Marilee Talkington — A Clear Vision to Advocate

Actress Marilee TalkingtonMarilee Talkington is one of just a very few legally blind actors in the country to earn an M.F.A. in acting. She earned her M.F.A at the prestigious American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.). She has worked professionally in the theater for over 2 decades. Her break out TV role was Annie Barth, a blind woman, on NCIS. You can now find Marilee on Apple TV+’s futuristic post-apocalyptic drama, See, where she stars alongside Jason Momoa from Game of Thrones. In addition to acting, Marilee is also a writer, director, teacher and designer. She is also known for her protest art and installation art. Marilee has become a strong voice for actors who are blind and low vision. She is one powerhouse of a busy talented woman.

ABILITY Magazine attended the 2019 Media Access Awards in Beverly Hills. The annual MAA in partnership with Easterseals honors the TV, film, and new media professionals who have helped to create and promote opportunities for those with disabilities in the industry. The awards include writing, producing, casting, performance and directing. The night was full of Hollywood glamour including red carpet, evening gowns, celebrities and fancy hors d’oeuvres. At the end of the evening Melinda Chilton and Shelly Rohe sat down to chat with actress, Marilee Talkington. Meeting her was both empowering and enlightening.

Melinda Chilton: You live in New York right now?

Marilee Talkington: I do live in New York right now.

Chilton: So you’ve come to where it’s a little bit warmer?

Talkington: Oh, my gosh! Yes! It actually started to dust. It was snow-dusting right when we left. It was cold. And it’s so great because we’ve got a fireplace on our television. We put on the YouTube Yule log, and it’s so perfect. (laughter) It’s crackling and you can check the one that’s 15 hours long and you can leave the house and leave the fire going until you come back.

Shelly Rohe: How long have you lived in New York?

Talkington: This time, three and a half years. I was there right after grad school. I got my MFA in acting from ACT, I graduated in 2004. I believe, I’m still one of only two legally blind actors in the country with an MFA in acting. I was really proud about that in 2004, but it’s 2019 and that should have changed.

Chilton: How would you have liked to see it change?

Talkington: There should be so many more of us, just quite simply. There should be many, many, many more.

Chilton: And why do you think there isn’t?

Talkington: Oh, fear, deep fear, and the stigma, especially blind and low-vision actors in particular. We’re the least represented of the disabilities. And even when you have a group of actors with disabilities in a room who are doing training, often the blind and low-vision actors are still excluded even from those exercises because everything is steeped with visual bias. I think that the reason I got in and this other woman got in is, we can pass. I can pass as sighted. You wouldn’t know. If I didn’t have this (her cane), you wouldn’t know.

I was born with rod cone dystrophy, so I was born totally blind centrally. I have no central vision. I only have peripheral vision, and I’ve been losing that over time. I’m light-blind, so if there’s too much light I’m total. Folks with my vision will usually talk to you like this. But, what I’m doing is looking to the left of you, just so I can catch you in my peripheral vision. But I’m looking at you. So this is what confuses people. I make eye contact, to the best of my ability. But, that’s because my mom is blind and I have the same thing that she has. I have a very vivid memory of fifth grade. What is that, like, 10 years old?

Chilton: It’s about 10 or 11.

Talkington: She gave me—you know, when you have a disability, you get the talk. When you’re “other”, you get the talk. This was one of the first talks she gave me. She said, “You have a choice. You can either look at people the way you need to look at them to grab information, or you can look them in the eye. Teach yourself how to do that. If you look at people the way you need to look at them, they will treat you differently. That’s how the world works.” And it’s true. And she said, “I’m not telling you what to do, but just know that the world will treat you differently if you do what you need to do.”

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As a child, I wanted to fit in, so I taught myself to orient, just keep oriented to people’s eyes. It’s part of my—well, I have a hard time not doing it now, except when I’m with my husband. It makes me a little emotional to say that. He’s the only person I don’t do it with. I think there’s something, a part in my head, that literally all veils disappear when I’m with my husband. And it’s not even like—I’ve tried. All of a sudden, literally one day I realized that I was talking to him like this. Do you know what I mean? I caught myself and all of a sudden I got really self-conscious and I said, “Baby, does it bother you that I’m not looking at you?” And this was his response. He was shocked. He said, “You mean does it bother me that I just got Mona Lisa with the Hope diamond around it?”

Chilton: Oooh!

Rohe: Aw!

Chilton: Oh, I love that! Your husband is making me cry, and I haven’t even met him. How beautiful. How did you meet this gem of a husband?

Talkington: In the back seat of Frank’s car. [all: Oooooh!] Frank was my husband’s best friend, and Frank was dating—they’ve broken up since—one of my very good friends, Cita. A family member of mine had died and I was very depressed. Cita walked into the house, and I was like, “Fine! I’m getting out of the house.” She said, “Frank’s buddy Andrew is going. We’re all going to go see a solo show.” So, I literally walk out of the gates of the house, I open the car door, I slide in, and I say, “Hi, I’m Marilee.” He’s like, “Hi, I’m Andrew.” And then literally in a matter of less than a minute we started talking about physics and God. I don’t know how it started. And we’ve been talking about that for 10 years.

Chilton: Wow!

Talkington: His passion is—theoretical physics, and I’m more of the spiritual side.

Chilton: Oh, interesting! I always find Albert Einstein talks a lot about science and how it supports spirituality. I find it fascinating.

Talkington: Yes. I do too. It is fascinating.

Chilton: But back to you. You are beautiful. You are absolutely gorgeous. You look so 1940s.

Talkington: Thanks!

Chilton: And you do fashion. Did you do this lovely outfit of yours?

Talkington: I do fashion now. Yeah, I put this whole thing together.

Rohe: It’s beautiful.

Talkington: Thank you. I made it.

Chilton: Wow! Your cane is very ornate.

Talkington: Thank you. I don’t have to use a cane. I can. Sometimes I need it, sometimes I don’t. But—and this is where I start to get emotional—I have no role models. I’ve never seen anybody like me, ever, on-screen or in print or anybody who is in my business. The agreement that I made with myself is that if I get into a position where I get to have any sort of level of visibility that I need to represent, then I want to represent in a way that is in full power, full ownership of my value, my worth and my beauty, and to marry both disability and not just fashion, but ferocity.Actress Marilee TalkingtonRohe: I like that!

Talkington: I really want to put out images that break the stereotype of ‘blind people aren’t sexy’or ‘they’re not attractive’. Because that language is so strong. They say, “Those people are ugly.” And they’re not. And we see it on-screen, too.

Rohe: Or don’t.

Talkington: Exactly, or don’t. We see the asexual or we just don’t see it at all.

Rohe: Speaking about on-screen, what is this we heard about your new class?

Talkington: Oh, this training program. It’s a five-week, full-time, six-day-a-week professional actor training program for blind and low-vision actors. I’ve been thinking about it for a very, very, very long time, pretty much since I started acting. What’s different about this is, it’s not just like, “Oh, come act. If you’re blind or low-vision, we’ll have some acting classes.” I basically have created a new pedagogy, a new thought around the training, which is, when you enter the class—

Actually, let me back up. We have to think about who designs these acting techniques to begin with. Those are people with a full sense of sight, a full sense of hearing, and all mobilities. So all acting techniques, dance, voice, is taught through those lenses for people like that. This idea kept whittling at me. Having had the experience myself over so many years of having to adapt, to lie, to prove, to fake it, having to be left out. I wanted to create a program where the foundational belief system is, “You are whole.” Period. “Your lived experience is valid.” Period. “You are not missing anything needed to be a visionary artist, a contributing artist, to be an artist, to be creative in any way, shape, or form. You are not missing anything. What is missing is the access and the vision of the training that exists now.” With that foundational belief system, go into the actual techniques and go, “OK, basic acting techniques. Let’s do an eye contact exercise.” We don’t do those. Reinvent the exercises so that we can still get to the core of how do you become a great storyteller? How do you unfold what is inside of you so that you can share it with the world? We’re just doing it in different ways.

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And on top of that, I’ve found that when you have blind students with sighted students- this is very, very, interesting- if you just have blind students in a room, that’s it, and you start working, their own level of perception, the sophistication of their perception, and what they can hear and what they begin to believe goes from zero to a hundred. It can happen so fast.

Chilton: Wow!

Talkington: I had a sighted person in my class that I was teaching this summer. We were about an hour and a half into class. We were working on scenes and everybody is deep in the scene and giving feedback. “I heard this, I heard this, she did this,” and you’re going, “Oh, my gosh, it’s so amazing how everybody’s really perceiving this.” We had one sighted person go, “Oh, gosh, Rachel was just so amazing. I wish you could see what was on her face!” Literally everybody, every single person in the class went phoomp!

Chilton: Oh, wow!

Talkington: The energy collapsed immediately. Their confidence went straight down. That sophistication and perception disappeared. It was one of those moments where literally everything in my body -my friend told me what I did- my hand flew out to her and I said, “We don’t need that! We don’t need it!” She ended up crying and it was a whole big thing. I needed to spend the next 10 to 15 minutes talking to the class because all of a sudden all these doubts started coming up.

Chilton: Oh, all the old tapes came back.

Talkington: Immediately. And I was like, “Let’s talk through this. What did you just experience before that happened? Let’s go back to that.” That’s what this training program is doing. It’s five weeks, full-time, six days a week, their perception is right and valid and whole.

Rohe: What will happen, though, when they get back to that voice again and they’re in casting?

Talkington: It’s going to happen.

Rohe: Will you—as they go up to 100% increase in self-esteem or whatever the language might be, are you looking at trying to build some resistance at the end of that training to say, “This is probably what will occur. I’ve seen you grow”?

Talkington: Yes. It’s a great question. I wouldn’t use the word “resistance,” but “integration” and “advocacy.” I’m building into the program how to self-advocate. And also talking about because I’ve been doing this for so long, “This is what you might be faced with.” And offer it back to them. “How would you want to talk yourself through this? This is how I talk myself through this. It’s not foolproof. But how would you work through it?” And give them that in the program so they know. Because it will happen. You’re totally right.

Rohe: When you open that up to the class that’s 100%, do you allow the students to all share the ways they will perceive that central reality? Are they all saying, “This is the way I would handle it”? You’re at a different level, probably, than the students in the class, you’re the teacher. So you open up that sharing?

Talkington: Absolutely, because they’ll learn from each other. And they actually know more than they think.

Rohe: One of the things Chet has taught me, and others on our ABILITY team, is, well, he throws us in the deep end and makes us teach. That’s the way to learn, to teach. You could take a student who might not be there yet and say, “Tell the person next to you how you would …” It’s amazing. I’ve seen people open up so many times. You can take a person who doesn’t think they have anything to teach and make them a teacher.

Talkington: I love it. I love it. Fantastic.

Chilton: And too, it kind of puts you in your power. You can think, “What can I share? What kind of knowledge do I have to I share?”

Talkington: Yeah.

Actress Marilee Talkington Lily's Revenge
Talkington in Lily’s Revenge

Chilton: I love what you said—I think—just being an actor is tough. I’m an actor. It’s a tough business, period. For everyone who has the cojones to get out there and go for it, especially in LA or New York. As a teacher, you teach them about their talent, and then you also include the tools to help them psychologically and emotionally maneuver through life because life throws you curve balls. And it sounds like, they’ll be able to handle those curve balls better after they’ve been through your class.

Talkington: I hope so. And I feel like hopefully I’ll be able to handle it better too, on many levels. I think, as Shelly said, they’re going to teach me a lot. I’ve been on this road by myself. I need them almost as much as they need me. It’s not just about saying, “How would you handle this?” but also about saying, “OK, now we’re together. Let’s move together. Let’s go together.” Of course, it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be challenging even if we move together. I read something interesting in a book. I read, it’s the people who break the ceiling that will get cut with the glass. You’ve got all these scars, from the cuts of the glass. When you have a group that crushes through something together, all of a sudden those pieces of glass are much, much smaller. I think there will be a beautiful symbiotic relationship that will happen in exchange.

Rohe: Have you done many of these classes? Is it new?

Talkington: This project is totally new. It’s never been done before. This kind of stuff has never been offered before. What I’ve done is workshops and private coaching where I’ll teach teachers who teach other people. What I’m hoping—actually, I’m not hoping, this is going to happen. I’ll write a case study after this so that I can take this to universities, conservatories. Hopefully I can get a documentary crew coming in. I’m working on that right now, to find out if people want to come and start filming.

Chilton: When do you start?

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Talkington: It starts January 6th to February 7th.

Rohe: You’re so articulate and thoughtful in your approach.

Chilton: So much passion!

Rohe: Yeah, and I love the fact that it’s local and we can see it all happen.

All: Yes!

Talkington: Come. Come visit.

Rohe: Do you have a website?

Talkington: It’s called Access Acting Academy. I used “access” very specifically because it’s not just accessing the work, but it’s also accessing your creative authentic voice. That’s what we’re about.

Rohe: I have a question. How old were you when you knew you wanted to act?

Talkington: Then I’m dating myself.

Chilton: You don’t have to tell us when you were that age, just what age?

Rohe: You talked about not having role models. It’s tough to think you have something when you don’t see anyone else out there.

Talkington: I think it wasn’t until I was about 23.

Chilton: That was yesterday.

Talkington: Exactly, just a few years ago.

Chilton: I love the idea of your class. I studied acting for a long time. I grew up with a speech impediment. I stuttered. I stuttered like King George.

Rohe: Not now.

Chilton: Now I’m making up for lost time. I couldn’t speak. So, I did musical theater because I could sing and I could dance to express myself. The actors I’m riveted by and the ones I love to watch are the ones that are so honest and truthful. That’s good acting, being as honest and truthful as you can possibly be. And you don’t need your voice, your eyes, your ears, your sense of taste or touch to do that. It’s just finding your way to be honest. That comes from your heart, and that’s what we all have.

Talkington: I love that you’re saying this. I’m on the board of directors for a program at Queens Theatre called Theatre for All. They work with all disabilities. It’s two weeks. It’s a few classes. There’s a woman who participated in it, and I can’t remember her name, with a severe disability. You can’t understand what she says. But you know what she’s saying.

Chilton: Beautiful. I love that.

Rohe: Did you notice the good looking guy tonight who is an actor, model, and deaf activist? Nyle DiMarco.

Talkington: [whispers] I got to take a photo with him. [speaks] I got to take a photo with him, on the red carpet. Oh, my gosh!

Rohe: You’re married!

Talkington: I know, I know! (laughter)

Chilton: She can look!

Talkington: I can look, and I’m going to tell my husband too, that I got to—

Chilton: It’s like going to an art museum and looking at the beautiful pictures on the wall. You can look at them as long as you want. You just can’t take them off the wall and take them home.

Talkington: Thank you! I just didn’t know I was going to have an opportunity for a photo. And he’s a model.

Rohe: Did you know about him?

Talkington: I’d heard about him. I think I saw a photo of him once.

Chilton: I didn’t see him. Is he still here?

Rohe: You went to the restroom and missed him.

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Chilton: Oh! It just happens. You go to the restroom and handsome men go onstage.

Talkington: He won Americas Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. He won both. And he’s, like, a star in his own TV show.

Chilton: I’m sure he’s all over YouTube. You’re an activist for disability and what else?

Talkington: Oh, Women! I speak up, speak out when I can.

Chilton: What’s your advice to young women? Everyone feels different sometimes. There’s something that makes everyone feel different and left out, like they don’t fit in. What would be your advice to young women feeling like that right now?

Talkington: (pause) I think there is power in owning that part of yourself that feels vulnerable. I think when we start rejecting it, that’s when suffering comes.

Chilton: Right.

Talkington: I think that otherness—if there is a way to say yes to it in some way because I don’t want to add all those other words, like “I’m special for it,” but just say “Yes,” just even try saying “Yes” for a moment and see what that feels like. Just think there’s power in that.

Chilton: Accepting.

Talkington: Yeah, which is hard. “Well, you should just accept yourself.” It’s a hard thing to do. And I will also say that I think that most young women are more powerful than they think they are.

Chilton: Absolutely.

Talkington: And the belief systems around them are telling them they’re not. So speaking up, even when it’s scary, can be quite an amazing thing. I had an experience as an adult woman. There was a—did you at all hear about the World Science Festival that happened a couple years ago with the male physicist and the female physicist and the moderator was talking over the female physicist over and over and over and over?

Chilton: No!

Talkington: I happened to be in the audience. Because it’s physics, I like to go to these things. It was a big auditorium. The man speaking and the moderator just keeps talking over the female physicist and explaining everything and going on and on. You can feel the tension in the auditorium, people were going, “Oh, let her speak, let her speak, stop, stop, stop.” And my body is literally starting to shake, and I finally found myself saying, [loudly] “Let her speak, please!” And you don’t really hear it because they were the only ones with microphones, but the whole room erupted. Erupted! And it went viral. That moment—I posted about it. I didn’t realize, I was just Facebooking. The moment went viral. And I ended up in all these magazines and I ended up on the BBC with this famous physicist, and we were talking about what this moment was and what it means to speak up when it’s terrifying. Because we’re constantly being silenced in rooms, being talked over. It was one of those moments. What I was thinking about literally, what was going through my head, “If you don’t say something, you’re complicit. Let her speak.” It was that thing. I couldn’t be complicit any more. But I was so terrified. Circling back around, I feel like there are moments to be deeply courageous. It’ll be scary as heck. But if you do them, you’re going to expand and own that much more of your power because now it’ll be—

Chilton: You were scared?

Talkington: I was terrified. But now when it’s happening, no. “Stop!” It’s so much easier now. It gets easier every time you do it.

Chilton: These belief systems laid upon young women or those with a disability, who do you think the biggest culprit is of those negative beliefs being put upon us?
Talkington: That’s a tough question because I was speaking to a scholar, a friend of mine, yesterday about these belief systems. She can track them back. Disability, folks with disabilities are the most marginalized groups throughout history. She can track it back to Mesopotamia. We’re saturated with them. There’s no way—it’s in everything. But I believe that it’s the media. It’s television and film, what we see on the screen that perpetuates our invisibility as human beings, it perpetuates the negative—

Rohe: Have you ever heard the term “symbolic annihilation”?

Talkington: No.

Rohe: It’s been used for gender and race more than for disability, but I liken it to disability, too. It means that when a group isn’t represented on film or television, the media, they feel unnecessary, unused, not useful. They become symbolically annihilated. That’s where that term comes from.

Talkington: That’s it. I think that’s right. It’s so interesting to watch. I’m part of a show right now where the entire world is blind. I filmed this last year. It just came out on a new network, on Apple TV+. Big deal, lots of celebrities in it, and hundreds and hundreds of characters. They literally only cast a few actual blind and low-vision actors. I think next season they’ll do more.

Chilton: Good.

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Talkington: The award show tonight opened my eyes even more to how much the media, TV and film, play a big part in our belief system and how we see the world. They tell us how we’re going to see the world.

Chilton: Absolutely. I think it’s time for filmmakers, TV makers, those lovely networks, our new streaming platforms, to really step up and use disabled actors. Who was it? One of the presenters tonight. He said, “If you can’t find it in your heart to do it, then do it for your pocketbook.” Of course, that’s not a word for word quote.

Rohe: Yes!

Chilton: Because there is money to be made. They always say to follow the money trail. So, let’s talk money. There’s money to be made. You have to look at your audience. There’s disability people who want to watch these programs to see people they relate to. I say the same thing about the baby boomers. You’re crazy if you’re not making content with actors over the age of 65.

Rohe: Mm-hmm!

Chilton: Because the baby boomers are retiring, they’re in their sixties and seventies, and they’re watching TV. My mom’s like, “I’m 73. I don’t care about the love life of a 20-year-old. I want to see people my age.” There’s a movie on Netflix I just watched. What’s her name? She named her baby Apple.

Rohe: Gwyneth Paltrow.

Chilton: Her mother, what’s her name?

Rohe: Blythe Danner.

Chilton: Yes. Blythe Danner and Sam Elliot. Ooh-la-la! They’re in a movie together on Netflix. I just watched it. And they have sex. Yeh, they do! And who told me to watch it? My mother! (laughter)

Talkington: Go Mom!

Chilton: Because she found it. It’s a really funny, heartfelt movie about these swingin’ single people. It has a lot of heart. All people in their 60’s and 70’s. My mom found it on Netflix because she’s learning how to use Netflix.

Rohe: Good for her!

Chilton: And she called me one day, she goes, “What have you done to me? I just watched all the seasons of Longmire.

Rohe: She’s binge-watching!

Chilton: I go, “Mom, you just binge-watched.” She goes, “What?” So now she calls me, “I just binge-watched a Kiefer Sutherland show”. (laughter) And then she calls me and goes, “There’s this Sam Elliot movie on Netflix, did you watch it? I couldn’t sleep last night. I watched it. I even had a rum and Coke while I watched it.” (laughter) She lives on a farm in Illinois, so I’m just like—ok. Seriously, I think it’s so silly not to cater to your audience. Know who they are and make content, especially for the audiences that don’t have as much content as there should be for them. There is money out there.

Rohe: About your class – How does that work with – there’s a cost to the class?

Talkington: No.

Chilton: There’s no cost to the class? God bless you. No cost?

Talkington: No. It’s totally free. That was one of the number one things. It has to be free for this population. Blind and low-vision people have the highest unemployment rate of any group in the U.S. The access—it has to be complete access.

Rohe: How are you choosing people?

Talkington: Well, we’ll see what—there’s an application, so it’ll be a video audition. They can do a monologue or a two- to three-minute scene. They send their head shot and résumé. If they don’t have any experience, they can still apply. I encourage that because so many blind and low-vision folks have never even thought that this could be possible. So yes, if it’s a beginner, apply. Do the work, really do your best work in your audition and answer the questions. The application form is very simple.

Rohe: Is it accessible?

Talkington: Absolutely. It’s completely accessible. Everything’s online. It’s a Google form, which is totally accessible. I beta-tested everything. The mobile site, completely accessible.

Rohe: So they have to pay their way to get here?

Talkington: That’s right. We don’t pay travel and housing. I couldn’t get funding for that. But tuition is totally free. Any other questions about the class?

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Chilton: How many are you taking?

Talkington: We thought about this a lot. We could have accepted more, but 12 seemed to be a really great, solid number. You still have enough for a true ensemble and everybody will get individual attention.

Chilton: That’s very important.

Rohe: Where will it be held?

Talkington: We looked at the Odyssey Theatre tonight.

Chilton: That’s a nice space. I saw a play there. Exciting!

Talkington: We would like to get access to the whole thing.

Chilton: And they’ll be working on a professional stage, too.

Talkington: Yes, which is so key because one of the classes that I’ll specifically be teaching is navigation stage movement.

Chilton: Oh, good, that’s a good stage to do that on.

Talkington: Because it’s a big deal in the blind community. “Where do I go? How do I enter?” It’s always an issue, always a fear. So they’ll be on a stage from the get-go.

Chilton: Yeh. Enter stage left, come down stage right! Yes!

Talkington: Exactly. Feel where the audience is.

Chilton: Find your light.

Talkington: And that’s—

Rohe: Wait a minute, find your light?

Talkington: We have to learn that, too. The thing about lights—

Chilton: Can you feel it?

Talkington: It depends on what kind of lights they use. If they use LEDs, no.

Chilton: Oh.

Talkington: If it’s old stage lighting, yes. This is where we get to create with them because every single blind person will have something different. “What do you need? What do you need? What do you need? Great, let’s innovate that. Great, let’s innovate that. Did you learn something from that?” Then we start doing this cross-fertilization that’ll be extremely exciting.

Rohe: I know you could learn the steps on a certain stage. You know the stage, distance, you measure it out in your mind, where to center yourself during scenes. Would that be the case for all? Would you have to study that particular stage you’ll be on?

Talkington: There are a bunch of different ideas. We could do half-rounds on the ground.

Rohe: What is that?

Talkington: Dowels, wooden dowels, those round sticks of wood. When you slice them in half, they’re called half-rounds. They’re raised on the top and flat on the bottom.

Rohe: Like speed bumps?

Talkington: Speed bumps. You could put half-rounds down, gaffe it, so that there’s markers.

Rohe: A trail, if you will.Marilee Talkington vision

Talkington: We could do raised—you could layer tape and have raised bumps. There are all kinds of physical things you can put on the ground that they can feel. For me personally, one of the things—when it’s full light and I can’t—it’s not part of the stage aesthetic to put a half-round down. That’s when I have to do the same thing 15 times in a row and then do it as part of my dance call before every single show. That’ll be part of them learning what they specifically need to do to orient themselves to the space. But there are ways that we can service—make it easier, start things off and then go, “What works for you? What doesn’t? Can you think of something else? Does this spark another idea in you that’ll work for you?” and get it immediately. There’s quite a bit—not a big budget, but I have a budget for anything accessible that somebody may pop up with in a class. We go get it and bring it the next day.

Chilton: You are so amazing. You mentioned that you didn’t have a role model. I think you’ll be a role model for a lot of people. You probably already are.

Rohe: I think so too. How do you vet the person who says, “I have low vision”?

Talkington: I think if we have a ton of applicants, I’ll have a conversation with them and say, “Tell me about your vision. How do you experience it?” I don’t know what the legality is. I’m legally blind, but there can be people who are low vision who come in. I started taking acting classes when I wasn’t—I mean, I’ve always been totally blind centrally, but there are low vision actors out there that we’ll accept.

Chilton: Low vision is not legally blind?

Talkington: No. Legally blind is like 20/200 and beyond. Visually impaired could be, like—it depends because it’s not just acuity that we’re talking about. And what I mean by acuity is 20/20, 20/30, 20/40, 20/50. It could be that you only have a certain degree, field of vision. It could be some days your vision is covered in snow and some days it’s not. There are so many different visual—

Rohe: A person with one eye, would that be—

Talkington: Yes. If they identify. Some people don’t publicly identify because there’s so much stigma around it. They medically identify as blind or low-vision. They’ll know.

Rohe: Stigma.

Talkington: I was talking to Tim Cook about this, the CEO of Apple. Media teaches us what to think about ourselves and what to think about other people. The words, the stories, who’s up there, who’s not, who’s representing us, how are they representing us.

Rohe: Are they representing us?

Talkington: And the thing is. I don’t want to be represented by somebody else. I have no interest in that, thank you very much.

Rohe: How’d you talk to Tim Cook?

Talkington: It was through the show that I was on, Apple TV+.

Chilton: I’m so happy you’re doing this. I think too, we work with actors. I’ve taught acting. I am an actor. You have to have acting chops. I know people who are specialty actors or character actors. Say they’re looking for a six-foot redhead. So, every six-foot redhead shows up, and because they’re a six-foot redhead, they think they can have the part. Probably the six-foot redhead who’s studied acting and honed her craft will get it. You maybe the type they are looking for, but you still have to study and get good.

Talkington: Yes.

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Chilton: There’s no free rides for anybody. You’ve got to get out there. So I’m happy you’re teaching. That little boy in the “Peanut Butter Falcon” film, the one Shelly interviewed, he’s a good actor. It’s not just that they were looking for someone with Down syndrome. This is a Down syndrome young man who has acting chops.

Talkington: Absolutely. And I think in a perfect world, everybody would have the opportunity. This is a beginning to giving them the opportunity, but that doesn’t mean all blind and low-vision actors will be able to get into acting classes elsewhere. And the creator of Pose, do you know that show about the trans and LGBTQ community in New York in the ’80s? It’s fantastic. Their five lead characters are all trans actors. None of them had camera experience. And he said, “I wasn’t looking to cast stars, I was looking to make them.”

Chilton: Wow!

Talkington: And I was like, “Word.” And you could tell which ones have had it and which ones have not, but the level of authenticity is so high that you just lean in. You melt into the story. So there’s both.

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