This is my fourth day on Granville Island in Vancouver killing time and staying close as Aaron attends a Teen Improv camp at the Improv Comedy Institute. I’m tucked away in a courtyard nursing a coffee and watching the gaggles of tourists stroll by.
Aaron’s high school drama teacher suggested that improv skills would help his burgeoning acting career. So here we are for two weeks on Granville Island. I do the driving and Aaron does the work.
Earlier this year he had an audition for a part in a TV series for a character with Down syndrome (spoiler alert, he didn’t get the part). I asked him how he felt after his audition with the casting director.
“I feel alive!” he said, his eyes big, his arms outstretched. His dad and I know that it is our job to support our children so they can do the thing that makes them feel alive. For my oldest son it is music. For my daughter it is nursing. For Aaron it is acting.
Through a series of circumstances and a touch of serendipity, Aaron has been signed by a talent agent. Roles for disabled actors are scarce, but we have been assured that opportunities are growing. Aaron now has to put in the work to hone his skills just like every other actor. He already works one-on-one with an acting coach, is in high school drama classes and a local acting school has welcomed him with open arms into classes this fall. This summer, he tackles improv.
On the TheatreSports website it says: The Vancouver TheatreSports League and the Improv Comedy Institute are actively looking to encourage diversity within the improv community. As improvisers, we tell stories and we want our stories to reflect the experiences of our greater community. They’ve backed this assertion up with action. Aaron has been welcomed into the teen program like the other kids, together with kindness and accommodation from the Outreach Coordinator.
I promised to hang around the theatre in close range just in case they need me. Now I’m not sure what I’m needed for. After the first class, the instructor emerged with a big smile and reported a good day. Yesterday I glimpsed Aaron standing in front of the class, giving suggestions for topics for skits (chickens, I overheard him say). He’s holding his own.
This morning there was a new development – he crossed the street by himself before he disappeared out of sight into the building. (This is a big deal in our world). His mother is slowly releasing her apron strings. He lopes out after class with his headphones on and a grin on his face. “I am independent, Mom,” he informs me.
To me, the creative community seems to demonstrate an authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion. They have been more accepting of my son than the academic or sports worlds ever have. Perhaps creative types grew up knowing what it felt like to be different, to be on the edges, to struggle with belonging. I felt the sting of exclusion, never fitting in, being called an ‘artsy-fartsy’ in the yuppie and jock decade of the ’80’s.
It wasn’t until I transferred from Nursing into English in university and immersed myself in Shakespeare and art history classes that I finally found my people. I was the quiet bookish girl with oversize glasses and frizzy hair. It was other people in the arts who accepted me just as I was – all awkward, introverted and breathlessly passionate about words. (I’m still that way).
And so this is my dream for Aaron too: that he’s accepted just the way he is. He’s a funny guy, he loves to perform and yes he has Down syndrome. Ask him and he will firmly tell you: I am an actor. I wish I had a fraction of his confidence.
He feels alive when he is performing. At our core, isn’t that what we all want – to feel alive?
I’m grateful to Rachelle Goulter at Vancouver TheatreSports, his agent Lena Lees-Heidt, his acting coach Lane Edwards and LyreBird Academy of Dramatic Arts for all giving our boy a fighting chance. I hope the next time I write about Aaron the actor he has landed a part. But in the meantime, we are sitting back and enjoying the ride.