Calling All Actors! On this episode of the Advocacy Update, Clark spoke with starlet of the stage and screen, Marilee Talkington. Through personal and professional advocacy, Marilee has developed and launched the Access Acting Academy and will host the first-of-it’s-kind Professional Actor Training Program specifically for blind and visually impaired artists. This free flagship program will take place in Los Angeles, Jan. 6 - Feb. 7, 2020, and applications are being accepted through Nov. 30, 2019.
More information about the Access Acting Academy, including how to apply for the Professional Actor Training Program, is available at: www.accessacting.com, and more information about Marilee Talkington is available at: www.marileetalkington.com.
Intro: 00:02 You're listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Clark: 00:09 Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Advocacy Update podcast. My name is Clark Rachfal and I am the Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. Thank you to everyone listening on ACB Radio, as well as those out there in internet land listening via your favorite podcast player. As always, if you'd like to learn more about the American Council of the Blind, you can visit our website at www.acb.org. All right. And unfortunately, no Claire Stanley today, no Eric Bridges, you all are stuck with me. But we're going to make up for that by having an amazing guest. And I'll ask her to introduce herself here in a little bit cause I can by no means do her justice. And we have Ms. Marilee Talkington. Marilee how are you doing today?
Marilee: 01:01 I am great. And I am so happy to be talking to you and everyone else that's listening. Good morning.
Clark: 01:09 Good morning. So Marilee you are an artist, an actor. Tell us a little bit about your professional background.
Marilee: 01:20 Sure. Yeah. So I've been acting and directing and creating, writing, designing, all kinds of stuff for almost 25 years, almost a quarter of a century. Started acting at about '95, started directing in '99, started writing my own material in 2000 and mostly for stage, but I started including video pretty early on. I've done a tremendous amount of training including the very beginning studio classes in the evening, summer training programs. I have an MFA in acting. I believe I'm one of only two legally blind down actresses in Northern America that actually has an MFA in acting. Which I'm both proud and dismayed by. There should be many, many more of us by this time. So I've been acting in theater. I graduated with my MFA in 2004 and I kept creating work, been acting on stage in New York, in the Bay area.
Marilee: 02:29 Have originated a ton of awesome fun roles. I think a little over 80 at this point. And that's kind of gotten a reputation of being transformative because I enjoy, I enjoy stepping in fully to the characters. So I'm that person that would often get cast to play four or five characters in one show. And probably about four years ago I got the itch to try television about three and a half years ago. Because I felt like I wanted to challenge myself, try another medium. And also I just felt like I had, I knew that I had the potential and the desire to make larger change and television and film actually create that visibility to do that kind of change. So I moved to New York about three and a half years ago and started doing film and then hit television about a year and a half ago, maybe more, and had been doing TV since and and now writing, I just wrote my first TV pilot. So, and now launching my first training program for blind and low vision actors. So it's been, it's been quite a wonderful 25 years after this point. Can't wait to go another 50.
Clark: 03:51 Just to back up a little bit. Marilee you said you as far as you know, you are one of two blind actors with an MFA, I'm assuming master's of fine arts?
Marilee: 04:01 Yes. And actresses, I will say there's two. There's two guys that I believe have MFAs, but there's only two women, so it's like four total, but two actresses. Yeah. Sorry, keep going.
Clark: 04:14 No, not, not a problem. I mean, so two women, two guys, four total. That's a pretty small talent pool. What is it like being one of four blind actors in Hollywood?
Marilee: 04:26 Well, the thing is we're not the only blind actors though, so you know, MFA programs are very, one, they're extremely difficult to get into. Two, they're extremely expensive. Three, you know, blind actors may have auditioned, but the level of discrimination and ableist thought in the conservatory and university settings is profound. So there are blind actors out there that have just taken different routes. They've trained on their own in acting studios or in you know, undergrad programs or have just learned it by going, so I'm not one of only four. There's blind actors out there. It's just we happen to be the most trained. So how does that feel? Yup. Go for it.
Clark: 05:15 I was just going to ask, and you touched on some discrimination. Have you faced many challenges throughout your 25 year career?
Marilee: 05:24 Of course. I mean, we could, we could spend hours just on that topic alone. The first cold read audition I ever went on, I was told that if I couldn't read the script, I didn't belong on stage and I was excused from the audition. The first movement class for actors that I signed up for, as soon as the teacher found out about my vision, she unenrolled me from the class and told me that she couldn't teach people like me and that it just, the work was not for me, so I had to fight to get back in the class. And so there's been a lot of proving. I mean, even going into the master's in fine arts program, I distinctly remember the head of the program asking me before I got in, can you do what the sighted actors can do because we can't change our pedagogy to adjust, to accommodate for you.
Marilee: 06:08 And I, and so throughout, in terms of training throughout, I would always have to say, well, yes, of course. I had no idea what the classes were going to be. And often I would be excluded from the classes or I'd have to fake it or I would have to find ways to adapt myself. So a lot of that energy that I could have been putting directly into the work was going into adaptation, was going into advocating or just being excluded altogether. So it's, I mean, it's, it's rampant through the training schools and studios. It's really quite incredible in terms of the industry. I mean, like, sure, of course. I mean, I have, it's all little stuff. It's not just huge stuff. It's little stuff.
Marilee: 07:01 It's like when I go into an audition and I say, oh gosh, you know, I need, if this is a cold read, I need to get there early. I need to get the sides ahead of time. And it's the, the sighs, it's the "[sigh] oh god". Yeah, fine. Okay. It's the it's the jokes that are made about being a diva because I'm asking for accommodations. It's the straight up denial of accommodation saying it's not fair to the sighted actors for you to get something early. Going in, especially with TV and film, you know, it's having a long career on stage theater. Like, you know, my theater community knows me as a bad ass. Like they don't, they just, my art is actually what's respected. As soon as I started doing television, literally all of a sudden I started getting patted on the head going, oh my goodness gracious look at what you can do. The patronizing action in television is really extreme. It's a lot about well we're so lucky that we can give you an opportunity to be here rather than, we're so lucky to have your art form here.
Clark: 08:24 Throughout your career, have you noticed the opportunities available to blind actors? Has that evolved and changed or is it more of the same?
Marilee: 08:34 It's literally changed probably in the past year. I mean, there have been blind roles out there, but they've never been given to an actual blind actor. So I would say that it changed about a year ago, but even a year ago I mean you know, roles are given to sighted actors, and many of those roles given to sighted actors, so things are changing. Especially with the other disabilities. You know, the other disabilities, and this is just pure honesty, they're ahead of the game. They've been fighting the fight for a much longer time than blind and low vision actors have, you know, blind and low vision folks are just now, I mean, I've been in the fight for 25 years, but in terms of like organizations in the larger whole, they're just now getting into the fight, whereas other disabilities had been in this conversation for a very long time. So they're further along in terms of their representation on TV. But there is more, there are more opportunities and there are more allies now. And that is key. So it's just keep pushing the needle, keep pushing the needle and don't stop and say, well, we've made it this far. Let's go and congratulate ourselves. You know, we gotta keep moving.
Clark: 09:51 One of the things we hear a lot when working with organizations in the theater, TV, movie spaces, well we have these roles, but we don't have anyone to fill them. You know, we don't have blind actors or actresses to fill these roles, but pretty soon thanks to some really cool work that you're doing, that's not going to be an excuse for much longer.
Marilee: 10:16 No, it's not. And I want to address that question because you have to think about why, why are there not fully trained actors out there? And what ends up happening though is there's a lot of finger pointing. So the industry points to, well, there's no talent pool and the university and conservatories say, well, there's no representation on television. There's, it is a complete circular argument. And everybody is participating in the exclusion. Because when you don't cast, when you don't take risks to cast people who actually have disabilities, and to see that on screen, you are teaching audiences that it's not possible. You're teaching blind and low vision people that it's not possible. You're teaching conservatories that it's not possible. So the industry has to take ownership, has to take responsibility for not actually taking risks and casting people because that's going to teach the conservatories, Oh, there's actually jobs there.
Marilee: 11:17 We should, we should let those people, we should actually encourage those people into our programs because they can actually have a career. But right now people are actually saying, there's no jobs for you, so we're not going to accept you into our program because our program is elite. And we put out actors who get jobs. That's how we there's, there's a word for it. You know, that's, that's where our cache is. So, but in terms of the program, yes I mean, I feel like I'm tired of the excuses. So you, we're, it's about time to actually just sort of like put the stick down and go, it's time for change. And it's not just time for change. Like not just, I should say it's both giving actors the opportunity that they've never had before and also showing the industry that if you actually put in a little effort to innovate your techniques, true, brilliant artists are going to come out and contribute to the artistic landscape as a whole. And this is what you've been missing this whole time. So it's, I'm seeing it from both ends. This training program that I'm putting forward is, is really to, to change the whole landscape across the board. Do you want to talk more about it?
Clark: 12:38 Absolutely. And this program is called the Access Acting Academy.
Marilee: 12:45 Sorry, I'm so excited about it. I keep cutting you off.
Clark: 12:47 I don't want to get in your way. You're a force to be reckoned.
Marilee: 12:52 So the Access Acting Academy is, is basically an Academy that I started, okay. That is going to house a lot of different programs going into the future. One program that we're launching with, which is going to be part of the Access Acting Academy, it's just, it's going to be one offering, is the five week training program for blind and low vision actors. It's five week, it's full time, it's six days a week. And it's absolutely professional training. All the faculty that are involved are all master's of fine arts faculty. They are the best of the best in Northern America. And that was the agreement that I made with myself is that if I put, if I actually created an Academy and created a program, the actors that would come in would benefit from the highest caliber of training. None of this like, oh my cousin teaches acting at the local high school. Come on in. I'm not, I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the best of the best.
Marilee: 13:48 So this program is and I've been thinking about this for so long because I've experienced so much training on my own. And also I started coaching and teaching actors about 15 years ago, including blind and low vision actors, but all actors across the board. And I found that, that the training that exists right now, you have to think about who created that training, who created movement training, dance training, voice training. It was all created by people with the full sense of sight, full sense of hearing and full mobility. So that training right now is taught through the lens of fully able bodied for other people with full sense of sight, full sense of hearing mobilities and cognitive abilities. So this training actually, and I've been working really, really hard at this because it's, it's hard.
Marilee: 14:40 It is the bias that is in, that is woven into the fabric of the training is quite intense. So this training I'm actually pulling out all the visual bias and I've been working with my collaborators to do that. It's not easy, but it's quite incredible so that we can get to the core of what this training is about. And that is developing what is innately inside each person so that it can expand and be expressed. And these people, any person can go out and be an amazing storyteller. So this program is acting. It's movement, it's voice, it's devising your own work. You know, the actors are going to be creating their own work. It's embodiment. It's going to be a little bit of dance, authentic dance. It's going to be, I'm actually leading advocacy. There'll be advocacy workshops every single week because as a disabled artist, you have to learn how to advocate for yourself. That's just a given. There's going to be an entire week.
Clark: 15:49 I was just going to say, and you mentioned that this program is, it starts very early in January of 2020, 5 week course. I also love that in the fifth week you included some time for the participants to give back. So not only are they giving themselves through their art, but they are giving of their body and soul as well to the community. That is, that is awesome. But we also have an important date coming up here at the end of November. So, and that is the deadline for applications and submission. So where do we find out more? How do we apply?
Marilee: 16:32 Yes, yes. Please apply. Please apply. The deadline to apply is November 30th and this is for, you can go to www.accessaccessacting.com, www.accessacting.com. Everything's there. And this program is not just for actors that are already in the process, but for beginners who never thought this was possible. Who, if you hear about this, if you're listening to this and something inside of you sort of awakens and says, maybe this is for me, apply, apply, invest in yourself. Apply. This is for people too that were acting for a while and gave it up because they started losing their vision and are interested in maybe engaging in this again, apply, come work with us, apply. So the deadline to apply is November 30th. It's in two weeks. You'll find out if you're, we're accepting 12 students. So the individual work that you're getting is amazing. There's at least two to three teachers in every single class.
Marilee: 17:35 And yeah, so you'll find out pretty quickly after you apply if you've got in. And then the program runs from January 6th to February 7th in Los Angeles in this amazing theater. Oh my God, I just saw the theater last weel. It's amazing the space that we're going to be in. It's really going to be incredible. I'm so excited about this. And there's the possibility that a documentary will be done about it because this has never been done before. Ever. So a case study is going to be done about this and we're looking at some, a documentary being done about it as well. So apply, apply, apply!
Clark: 18:12 Wow. And for those who attended the ACB convention in Rochester this year, they got a small taste of what is in store at this acting academy. So I'm sure that there are folks out there who got the bug who have the itch. Yes. And I'm sure that many ACB members will be checking out accessacting.com to learn more. Marilee I'm also excited that in this program you are including advocacy and you, you mentioned how important advocacy is for someone to create new opportunities or even show what they can do with their education and training and to have people give them a chance, a chance that they rightfully deserve and that they have earned. Talk a little bit more about the personal advocacy that you've done to basically will this program into existence.
Marilee: 19:13 Oh my gosh. Oh Clark, this is a big one.
Marilee: 19:23 This is like, I feel like the advocacy, you know, I didn't set out to be an advocate. I set out to be an artist and advocacy, you've just sort of learned that you have to advocate for yourself as a blind low vision person moving through an industry where there's no one like you, there's no role models. So I think the thing that I've been developing over time is this idea that I have to be more courageous than I think I am because I often have to speak up in places where people have more power than I do, more status. And I have to ask for things that I need to do my job. And I have to be willing to step into places that are uncomfortable. And what I mean by that is when there's certain, there's certain instances where I, I have to point out that what's happening is not right or I need things. People get very uncomfortable with that. They don't like to be challenged. And especially in the Hollywood industry.
Marilee: 20:48 It has been, there's you, I have to, I mean, all I can say is that I have entered into unprecedented areas and I have to just keep doing a lot of self care around this. Meaning I have to take care of myself because I'm engaging in conversations that are very, very difficult that people often don't want to have. And I do it because I want to pursue my art in a free way and I also know deeply what ever visibility I have. I have to give back to the community, I have to crack, I have to kick open those doors that are behind me because I can't be the only one. So, so often I'm saying yes, you did that and more, more, more because I feel like often as blind, low vision folks, there's a lot of like, oh, thank you so much. And then we'd stop. We're afraid to ask for more. So in this advocacy I've been saying, this is great, you did this. Now we need to take 10 steps further. And you know as, I don't know if you experienced this, but I know throughout my life people have often said you have to be patient and you have to accept reality. And my answer to that is always whose reality do you want me to accept, yours?
Marilee: 22:14 Because yours is smaller than mine, yours will always be smaller than mine and I'm not willing to be patient like you are because you are not directly affected by what is happening in my world day to day, moment to moment. So it's not, I'm not saying that I'm impatient, but I'm saying that I take action as often as I possibly can. So that's, you know, and the advocacy takes, takes forms in so many different ways. It takes forms in one on one meetings, it takes forms in you talking to large groups of people, it takes forms in me just being an artist and doing the best I possibly can and being great at what I do and people going, oh wow, I didn't know that was possible. So it all comes back to being courageous and saying yes and more. That's kind of my philosophy around this. I said this once too that if the world doesn't have a large enough vision for you, you have to create that vision for yourself and you have to go after it with everything you have. And you cannot wait for the world to catch up to what you know to be true about yourself. Do not wait for the world to catch up. You have to live that yourself. Then they will follow you. Then the change will happen. But you have to be that change.
Clark: 23:47 I mean this speaks to something that I think most, if not all of our listeners have experienced in their lives in some way, shape or form. Whether it's access in the classroom or accommodations in the workplace or being a parent and standing up for the rights of their children. You know, some folks look at the, the work that's being done in the entertainment industry or with audio description and they're like, why? Why does that matter? Why are we spending so much time and energy on this? It's because it's important and it's those people that it's important to who are on that, that vanguard and that leading edge. And they're the ones that once they make a, just a huge stride forward like you've done here with the Access Acting Academy and getting equal and accurate representation on TV and film screens, shows other people that it's possible in the same way that somebody getting a law degree or becoming an engineer or an architect or you know, elected to public office shows others that it's possible and teaches, teaches the world around them that this is what we should expect.
Clark: 25:23 You know, we shouldn't have this patronizing low level bigoted bar of expectations that, oh look, you walked in the room. That's, that's such an inspiration. So Marilee thank you so much for sharing this and I really hope that you'll come back to the ACB convention next year and either hold another acting class or share with folks the successes from this program. And...
Marilee: 25:57 I'm - sorry, keep going.
Clark: 26:00 I just wanted to put it out there again that folks, this is at this point, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we hope that there are more opportunities like this in the future. But you know, count, count your blessings that Marilee and others have worked so hard to will this into the universe. Again, applications are due by November 30th.
Marilee: 26:29 And I should say it's tuition free.
Clark: 26:32 Yes.
Marilee: 26:33 This, this training, honestly, and I'm, this is not hyperbole, the cost of this training would normally be over $10,000 per person. This is tuition free. Yes. You have to provide your own housing and travel, but you don't have to pay for the study. Apply, apply, apply.
Clark: 26:55 Yes. And apply at accessacting.com. Did I get that right?
Marilee: 27:02 You did. Yes.
Clark: 27:04 And apply by November 30th. And again, the course is in January, runs five weeks January to early February. So it's a pretty quick turnaround. But for, for those who want it and want it badly enough, it's being served up on a silver platter. So Marilee is there anything else you'd like to add or if people want to find out more, if they want to see the work that you've done? They go where, where should they watch?
Marilee: 27:32 Well, so I'm on a show right now called "See" on Apple TV. I'm in the first few episodes. I'm very, very proud of the work that I've done on that show. I'm very proud that I get to be one of the few actors authentically represented on that show out of the hundreds and hundreds of actors. So you can watch me on "See". This past year I've been on NCIS, SVU, New Amsterdam. You can go to my IMDB page. You can also go to my website marileetalkington.com and you can just follow me on Instagram as well, anartistwarrior, A-N-A-R-T-I-S-T warrior, anartistwarrior on Instagram and Twitter. Come follow me. Yay.
Clark: 28:25 Well, again, Marilee thank you so much. We'll include the Access Acting Academy as well as your website in the liner notes for the podcast. And we hope that folks from this course are next, your next costars.
Marilee: 28:44 Oh, amazing. Yes. Oh, and there's one more thing, the fifth week of the program, so I'm sorry, I know this is going a little bit long, but the training itself is unprecedented. Here's the thing, that's the kicker that last week, week five is a business week. We're going to be introducing you to casting directors, industry professionals, and the pipeline for casting that's going to come out of this program is quite simply, it's just never been done before. So actors that come out of this program are going to have immediate opportunities to audition, to audition for stuff, which is incredible. So this is, this truly is, what did you say? Serving it up on a silver platter. There you go, people, there you go. No excuses.
Clark: 29:31 That's right. Well, Marilee thank you so much for speaking with us today and sharing this awesome program and for sharing your personal advocacy story to make this all happen.
Marilee: 29:43 Thanks Clark. Thanks for the time. I appreciate it.
Clark: 29:46 And as we always say at the end of our podcast, hey, everyone, keep advocating!