On the Stage with Rachel Handler

January 28, 2024 00:58:04
On the Stage with Rachel Handler
Disability Empowerment Now
On the Stage with Rachel Handler

Jan 28 2024 | 00:58:04

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Show Notes

S3 Ep 18: Rachel and Keith talk about stage life, starting with how they met on a musical theater production. Rachel talks about her experience on stage as a performer, how her career has taken off and the ups and downs of the musical theater industry. They recount memories of performances as well as stories of everyday life including relationships. Rachel talks about her passions about being on stage and how her career has taken her to some amazing places. Find the transcript here.  Disability Empowerment Now is produced by Pascal Albright.
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Episode Transcript

Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now, season three. I'm your host Keith Murfee-DeConcini. Today I'm talking to Rachel Handler, who is Disabled Actor, Writer, and artist living in New York City. Rachel, welcome to the show. Rachel Handler: Thanks for having me, Keith. Happy to be here. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Thank you. So, I was just thinking this morning how we met. And the only place I can think of is that we met in 2019 at the probably only Theater Breaking Through Barriers in person workshop that I will ever do. Does that memory place. Rachel Handler: Yeah, I think that's where we met because it was definitely 2019 before the pandemic hit just a few months before. Yeah, that was such a cool experience because we got to develop completely new plays in the span of one week. So yeah, and I loved the play that you were in. I can't remember anything about it now, but I remember really enjoying it at the time. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah, I don't remember the title, but I was the son of an Irish, Italian mafia boss who secretly hated his father but stuck around because he had a trust fund through his father and Anne Marie played the opposite boss. She was either the Italian or Irish boss and then I remember the only improvisation I did is, the ending of that play. I'd say a line, and then that closes it. But, on a whim, I just did a malicious laugh at the end of the character finally having enough, being his father's lackey, and the laugh signified that the character was happy that his father finally got his justice he deserves. Do I still have the script? No but, yeah, that was a very interesting start to my career with Theater Breaking Through Barriers. How did you find out about them? Rachel Handler: Oh gosh, I think, I heard about them like 10 years ago when I first became an amputee because I was looking for other artists with disabilities to connect with here in New York. Because I really like, I didn't know what a prosthetic leg even looked like. Like I had no idea what my life was going to look like as an actor with a disability. Even 10 years ago, there was so much less representation than there is now. I remember seeing Aviva Drescher on the Real Housewives of New York City and that was like my first introduction to someone with a prosthetic leg. And luckily now. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So you just admitted that you're a watcher of reality TV. Rachel Handler: Oh yeah. I used to watch Real Housewives all the time while I was working out. Now I do a different type of workout. I lift heavier weights and I don't really watch TV while I do that anymore. I listen to music to pump me up. But yeah, when I was like just running on a treadmill or like lifting lighter weights, I would just totally watch Real Housewives all the time. It was such a guilty pleasure. But yeah, the representations are a lot better. But, 10 years ago, I met Anita Hollander. And she's very involved with Theater Breaking Through Barriers. So she introduced me to the company and yeah, I haven't really worked with them much at all, but I have done that play festival, twice, I think. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Playmakers Intensive. Rachel Handler: Intensive. Playmakers Intensive. Yes. Yeah, it's a very cool experience because I had been focusing more on film and TV work, so to jump back into working on a play that's written and rehearsed all in the span of a week is such a cool experience. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So how did you get on Broadway Plus, the website where you can pay for one-on-one chats, scene workshops, song workshops with other actors all on and off Broadway. And I've met a lot more people there and when I became an actor, because I just do it as a hobby. It's not my calling and that's why I put it in quotes. I used to go on there and just peruse the different head shots because that's the important tool to use. And then I stumbled upon your profile and I was like, hey, I know that woman. So tell me, how did you become involved with them? Rachel Handler: You know, it's so funny. I met someone who works for Broadway Plus at a fundraising event for Broadway for Arts Education which was founded by a friend that I went to college with because I went to college for musical theater. And now this friend Ben Houghton, he started Broadway for Arts Education and it's an incredible nonprofit providing music classes and yeah, just arts education in general to schools in New York City and India and they used to go to Haiti. So, they're doing really amazing work and I sang at one of their fundraisers with another woman who happens to work for Broadway Plus and I think Broadway Plus was trying to be more inclusive and work with artists with disabilities and get their profiles out there. So she asked if I wanted to be part of it. And I said, yeah, absolutely. Even though I can count on like one hand, the amount of times I've been asked to audition for a Broadway show. So it's frustrating and the one other person I know who's on that website, who also has a disability, did most of his work before he became disabled. So, you know, I think Broadway has a long way to go. Like most of the time if you're on Broadway and you have a disability, I think a lot of it, there are a lot of invisible disabilities and people don't wish to disclose that. And I totally understand because there's such a stigma against disability. But then you have, like, the one standout, Ali Stroker as Annie on Broadway, and that role wasn't written for a disability, and she was incredible in it. And we haven't seen that really since. People performing as you know, roles that aren't written with disabilities, but just happen to have disabilities. So that's frustrating. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Have you actually read your profile on Broadway Plus because I read it and I was like, as an advocate, I was like come on, guys, stop using inspiring over and over and over and over again. There has to be a better word to use than inspiring. Rachel Handler: You're making me really want to look up my profile now because I don't remember seeing that. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Wow, okay. I hope I'm wrong and I'm having a fever dream or something. Apologies to Broadway Plus who are not a sponsor. Rachel Handler: Oh, that's so funny. I'm going to look at my profile right now because I'm like, what do they have up here that is inspiring over and over and over again? Because I don't think there's anything wrong with the word if someone's actually doing something inspiring. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah, yeah, and that's very, very true. It's just having that word be the default word that people subscribe to disability. Like, I can be going to the liquor store. I don't want someone to say, oh, you're inspiring, could you want alcohol? Yes, I happen to be over 21. That's why I can buy alcohol. Rachel Handler: Right. Okay, so I'm looking at my Broadway Plus account now and they do say Rachel Handler is a force of nature and then at the end they say she is a true inspiration. So, I'm actually okay with this because they list all my credits and like things that I've done, you know. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Again, apologies to Broadway Plus. I've actually zoomed the CEO or the executive director Nathaniel and he's very, very nice man, his vision is so wonderful. And so, what are you doing with yourself nowadays? Have you written any more work? Are you coming out with a memoir, a children's book, I mean I will just keep rattling off things. Rachel Handler: I don't know if I'm ready for a memoir yet. But after winning the Best Writer in the Disability Film Challenge this year for my movie musical, Unlucky in Love, I decided to start working on a new TV pilot that has been sort of ruminating in my head and I'm like, finally putting it on paper. Because I have written a holiday Christmas movie and I've written another pilot with a co-writer, but this one is more for me, it's my voice and it's very fun and I hope it doesn't piss off too many people because it's tentatively titled Cripping Up and it's about a disabled actress who decides to fake a few more disabilities to play Helen Keller in a new Broadway musical about Helen Keller. So it's ridiculous. It's silly. It's fun. There's a lot of, you know, learning about how ableism exists within ourselves as well as in society. So there's a lot of heartfelt moments that are just wrapped in a ridiculously silly situation. So, I'm having a lot of fun writing that. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah, you better be with a title like that. It better be hilarious. But yeah, I mean, I've seen a lot of disabled advocates and activists reclaim that word Crip. Rachel Handler: Well, with Crip Camp, I feel like that really set the tone for like, we're taking this word back. Yeah. Yeah. It started with taking back the word disability, disability pride. Now we're taking Crip. I love this movement. Yeah. Actually, I have a sign. You can sort of see it in my mirror there. It says, Not Today, Ableist. It's just hanging on my wall above the window. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Please send me a copy of where you got that, because that is brilliant. Rachel Handler: Yeah, I love that one. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, you mentioned at the top that you became an amputee later in life, would you mind telling us more about that? Rachel Handler: So I became an amputee from a car accident like 10 years ago. And at the time I was really focused on singing and musical theater and getting on Broadway. That was always the goal, but it's been really hard because well, my first audition back, I sang my song and you know the music director and director were like, wow, that was beautiful. We'd like to invite you to call back but it's dancing so ha ha ha and sort of laughed me out of the room and I don't think I hope that wouldn't happen now, although I'm sure it does. But, that sort of set the tone and I was like, okay, I don't want to feel this way in auditions anymore. So a feature film asked me to audition, just through a self tape. And this was like nine years ago at the time. And I was like, whoa, how does this work? I'm just going to film this on my phone at home. So I sent my audition in and they offered me the part and that was my first film gig and I had the best time doing it. It was Smothered by John Schneider who is of Dukes of Hazzard fame, and it was a very silly horror comedy. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: With a title like that, it better be a comedy. Rachel Handler: Yeah, yeah. So, from there I started booking co-stars and guest stars on shows like Law and Order, NCIS, New Amsterdam. Last year I did an interview with The Vampire and I feel like TV has been a great outlet, a great source of income, and I'm always striving to be the disability representation that I want to see. So there have been auditions that I've been a little like, oh, I don't know if I want to do this. It's an angry military veteran role or, you know, something stereotypical or like it's on a show where they have someone who is playing a disabled actor, but not an actual disabled person themselves. And like, I just feel like I want to choose work that is going to be gratifying to my soul, not only to my bank account, and I feel like it's a privilege to say that too, but really, that's the space that I'm at and I just want to make art that's going to be meaningful and expand mindsets to envision disability as something that's not in any way a detriment to society, but something that is just a part of life. And on that note, I'm very excited to play Ani in Cost of Living at Philadelphia Theater Company in February. So I'm gearing up to get ready for that production. And it's just, yeah, it's such a brilliant play and it's got me thinking a lot about my own experience with disability and tapping into the vulnerable, angry, messy parts of you know, that process of sort of grieving my old body and coming into this new body. So, yeah, there's so many stories about disability that we need to see that haven't been seen yet. And I'm excited to be part of that change. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So talk more about what you just said. And I saw Cost of Living in 2017. Remarkable. Ingenious. Dark play, but it serves more than one purpose, for sure. But you just said something that I want to hear more about. Grieving your old body and accepting your new one. And you said earlier that you didn't really know what a prosthetic leg was. What was the adaptation of getting to know your new leg, learning how it works, using it to dance, to swim everything under the sun. Rachel Handler: I think, you know, my first big lesson in becoming disabled is that the healing is not linear. Like I thought, okay, I'm out of the hospital. I get my leg, I heal and learn to walk again. That's it. And it’s so not that. It’s like, okay, you learn to walk again, then something happens to your leg and you need another surgery. And then you need to heal again, and then you can walk again, and then your back starts hurting. And then, you know, it's like recovery is never linear. So that was the big lesson that I learned within the first two years or so of becoming disabled and then I think, I'm also just coming to terms with, like, the anxiety that comes along with having a physical disability as well for me but that mental shift like, oh, I can't get to the city today because I can't wear my legs so. But I have to be there for work. So how am I going to navigate that system? You know, because of a lot of anxiety and frustration. And then like, as I'm exploring the cost of living as an actor and as a human, I'm realizing like, I honestly did not want to connect with this character or this play when I first saw it six or seven years ago. I found it kind of depressing and kind of, like I didn't want to see any parts of myself in Ani's character since she is so brusque and so angry and so North Jersey, you know, which I can't say because I'm such a Jersey girl I grew up in South Jersey, went to school in Central Jersey, lived in North Jersey for the longest time, but, yeah, it was very scary to tap into those parts of myself that I had sort of locked away from becoming disabled from my accident. I just didn't, I didn't ever want to get angry about it. I didn't want to go to that place. And so seeing Ani get angry and pessimistic and allowing herself to feel those feelings really scared me but I think it's something that we all need when we go through a trauma or a hard time, not to push those feelings aside, but to acknowledge that they're there and use them however, you need to use them without getting stuck in them. So in a way, looking at this play now that I feel like I've sort of aged into the character and mentally prepared to take on this role, it's actually been very healing and really nice to explore that journey for myself from the trauma of becoming disabled to now, sort of embracing what life is going to be like, and also knowing the end of the play not taking any moment of life for granted. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah, yeah, Rachel Handler: Yeah, yeah. Oh, so I mean as an actor, there's like no better gift than getting to work on this role for the next few months and perform it. I'm really, really excited and I feel like I've seen. I'm sort of growing into my own as an actor as well and I think that's also what's very frustrating about this business, is I feel like I'm the best actor I've ever been. And yet, auditions are so slow. Like, I'm not getting the chance to audition for anything, basically, you know? So, it's a very frustrating industry because you can be on the top of your game, you're in classes, you're doing the work and you're not getting the opportunities and there is no balance in this industry. I was just talking about this with one of my acting coaches. Like you think, oh, well, last year I did an interview with The Vampire. I was in a ton of new play readings. I was in an off Broadway play that got amazing reviews. And like, I thought my career was on fire and then it was crickets, nothing. There is no balance in this industry. And that's hard to accept sometimes because you want to internalize it and be like, oh no, what did I do wrong? What's wrong with me? And it's not you necessarily. It's just the industry, just the way it is. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: And that's very true, and I've heard that countless times from my acting friends, but, how did the acting bug bite you? Was this always what you wanted to be? Because I know I went through wanting to be a dancer, a firefighter, an astronaut, because I wanted to see the earth from not being on it, police officer, the whole gamut of things. Would I be good at any of those jobs? Absolutely not. But I mean, I was a kid. You go through phases as a kid creatively. I never really imagined myself as an actor but my parents bathed me in Broadway. Once I saw Phantom of the Opera, Le Miserable, and Cats I was sold, but I never envisioned myself as an actor, I never envisioned I would see disabled actors on stage. How did the acting bug bite you? Rachel Handler: Well it bit me when I was young, and I was never able to shake it. I started singing when I was like five, and I never stopped. Everyone was like, oh, you have such a pretty voice. So I kept going and I did a lot of community theater. I did all the high school plays. I went to college for musical theater. And then even after my accident, even after I got laughed out of the room, after my audition, I was like, I want to still do this. How do I still do this? You know, it wasn't something I was ever able to shake. So sometimes I'm glad that I stuck with it. Sometimes I'm like, oh my gosh, why didn't I just go back to school for like, to be a physical therapist or something, you know? Because it's hard. It's mentally draining as much as it is physically exhausting. But I just love it and I almost feel like now as a writer, because I started writing shortly after my accident. I just feel like I have so much to say, and there's so much that I want to change in this industry that I don't want to leave it. I want to help be the change and be the progress. And there is great progress. Like, I often joke that I got hit with the wrong disability because a lot of times the disability specific roles that I'm asked to audition for are like, so not my type like I mentioned before, they're like the angry military roles because of my leg. And I'm like, would this be the same if I were like, deaf or if I were in a wheelchair, or, you know, I feel like we get typecast based on our disability at times. It's so frustrating. And it's like If you're going to do that, then you have to open up just every role to actors with disabilities because it's so rare that the right person with the right disability is ready at the right time for these roles that are so specific. Then people are like, well, I couldn't find someone with a disability to play this role. And it's like, well, can you shift it a little bit to fit you as an actor with a disability, you know, like if you're picturing a character who's blind and you search the world and you can't find what you need. Well, maybe consider changing the character or just like, you know, like, let's be creative here. Let's not just fake the disability then, you know, like, look at what they did with All the Light You Cannot See. I think that's what it's called on Netflix and they found a gorgeous actor to play this gorgeous role and it worked brilliantly and yeah, Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah, they did that with the Hulu movie Run. So they can do it. They know how to do it. It's just not done consistently. You mentioned earlier that being an actor is mentally and emotionally draining because of all the preparation, the auditions, not getting the parts, not even getting the auditions, et cetera, et cetera, infinity. What keeps the passion alive for you, though? How do you not constantly, or how does anyone not constantly get burned out? I mean, New York is like an actor's mecca but there are so many actors or inspiring actors in New York City. How do you keep the passion alive for a grueling job? Rachel Handler: Honestly, I think it's community. You find your community and you stay in classes and you don't do it for fame or fortune, you do it for the artistry. And that is the only way to keep this burning in you. And some people get lucky. They move to New York, they book an off Broadway show that transfers to Broadway, they send in a self tape for a leading role, and they book it, and they're just perfect for the role. And not to diminish that kind of talent, because it's talent, but it's also like, right place, right time. And it's incredible. I'd say that happens to like, practically no one. It's like winning the lottery. So if you want to be an actor and you want to be in it for the long haul, find your community, make your own content, be in classes and just stay consistent with it. Sorry if my dog is barking. Is that distracting? Keith Murfee-DeConcini: No, no, I mean, my dogs a barker too, and every time I do an interview, which is a lot these days, I always put her outside in another house because, I mean she will just bark at random things like dogs do. But you mention you have a dog, a puppy. And we were talking before and you just got married this past summer. Congratulations. Is he an actor? I literally cannot remember from years ago. Rachel Handler: Well, it seems like 2019 was yesterday, but it actually was four years ago. So, yeah. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: I'm sorry. I should not assume that, that’s the guy, but it's like that. Rachel Handler: Well, it is, but you're right. You're right. It is. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Well, I'm glad because I remember doing a comedy bit sporadically with you and your then boyfriend. I can't remember anything about it. We were all in the hallway to leave. So yeah, is he an actor? Rachel Handler: No, he's not in the industry at all. He's in computer programming and computer security. So very different career fields and it works for us. I mean, sometimes I'm like, oh, I wish that he would want to, like, read a scene with me. And he does very kindly. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Okay. Okay. I was about to have a heart attack during an episode. What, he doesn't read scenes with you? Come on! Rachel Handler: I know, I know, he does. But, you know, I think that it can be amazing to be with someone who is in the same industry as you and you can complain to each other and they totally get it. And then I think it can also be really helpful to date someone who's totally different, you know, and we're still finding that balance of we have such different tastes in TV shows, video games, music, our careers, like finding ways to come together. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Wait, did you just say video games? Rachel Handler: He's very into video games. I'm not so much into video games. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Oh well. Yeah, yeah. I just don't hear that mentioned a lot that is why my antenna, my gaming antenna popped up. How did you two meet? Rachel Handler: We met through an app called Coffee Meets Bagel. I think it's still around because I know my cousin had success with it. That's how he met his wife. And I was like, I was on Bumble. And I did not really like meeting great guys on Bumble. So I tried Coffee Meets Bagel. And it's funny because I was about to get off the app. I was about to be done with dating and he just joined the app. So like luckily we matched right in time. And, yeah, that was back in like 2017. And we hit it off for a while there I was traveling. I was going to LA to film Goliath and then I was in New Orleans to shoot NCIS. And so I didn't get to meet a lot of his friends right away and they all thought I was like the fake actress from Canada like they never got to meet me. But finally, finally I could prove that I was real, and we were actually dating. But yeah, I always liked it. I was very blessed to be working so much when we first met, but it did make it challenging to like it almost felt like we were in a long distance relationship even though we lived in the same city. But then, of course, after working a ton, there was radio silence for a while. And that's when we really got to know each other. So, yeah. Yeah. And he got a right off the bat, he got a crash course in this is what it's like to date an actor. They might leave town for months at a time and then come back and be depressed that they're not getting auditions and work again, but also happy to stay in town with you. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Yeah. Well, good. I'm glad he passed that crash course too. So what brought you to New York? You mentioned you were from New Jersey, but L.A., Boston, why the Big Apple? Rachel Handler: Well, I had only seen myself doing theater up until my accident. So I wanted to be in the city where there's the best theater in the world. So New York City seemed like the perfect place. Especially because my family's in New Jersey. South Jersey so it's still like two and a half hours from the city. But, you know, I wanted to be on the same coast as them and I just wanted to be surrounded by other artists and other theater makers. In New York City you've got Broadway, you've got off Broadway, off off Broadway, you've got play workshops, readings, so I felt really immersed and I love New York City. And I, you know, after my accident, I got curious about LA. I've been to LA quite a few times. Most recently, I went to Holly Short's film festival because they screened one of my films. And I do love LA. It just doesn't feel like home and it's always on fire. So I was like, I don't know if I could ever completely live here full time, but part of me does want to live on the West coast at some point in my life. So I don't, I have a special soft for LA also love Chicago. I booked something in Chicago that I had to turn down to do the cost of living. And I was really sad because I would have loved to be in Chicago. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Oh, Chicago the musical. Rachel Handler: No, Chicago, the city. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Oh, yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Rachel Handler: I mean, I love Chicago because it's got like, it's like the comedy capital of the world, like a second city and the improv is amazing. And I would have loved to have gotten to live there and do this show but just the timing didn't work out. And I've also been very lucky to work a lot in New Orleans. A lot of the bigger TV and film stuff has actually been in New Orleans that I've booked, which has been really cool. And I love that city. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: You wouldn't think that if you weren't in the industry, but a lot of stuff happens in New Orleans. Rachel Handler: Yeah, New Orleans, Atlanta, very happening for TV and film work. Yeah. Yeah. And I love New Orleans. It's the most unique city I've ever been to. It's gorgeous but also like a hurricane scares me. I don't know if I want to live there full time, you know, So, yeah. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So you mentioned at the top you found Theater Breaking Through Barriers through Anita Hollander, who I know and I interviewed this season. We're also on the board of Theater Breaking Through Barriers together. Not to toot my own horn here. How did you come across her? Rachel Handler: Honestly, I think it was just a Google search. I was laying in bed after my accident and I was googling actors with disabilities, actors who were amputees wearing prosthetic legs, and she was like the first one to come up on that list. She's been such a, she's been in this industry for so long. She's been an advocate. She's an incredible performer. And I really feel like she has paved the way for so many of us. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm just thinking now about the actress on La Brea, there's a TV show and she wears a prosthetic leg and she's like the leading role. There's a lot of opportunities now for people with limb differences, specifically. I mean, again, a lot of the opportunities are military, mad and sad and angry characters, but you know, like that on La Brea is an example of just a daughter, you know, living her life and I think she has to try to save her family. I'm not, I haven't seen the show. I feel like I should, but yeah, I think that's a good example of just writing a character with a limb difference as just a human, you know? And I think that's really special and that's what I would like to see more of. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: If you couldn't be an actor, what job would interest you? What would bring you fulfillment? Rachel Handler: I mean, I want to say writer, but that feels like cheating because the two sort of go hand in hand for me at this point. So definitely a writer. If not that, I really, I almost went back to school for physical therapy to become a physical therapist. I think that would have been a really incredible career choice because I love working with other people with disabilities. I love strength training, lifting weights and helping others to like find their comfort level within fitness. So, yeah, I think being a physical therapist would have been my next go if I weren't in this industry. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So just a few questions wrapping up, and thank you so much for your time and for rescheduling it for later in the week. What would be some tips that you would give aspiring actors who are just starting out in this industry and specifically on how to avoid or minimize the effects of burnout, or exhaustion because that's a very real thing that happens constantly. And as someone who just does this as a hobby, I can't fathom how actors handle the burnout and exhaustion on a weekly, maybe even a daily basis. Rachel Handler: Yeah, I think the rejection contributes a lot to the burnout and frustration in this business. So I would say the number one way that I combat that feeling is by not comparing myself to other actors. And that is so hard to do, but I found that the more I compare my career and my trajectory to someone else's. The more I feel hopeless and burnt out and useless and frustrated, so I try to just focus on being in class, improving my work, writing, learning new scenes, keeping myself busy in creative, artistic ways, rather than letting my mind wander into, why am I not good enough? Why am I not booking this? You know? It's so hard to do, but I always go back to reminding myself of why I'm in this industry in the first place. And that is to make work that matters to me and play characters that matter to me. And it's not for, it's not for the fame and the money. And it's really just for fulfilling my own artistic heart and needs. And I honestly don't make a living off of being an actor. I just don't, you know, I think my residuals this year were like less than 2, 000 and I haven't booked a TV job this year. So it's like, I do this for the love of the craft and I do it for myself, really, you know, because I really don't, I can't think of myself in any other profession. Like I didn't go back to school to be a physical therapist, even though I could see myself doing that for a reason, because this is what I love to do. And luckily I have side jobs that are within the industry that can pay my bills. Like doing dancing flash mobs and teaching piano and voice lessons and public speaking about disability inclusion and awareness and resilience. So I have side jobs that pay my bills that are in the industry, but not doing exactly what I want to do, you know? So that's where I'm at. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Do you still sing and how much? Rachel Handler: I do. I started singing a lot more in the past two years because I did an off Broadway play and that really inspired me to start my singing career again. So I've been singing a lot more, but not getting auditions for musicals. I'm really sad about that because I would love to, like I did get to audition for Camelot on Broadway and I felt like I submitted a good tape, but you know, it was to play the role that Phillipa Soo was playing so I'm like, well, I can understand why they would go with her, but why can't I be in the ensemble? What's wrong with having a woman with a prosthetic leg in the ensemble? Tony Lopez was in the ensemble and did an amazing job with the prosthetic leg. You know, I've been singing for a long time and I know my voice is great. So it's like frustrating because sometimes I do feel like I was, I have the wrong disability for my type, Keith Murfee-DeConcini: If there are any aspiring activists or advocates who want to make this advocacy their career, but aren't sure how to get started, What would be some action steps you would provide? Rachel Handler: There is no straightforward way to go about being in any artistic industry. As an advocate, I advocate through my art. So, if I do want to get involved politically, there are other organizations and people that I turn to like Imani Barber and Crutches and Spice. Or the amputee coalition of America, but I advocate through my artistry through my scripts through my acting projects. So if you want to be an advocate and you are also an artist, I would say, get an actor's access profile, start auditioning, start writing your own content, you can start on social media, you can start with short films, but that's how I advocate, and a lot of times my scripts are very subtly advocating for accessibility or inclusion in some way, sometimes not so subtly, but one of the scripts that, won me a Sundance award is called The A Doesn't Stand for Accessible, and it's about the subway system in Queens and how they did, like, multi million dollar renovations. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Shocker. Shocker. Yeah. Oh, yeah, please, say that again. What you just said about the Queens subway and doing all the big renovations, but mixing them up with accessibility. Rachel Handler: Yeah, so my script is called The A doesn't Stand for Accessible, as in the MTA, and it's about how they did multi million dollar renovations to the subway system in Queens and Astoria, and yet one station is accessible in all of Astoria. And I find that very frustrating because people with suitcases, people with baby carriages, people on crutches. How are they going to get around without an escalator and elevator as well, you know, so it's not just to benefit the like three people who use a wheelchair every day at that station, although it would be a huge benefit, it's to benefit millions of people. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, I hope and I'd like to think that both people with disabilities and people who have yet to discover or embrace their own disabilities listen to this podcast. But it would be incredibly naive for me to think that both groups take away the same things from each episode. So as my guest, what do you hope that people with disabilities will take away from this episode? And what do you hope that people who have yet to discover all embrace their own disabilities take away from this episode? Rachel Handler: Sure, I hope that people with disabilities see that their voices are so so needed in the entertainment industry. And if, you know, you're someone with a disability, if you have a place in this industry, you absolutely do. It won't be easy, but you do. And you are very needed. And for people without disabilities, I hope that you see in me a person who is ready, willing, and able to work and has lots of stories to share and would be an asset in your writer's room, in your play, whatever it might be. We exist and I think it's important to think about being inclusive with all of your casting choices. And with all of your writing, you know, if disability isn't integral to the story, you can still cast someone with a disability. And if you are thinking of including a disability, and you're worried about making it a specific character or a specific storyline, there's nothing wrong with consulting with someone with that disability. Doing your research and then if it's too specific, you can broaden the scope a little bit. I mean, be creative. That's what we're here for to be creative. So, I hope, yeah, I just hope you think about adapting your mindset to something that's going to be meaningful and helpful in society. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Do you have a website or a way people can find out more about you, contact you, that you would be willing to share? Rachel Handler: Yeah, my website is rachelahandler.com, and my Instagram is @ bionic brunette. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: So, does the A in your name stand for accessibility? Rachel Handler: No, but it should! Keith Murfee-DeConcini: I just had to go there that was too good of an opportunity to miss. I would have been kicking myself the rest of the day if I did not do that. Rachel Handler: Yeah that was great. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Rachel, I can tell you how much I've enjoyed talking to you today and I'm going to be in New York fairly soon, although, when this episode airs, I'll already be back here. And I would love to see you again. I really hope you know, you're always welcome to come back and share more of your artistry, your passion, and the work you do. It's very much needed, and I look forward to following your career, or continuing to follow your career more closely. Rachel Handler: Aw, Keith. Thank you. If it's good to catch up with you. Keith Murfee-DeConcini: Thank you. Have a happy holiday. Rachel Handler: Thank you. You too. Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest, You, our listener and the Disability Empowerment Team that made this episode possible. More information about the podcast can be found at DisabilityEmpowermentNow.com or on social media @disabilityempowermentnow. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. Don’t forget to rate, comment, and share the podcast! This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2024.

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