are traditionally associated with cripples. That challenge is my chosen purpose and my privilege. After all, the spotlight is never simply granted. It has to be sought.
Of course, if I believe in light, I have to believe in darkness too. The stagelights don’t always burn brightly for me. There are days when I’m not sure I can be a skilled actress, or even a resilient cripple of the Dickensian ilk. On those days, I could hear a director say, ‘Love your play, babe. Romantic comedy, great…but I’m thinking of making a few changes. I’m thinking, replace the lovers with pet rocks and have all of their dialog recorded in voice over,’ and respond ‘Great! Can I do one of the voices?’ But even when I can’t trust myself, I trust you. I trust that my audience, whether onstage or in life, sees what I could be as well as what I am. I believe that you can see Sisyphus happy. You just have to catch him in the right light.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.