Last May, Sarah
was “discovered” by a Columbia University film director. Director Rachel Israel
was looking for someone to play opposite a young man with Asperger’s and
Tourette’s Syndrome in her thesis film. She
had already auditioned 100 neurotypical actresses when she noticed Sarah at the
Jewish Community Center’s program for young adults with disabilities. Rachel
offered Sarah an opportunity few people on the autistic spectrum ever receive:
the chance to audition for a movie. The timing couldn’t have been better
because Sarah had just been rejected from Pace’s very competitive Musical
just wanted to keep you posted,” Sarah announced, smiling like the Cheshire
Cat. “I was asked to audition for a movie.
It’s for the female lead!” Her tone was exuberant, as though the part
was already hers.
nice, dear.” I replied, trying to sound
encouraging. Over the years, Sarah had
auditioned for every camp and school play.
Even at those auditions, where she had competed against other kids with
disabilities, she usually ended up with small parts (if any). How could Sarah—with no professional training
or experience-- have any chance at all competing with mainstream actresses? We’d always been too busy with therapy and
tutoring to pursue acting lessons. But Sarah
loved attention and being in the limelight, and so in spite of all the
rejection, she pursued every audition that came her way with undaunted enthusiasm.
“Rachel says she thinks I’m just right for the
part.” Sarah was beaming
don’t get your hopes up too much.” I
call backs later, Sarah burst through our front door. “Rachel wants me for the part! I’m going to
be the female lead. I gave her your
number. She’s going to call you, Momma!” Sarah was squealing.
Rachel called, I realized filming was going to be a logistical nightmare. Sarah had already signed up to take Pace’s
required Computer Science course over the summer, and had also committed to
volunteering as an assistant at the Learning Spring, a school for young
autistic spectrum kids. Rehearsals and
filming would overlap both these summer activities, but somehow we would have
to squeeze it in.
“Sarah’s thrilled to have this
opportunity,” I told the director. “But her academics have to come first. Unless you’re willing to work around her
schedule, I don’t see how she can possibly do all of this.”
was willing, but I still had my doubts.
you have an awful lot on your plate already,” I reasoned with my daughter. “You have classes, tutoring, homework and a
final exam. On top of that, are you
willing to commit hours and hours of time to rehearsal and filming, traveling
all over the city? Then there will be 6 days of filming, one of them 14 hours
and until 3 AM. You’ll be exhausted. This is a big commitment. Once you make it, you can’t change your mind. Rachel will be depending on you.”
Momma, I want to do it,” my Energizer Bunny replied. “You know I always get my work done, and I
don’t mind being tired. I don’t want to
could I say no?
her word, Sarah juggled all of her commitments. Miraculously, she earned an “A” in Computer
Science course, worked as many hours as Rachel needed, and still managed to
show up on time for her job at 8:15 AM every day.
proud of her then, but now that I’ve seen the film, you could say I’m bursting.
3rd, Sarah made her film debut in “Keep the Change” at the Walter
Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on the opening night of Columbia University’s
Film Festival. From the moment Sarah
appeared with her flushed cheeks matching her pink dress, it was clear to me
that the camera loved my daughter’s face. The way the sunlight fell on her skin
brought out her inner warmth. For
fifteen minutes, Sarah was a shimmering presence on the big screen. But that was just the beginning for our
family star. After the showing, Sarah was photographed and answered questions
with rest of the cast and crew. Then it
was on to a celebratory dinner at P.J. Clarke’s, where she basked in the
compliments of friends and family. Her
twin brother Max came from college in the midst of final papers and his thesis
to see Sarah’s fifteen minutes of fame.
party was over, or was it? A few days
later Rachel told me “Keep the Change” had been selected by Columbia’s students
and faculty for two more screenings, at the university and at the Paris Theatre
for “Awards Night.” After that, the
movie would go on to the Los Angeles film festival in June.
think “our” film could win something?” I
asked, trying to contain my excitement.
gotten good feed-back, so I think it has a chance.” Rachel was soft-spoken, but
I could hear the hope in her voice.
I’ll see you at The Paris Theatre on May 9th.” Was this a dream, or was my grown-up, baby
girl actually co-starring in a film shown first at Lincoln Center and then at
the Paris, where it had been nominated for awards?
night I lived the second half of the dream at the Paris—a beautiful theatre
where I’d always seen great foreign films.
This time I saw six student films and waited to see my daughter’s face
in the fifth. “Keep the Change” was
even better the second time—sweeter and more nuanced—or maybe I was more
relaxed because I knew what to expect.
But some of the other films were also beautifully done, shot in exotic
places like Shanghai. How could I be
The awards ceremony seemed to
last forever. Awards for producers,
directors and screenplays in various categories were handed out to a parade of
strangers. Rachel did not win for best
female director. She must have been
bitterly disappointed. I know I was,
until the very last—and perhaps biggest award—for “Best Film” of the film
festival was called. And Rachel won!
Sarah, her co-star, Brandon , and their friends, leaped from their second row seats to applaud
and whoop with delight as Rachel went to the stage. It was a victory for a director with the
courage and sensitivity to cast young adults with disabilities and bring out
the best in them. What a glorious moment
it was for all of us!
While Sarah’s first fifteen minutes
of film may be over, who knows what the future holds? Rachel is submitting “Keep the Change” to
other film festivals, and she has plans to expand it into a full-length feature
film. Maybe one day Sarah will be like
Marlee Matlin, uniquely qualified by her ASD to play certain roles. A pipe
dream, perhaps. But indulge me, at least
for fifteen minutes.
Labels: actor's with disabilities, ADHD, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, college, family, film festivals, parenting, Tourette's Syndrome