Queering the Crip (2003)

Wednesday – August 20th, 2003 @ 4:00pm EST

An online roundtable discussion, hosted by the Non-Traditional Casting Project, Inc.

included the following participants:

Terry Galloway – Performance Artist, Playwright and Filmmaker

Tallahassee, FL

Raymond Luczak – Writer, Poet and Filmmaker

New York, NY

Judy Smith – Dancer and Artistic Director of Axis Dance Company

Oakland, CA

Greg Walloch – Performer, Stand-Up Comedian and Filmmaker

New York, NY

(led by)

John Killacky – Program Officer for Arts and Culture at The San Francisco Foundation and Filmmaker

San Francisco, CA

Wednesday – August 20th, 2003 @ 4:00pm EST

John Killacky:

Thank you all for gathering. I so admire your work. When the Non-Traditional Casting Project contacted me about hosting an informal web chat, I immediately thought of you four. You are trailblazers in the performing arts world as artists who make great work and also happen to be disabled and queer. I want to talk about all those aspects, but first a few introductions. Terry Galloway, let’s start with you.

Terry Galloway:

I’m here and uh listening.

John Killacky:

Gender-bending Shakespearean actor in Austin, performance artist in New York, theater founder and director in Tallahassee, film and video maker. Not bad for being told in school that a deaf person might consider costume design as a career in the theater. You have been commissioned by Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project. What are you developing?

Terry Galloway:

I  am finishing a play called In the House of the Moles— it had been produced as a work in progress by the Rude Mechs in Austin Texas (they did Lipstick Traces). When I took it to the Mark Taper it underwent a sea change.

John Killacky:

How so?

Terry Galloway:

I had long wanted all of the characters (there are six — a mother, four daughters and an older male friend) to reflect my experience with disability. But I could never find enough disabled actors to work on it with me.  At The Mark Taper, Other Voices, there they were. After the reading I took the sucker back and reworked it and got the play I had been intending to write for god knows how many years. Now I have to find the people to do it again. And I have no idea how hard or how easy that is going to be.

John Killacky:

Did you have actors play their disability or did the actor’s disabilities inform your playwriting process?

Terry Galloway:

What’s funny is that I didn’t have any specific disability in mind–I wanted something that reflected the unexpected. And that I did get. The actors did give me that. It was a kick in the butt to see vaudeville routines performed by a guy in a chair and a woman with CP.  Routines took on new life. The language itself took on new life. It was exciting to see something at work besides the same old same old.  People who are not disabled are sometimes hesitant or even fearful of asking disabled performers what in fact their bodies are capable of doing. The non-disabled lower their expectations rather than risk the exploration. At the Taper’s Other Voices it was exciting to see what those disabled bodies could in fact DO– and it was never what we simply imagined those bodies were constrained to. It was a huge release.

John Killacky:

One other topic, one of your short videos was recently shown at London’s Disability Film Festival. How was the festival?
[see also: London Disability Arts Forum]

Terry Galloway:

The festival in London was pretty neat. I loved a lot of the pieces. But there was still the shadow of “inspiration” and  “isn’t that great that the cripples can get it together enough to even make a video much less good one.” But there was much less of that at this festival.  There was a lot of edgy humor and more raw than polite emotion.

John Killacky:

Greg Walloch, you too received an Other Voices commission from The Mark Taper. Before you tell us about that project, let me try to catch up with the multitude of your other projects. Your feature-length documentary F**k the Disabled seems to be in video stores everywhere. I loved your recent performance of White Disabled Talent at New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Is the bit true about auditioning for Sesame Street?

Greg Walloch:

The title piece for the show White Disabled Talent was inspired by several audition experiences I had as an actor. I blended them into one experience. The gist of the story is that I was waiting to audition for the show Sesame Street and overheard the casting director say “Send in the white disabled talent…” Then I go on in the piece to explore that label in a funny ironic way and embrace it in almost this near absurd fashion, ending the piece exclaiming, “I want to become the most beloved disabled performer, I’m going to kick that Christopher Reeves’s ass!”

John Killacky:

One amazing thing for me is the audacity you exhibit by performing in so many straight comedy clubs. Why inhabit these spaces as an artist?

Greg Walloch:

Well, because that is the world, you know? To dissolve the separation.  I’m rebellious about groups of this and that, we’re all folks.

John Killacky:

Tell us about your new movie project Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and your Mark Taper commission.

Greg Walloch:

It’s been great writing a multi-character piece for The Mark Taper, different from my other work. It’s not disability-focused per se; it’s been nice to write about other parts of myself, other parts of my experience.

John Killacky:

How so?

Greg Walloch:

I look at all of my work that way… My whole experience, what moves me, sometimes that relates directly to disability and sometimes not. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is due to begin preproduction at the end of the year, it’s a dark comedy and a love story about death. Everybody in it is relating to dying in some way and how they love.

John Killacky:

Greg, I am going to challenge you a bit. I have seen the gleam in your eyes when you walk on stage using your two canes and are so very outrageous and queer. Straight comedy clubs are not used to this. Admit it, you like shocking those folks…

Greg Walloch:

Believe it or not my goal is more about “loving them”.

John Killacky:

Raymond Luczak, a self described Deaf gay poet filmmaker. You have written nine plays, five books, and are just finishing up your first film, Ghosted, as well as editing a documentary on visual artist Guy Wonder. I first became acquainted with you with your extraordinary Eyes of Desire anthology of writings by deaf lesbians and gay men. You also gave a powerful speech at the Queer Disability Conference last year. Tell us about some of your upcoming projects..

Ray Luczak:

Thank you for your kind words on my accomplishments. First off, Ghosted is nearly done and my lawyer is shopping the film around for potential buyers. As for Guy Wonder: Stories & Artwork, the documentary is done. I need to translate it from American Sign Language (ASL) into English for subtitles, and then it’s coming out on DVD next month. My fifth book, Snooty, is coming out within two weeks. I will have three new plays opening in late fall–two in NYC and one in Houston. And I’m under contract to turn in a rough cut of my new documentary on Nathie Marbury, a fabulous deaf, black storyteller, by end of this year.

John Killacky:

You, Greg, and Terry should talk off-line about film and video distribution.

Ray Luczak:

I’m also appearing in three new anthologies by end of this year. Prior to this meeting, I decided to count how many new poems of mine have been published in various places this year. 17!!! I was shocked at how lazy I’d gotten in keeping track. And oh yeah, I’m writing a fiction serial called Lansel for the Tactile Mind Weekly e-zine. It’s apparently so popular that the publisher has asked me to do another 30-week contract. Thank God. I need the $$$. That’s where I’m at right now.

John Killacky:

How do your queerness and your deafness inform your work?

Ray Luczak:

Well, I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m Deaf or gay in my work. Guy Wonder, for instance, is a deaf gay artist, but he doesn’t emphasize his gayness in the documentary. I think it’s pretty clear in the film, but I don’t always think it HAS to be the focus. I know that the larger Deaf community has occasional problems with openly deaf gay folks, but I find that such homophobia is declining. Of course, the decline is never fast enough! I was very proud of the fact that a hearing painter–who had been wanting to get back into painting for years–felt inspired to go back to the easel after reading my book Silence Is A Four-Letter Word: On Art & Deafness, even though he had no connection with the Deaf community other than the fact that he’d come across my book reviewed in OUT Magazine.  I think there’s a place for enabling disability not as a metaphor of how we can overcome our own problems, but as a way of making it easier to see ourselves differently.

John Killacky:

Terry, how about homophobia in the Deaf community, any thoughts?

Terry Galloway:

Yeah. It’s all over the place but so is queerness, You have your church-going good deaf people and then the others like Raymond and me.

Ray Luczak:

I see the Deaf community in three different groups, actually. (Sorry to interrupt, Terry.) The first are the grassroots ASL-signing community. The second is the oral Deaf community who don’t sign for whatever reason. The third are those who picked up ASL in spite of having hearing families, etc. These tend to be the ones who are more accepting of other people who are sexually different from them. The Deaf community has many subcultures, just like the hearing gay community.

John Killacky:

Terry, does this construct work for you?

Terry Galloway:

In Austin where I work with Actual Lives, the seven other deaf people in that group are a mixed bunch.  I guess they fit into all those categories Ray mentioned with maybe the addition of another category–the Deaf who were bullied into trying to be oral, who were deliberately not taught to sign and as a result grew up pretty much without language. The deaf people I worked with are not in the least homophobic, although all of them are straight.  Maybe it is because we all connect so physically anyway. I suspect it is more because we are working together in the context of theater. Is homophobia in the disabled community tempered by our own “outcast” state?  I don’t know. I suspect it is somewhat. But then, I tend to work and socialize with people who are in theater, who already have a curious bent of mind.

John Killacky:

Judy Smith, Dancer and Artistic Director of Axis Dance Company in Oakland. You have been dancing in your wheelchair and running this company of mixed-ability dancers for 15 years.

Judy Smith:

Yes, hard to believe.

John Killacky:

Touring around the world, you receive wide critical and popular acclaim. You just returned home from a residency at Bates College Summer Dance Festival. How was that?

Judy Smith:

It was an incredible experience. The fact that integrated dance was being presented at a major festival was a huge step or roll forward. There was only one student in the festival that was disabled and used a chair. We did a community piece which brought in five more people with various disabilities. Truthfully though, I’m not sure the rest of the Bates faculty knew what we were about or what we did until the faculty improv performance.  Then they got to see how someone in a chair can dance and move.

John Killacky:

You once told me for the first ten years, your company got sympathy reviews and were not taken seriously by the dance world. Is that still true?

Judy Smith:

No, I don’t think it is true since we began commissioning outside choreographers.

John Killacky:

Please talk about this.

Judy Smith:

Our work is taken more seriously now.  I think it is easier to review because there’s a context for reviewing our work as it relates to our choreographers’ other work.  For instance, Bill T. Jones’ piece for us can be seen and reviewed in the context of Bill T.’s work, as well as in the context of Axis‘s work.

John Killacky:

I know when Bill T. Jones and Stephen Petronio were about to begin working with you, they weren’t sure what to do with your assortment of bodies. Did you have to help them adjust?

Judy Smith:

Yes and No. They’re both brilliant and figured out a lot just through the process of creating and setting movement.  Questions were answered as we went along.  Bill’s challenge was how to approach unison.  Stephen’s was how to equalize us.  That is what is exciting to me—everyone gains.

John Killacky:

Both Bill and Stephen told me the experience expanded their own movement vocabulary.  I was kidding Greg about liking to work in those straight comedy clubs and Raymond and Terry began discussing homophobia, what has it been like for you as an out lesbian in the dance world?

Judy Smith:

It’s not something that comes up in the context of our work usually. I don’t look ‘dyke’ and disabled people aren’t sexual, so why would they be queer?  I think that when it does come up, it makes people rethink ideas about sex and disability in a non-threatening way.  My partner was at Bates with us and she’s an obvious dyke.  Because it is a matter of fact for us, it just wasn’t an issue—even for the community folks that were in our piece and had had zero or little exposure to queers.  They all REALLY liked Iva!

Terry Galloway:

Are we the pet for whom they feel a sudden inexplicable desire?

Ray Luczak:

As long as they don’t have to dwell on what we like to do behind closed doors, we remain non-threatening to everyone.

Terry Galloway:

I liked what Judy suggested about disability defanging or preempting criticism about queerness.  It makes sense.  If you don’t imagine someone being sexual, you can’t be threatened by their sexuality.  The idea of lesbianism, for instance, becomes more abstract, more an issue of wonder– as in wow DISABLED people can actually be LESBIANS!

Judy Smith:

I’m always thrilled when we work with other lesbians in the dance world

Terry Galloway:

Well, the deaf have a reputation for being sexy, that’s what I got from my other disabled friends when they were discussing a deaf man for whom they had the hots.

Ray Luczak:

Really? *rolling eyes* Bring ’em on! I know I have experienced different kinds of prejudices as a Deaf gay writer here in New York City.

John Killacky:

Do tell us more…

Ray Luczak:

One kind of prejudice I’ve always had to deal with as a writer comes from the literary scene. You have to sound “smart” and “sophisticated.” Even though I can speak very well to be understood by almost anyone, I can’t always speak all those “fancy” words, even though I use them in my writing. So at these literary soirees, they don’t take me seriously. It’s as if this guy with this nasal speech seems like a misfit here. The irony is that most writers ARE misfits, for why else would they feel compelled to write, as if they are trying to connect with other misfits out there? But no, here in New York, the literary scene can be incredibly cliquish. Maybe the fact that I still don’t have an agent or that I’ve had five books published means nothing to them. I’m not bitter. I’ve given up on trying to be one of them.

Terry Galloway:

Ray they should mean nothing to you, that’s one of the things I find myself feeling more and more aggressive about.

Ray Luczak:

That’s from the hearing literary community.

Terry Galloway:

Of course.

John Killacky:

Greg, I know you have lots to say about this topic of sex and desire.

Greg Walloch:

I’ve always been pretty in touch with my sexuality in my work and in my personal life.

John Killacky:

But how has the world treated you?

Greg Walloch:

Love, sex, I don’t have any really terrible stories about being a sexual outcast; it’s probably because I’m pretty easy.

John Killacky:

Sorry for the digressions, this issue of how the world sees people with disabilities and sexuality is quite interesting. Since we are here with the Non-Traditional Casting Project, any sensitivity training you want to impart to casting directors?

Terry Galloway:

I am pretty sick of our cultural obsession with sexuality.  It’s isn’t even an interesting sexual obsession.  It can’t be interesting when it’s so predicated on the idea of “perfection.” And it’s hard not to think of that obsession with perfection as male because after all it is mostly men who do the casting.  More interesting to me is the variety of bodies out there in the world.

Judy Smith:

I think the first issue is always disability for casting directors.

Terry Galloway:

You are right about that Judy.  Like I said earlier, most non-disabled people aren’t imaginative enough to regard disability as a performance option rather than a directorial obstacle.

Ray Luczak:

They need to realize that disabled people are part of everyone’s lives, and that by not including them every so often in projects, they are doing EVERYONE a grave disservice. We all know that, but do they *really* understand that? Truth is, there aren’t enough enlightened producers and directors, period.  I thought it was wonderful that the director cast some disabled people to work with stars like Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer in I Am Sam.

Terry Galloway:

I was thinking how Judy said that Bill and Stephen got ideas from working with different bodies. That  needs to be made into the goal somehow– a way to reinvent the excitement of theater, performance, film.

Ray Luczak:

I think a disabled person can play a non-disabled person … without even having to call attention to their own disability.

Terry Galloway:

I Am Sam would have been better if Sean Penn could have been the supporting actor rather than the star

Ray Luczak:

I agree with you on that, Terry, but still, it is progress. A wheelchair mother is there and gets around, but her wheelchair is not the issue.

Judy Smith:

Yes, it has happened for everyone we work with.

Terry Galloway:

But the world still is a stubborn little shit and still persists in not really seeing its own desires.

Ray Luczak:

Right on, Terry! I was afraid that Sean would mock the disabled through his performance, but I felt he didn’t.  On the other hand, The Other Sister made me cringe. Ouch.

Greg Walloch:

I’ve done commercial work, leaning on a desk, seated, etc. where you don’t know I’m disabled. Also I’ve been asked to play “more disabled.”

Terry Galloway:

I love that.  I’ve been on crutches the last four months and man, I’ve felt so put upon to play more disabled.

Ray Luczak:

Whose definition of “more disabled” are we talking about? The temporarily-abled have a definition very different from ours.

Greg Walloch:

In a recent film, I’m in a chair and my speech is different.  It’s fine with me, it’s like doing any character.

Ray Luczak:

I think most of us see our own disability as just another way of living, not something to make a movie-of-the-week about.

Terry Galloway:

Raymond that was a very interesting comment. “We see our own disability as just another way of living.” Actually I read it as “just another way to make a living.” So the Freudian slip interests me as well.

Ray Luczak:

For instance, in my film, Ghosted, 95% of the dialogue is in ASL. Some of the characters are deaf; some hearing. But do they discuss Deaf issues or call attention to the fact that they are deaf or use ASL with each other? Nope. They have a bigger problem: They have a ghost in the house! The script could’ve been done by hearing actors, but I think ASL and deafness add a nice dimension to the usual conventions of the supernatural genre.

Terry Galloway:

I feel that in some ways I’ve been able to cash in on my disability. One of the interesting things I found out in London is that there is money there for film and video works about disability; more money than for people who are not disabled! That is a turnabout and I revel in it.

Ray Luczak:

That’s great. Terry, do email me more info about that!

John Killacky:

How about from a queer perspective: Why is Will played by a straight man and will he ever have a sleepover like Grace does?

Ray Luczak:

Or what about Jack? He’s a lot more nelly and he doesn’t seem to have a boyfriend of any kind. It’s implied that nelly-ness is not sexy enough to attract a nice fella. I’ve occasionally wondered if effeminacy is a different kind of disability within the gay community.

Terry Galloway:

That made me laugh, Ray.

John Killacky:

Greg, I know the producers shied away from titling your film F**k the Disabled when it was first released. Why?

Greg Walloch:

Marketing.

Ray Luczak:

Oh yeah, Greg–please make sure that your next film is subtitled and/or captioned for us Deaf people. I was very disappointed that F**k The Disabled was not captioned.

Greg Walloch:

I know… Me too.

Ray Luczak:

That’s why I didn’t buy it. Please tell your producers that there are some 25 million Americans with hearing loss problems. The numbers will increase as the baby boomers age.

Greg Walloch:

It’s funny how little say I had over a product that I am so featured in. All I can say is I fought hard for subtitles and in the end it was not for me to decide and was about money. It was challenging to work on F**k The Disabled. In the end there were some things I didn’t love about it, but you create work and let it go live the creative life it’s going to live.

Terry Galloway:

This is the tip of the iceberg, John. I think we could go deeper into these discussions. I don’t know how that can be managed but I would have for instance liked to have heard even more from Judy. I hope we can talk even more about the things we can do to make alternative or non- traditional casting alluring.  We have to make it appealing or rather reveal how appealing it can be, how reflective of life itself, of the larger community itself, how it can reawaken a moribund sensibility.

Judy Smith:

I must sign off now.  Thanks all.

Greg Walloch:

Thanks all.

Ray Luczak:

See ya, Greg.

Terry Galloway:

I wish we could have talked longer. Take care, guys. Bye.

John Killacky:

Love and hugs and thanks for being together.

Ray Luczak:

So glad that we were able to get together for however short a time we could.

Terry Galloway:

Love to you too, John.  Thanks Ray and bye Greg. And Judy, we hardly knew ye damn it, bye.

Moderator John R. Killacky is the program officer for Arts and Culture at The San Francisco Foundation.  His video Crip Shots features performative portraits of Judy Smith, Greg Walloch, and Terry Galloway.  He co-edited the anthology Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories that includes writing by Greg Walloch and Raymond Luczak.

To find out more about these artists, please contact them at:

Terry Galloway:           

John R. Killacky:         

Raymond Luczek:         www. raymondluczak.com

Judy Smith:                  www.axisdance.org

Greg Walloch:              www.gregwalloch.com

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