DSiAM – Down Syndrome in Arts and Media and GLEE!!!

If you just finished watching the 2012-13 season premier of Glee you know what is going on!  Yet another beautiful face on Glee who happens to rock out that extra chromosome!  I was lucky enough this week to meet the women behind the actors on Glee!  I must say I was a bit star struck because you know she rocks!  She has been working in this business for years now and we can thank her for her all her hard because we have awesome shows like Glee who choose to include individuals with disabilities.

When I talked to her she was able to rattle off a LIST of actors that she works with who have ongoing parts in major TV shows!  I asked her if she just jumps up and down for a half an hour when her actors land these rolls!  She laughed and told me they call it the “Happy Dance”!  Well she has been doing the “Happy Dance” a lot lately and rightful so!

Gail Williamson

What was your inspiration behind starting Down Syndrome in Arts and
Media?


When my son Blair was 11 years old he was cast in a Procter & Gamble
commercial as a Special Olympic runner.  He loved doing the work and I
thought to myself “Why shouldn’t other children with disabilities get to do
this, and why shouldn’t every child be able to see someone like them on TV?”
I started volunteering for the California Governor’s Committee for
Employment of People with Disabilities out of their Media Access Office.  I
developed a “children’s division” of their casting liaison service for
actors with disabilities.  From there I wrote a grant and started working
for them and stayed for 12 years.  When that job ended I went on to be the
director of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles and brought my work
with me.  Now 8 years later, DSiAM deserves to be independent.  So even
though the name has been around for about 8 years, I only just started
working with the talent through DSiAM in February 2012.  But my 20 years of
advocacy in the media has provided me with the networking that helps find
work for DSiAM clients.  My son went on to be a successful actor as well and
has guest starring credits on CSI, NIP/TUCK, SCRUBS, ER, THE GUARDIAN and
more.

How have things changed over the years?


In the beginning all my actors were either victims or Special Olympic
Atheles and their disabilities from Down syndrome moved the story forward.
Now we find that the character with DS doesn’t have to move the story
forward and the characters can also be funny and edgy.  Also, more are
getting work, I believe work begets work.  The more of them that are seen,
the more producers who think about including characters with DS in their
work, and I have tried to make it easy to find them and I have tried to make
sure they have developed their acting skills so they do a great job.

What are your new Goals for your DSiAM?


To have more images of people with DS in the entertainment media so when we
need legislation or research for a better life, people asked to support the
legislation or research will have a personal relationship with at least one
character with DS on TV or in film that will help them to give their support
where needed.  I believe DSiAM can help create awareness and that awareness
can help create a more inclusive world.  In the last year there have been so
many stories on the internet about Prom dates and Kings and Queens’ with
Down syndrome.  I believe that this has come about because of GLEE telling
students that individuals with DS belong on their campus and should be their
friends.


 

Please tell us your success stories.

GLEE is a great success story.  When the casting director first called me to
tell me he wanted someone with DS I panicked just a little.  I didn’t know
anyone with DS who could sing like the cast.  I knew a couple who could
carry a tune and sing okay, but not any Broadway Belters!  I was so relieved
when the casting breakdown called for jumping rope poorly, now that I could
make happen even with a master jump roper, we could get them to mess up.
But we all thought Becky Jackson would be a character on one episode.
Lauren in on her 4th season now, so it’s a real success story.  And now they
just added the character of Robin Sylvester, Sue’s new baby.  And the baby’s
name is in honor of the actress Robin Trocki who played Sue’s sister Jean
who has since passed away on the show.  The actress Robin is very much
alive, but now facing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Jamie Brewer on AMERICAN HORROR STORY is a great story too.  Jamie met me in
Sacramento, told me she was moving to LA and wanted to be an actor.  Her
first professional audition was for AHS. Now she just got notice that FX is
sending her as a guest to the Emmy’s.  So we will have to watch for her when
it airs.

Where can we expect to see DSiAM clients this year?

8 month old Jordyn Orr will be Robin Sylvester on GLEE.  Eddie Barbanell
will be on THE NEW NORMAL on Tuesday, September 18th.  Eddie is best known
for playing Billy in THE RINGER.  He has great comic timing and is a real
professional.  I will have baby Hymie returning to SHAMELESS. The baby boy
is played by baby girl Joanna Lee.  In an upcoming episode this season there
will be some additional characters with Down syndrome.  I just had 4 young
actors work on BLUE BLOODS and a new comedy on FX is auditioning actors for
a side kick role right now.  I hope to have many more this season.

How does someone become involved with DSiAM?


It’s easy to become a client of DSiAM.  On my website www.DSiAM.org there is
a tab that says JOIN.  All the information is there.  I need a photo, a
resume and a consent/registration form.  It’s very easy.  Some minor
children will need work permits if they live in LA or NY and once a minor
works he or she will need a Blocked Trust Coogan Account to hold 15% of
their earnings until the age of majority.

 

Thank you Gail for sharing your story with us and most of all thank you for all you do!  You along with your actors have paved the way for our children.  You have given them the ability to dream and dream big!  I love meeting Mamas who fight the fight for their children and make big changes for others!  What an inspiration!

Happy Weekend Everyone!  Make it great!

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About Kathryn

I am a mom of 6, 5 boys and 1 beautiful girl. We live life to the fullest, as best we can! Some days are good and some are bad but we push through and some how have a smile on our face at the end of the day! We have a little bit of this and a little bit of that in our family including Down Syndrome and Gluten Intolerance.

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