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The Accidental Advocate

The Accidental Advocate

Associate Artistic Director David Connolly interviews actor George Alevizos about his upcoming appearance in A Few Good Men, and his journey to becoming an advocate for actors with disabilities. David is the only double amputee to have performed on Broadway, and George is the first graduate of a professional theatre training program in Canada who uses a wheelchair.

David Connolly & George Alevizos DAVID:
Hi George! Let’s start at the very beginning… When did you realize you wanted to become an actor?

GEORGE:
The first show I ever did was in grade six – I did Annie. I played Daddy Warbucks and President Roosevelt on alternating nights. And then, I did Grease in grade seven, and then Camp Rock in grade eight. In high school, I was on stage a lot and I loved it.

DAVID:
Sounds like you had some amazing mentors from a very young age. Who inspired you to want to be in theatre?



 

GEORGE:
My high school drama teacher, Mr. Farrow at Martingrove Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke was my biggest inspiration. He was the one who told me to pursue it. And then I auditioned for multiple theatre programs, and chose the joint program at U of T and Sheridan. That's where, I guess, the lack of representation I saw on stage drove me to want to become an actor even more.

DAVID:
Representation. Great segue. As an actor, do you feel a responsibility to be a voice for the lack of disabled representation? Do you have any sensitivity around it?

GEORGE:
No, I'm a very open person. I want to talk about things. I will talk about issues, but also talk about the good stuff in the (performing arts) industry as well. I think that it's important, as somebody who's starting on this journey, to open up the conversation. I don't really have any sensitivity toward people asking me questions about this work.

DAVID:
So here you are, an advocate. Did you mean to become an advocate?

GEORGE:
Not particularly. I graduated in April, and my agent contacted me to tell me that the president of ACTRA wanted to do an accessibility audit across Toronto for all of the different casting houses. And from that moment on, I was an advocate without really knowing that I was an advocate.

DAVID:
For those who don’t know, ACTRA is the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. It’s a Canadian labour union representing performers in English-language media. What happened as a result of your involvement with the accessibility audit for ACTRA?

GEORGE:
I began getting more involved with the council for ACTRA, and then before I knew it, I had a voice at the table. I started working professionally on screen, and now I'm going to be working professionally on stage. It's a new conversation to be had with the theatre companies in Ontario and abroad. I think it’s a really interesting topic to discuss.

DAVID:
What surprises you most about the conversation?

GEORGE:
What surprises me the most is the number of times that I go to an audition and I’m the first actor (who uses a wheelchair) who the panel has ever auditioned. It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air. They've never had this type of experience with an actor with a disability who is trained and able to do the work. It just surprises me how few actors there are – in a wheelchair or with any type of mobility disability. It's crazy if you think about it.

DAVID:
What’s the first step toward creating change?

GEORGE:
It seems obvious but, I think the first step to opening those doors of inclusion is to have actors who are able to do the work and companies who are willing to be inclusive. The more people who see me (or others like me) on stage or on camera – the more it gives other actors with disabilities the drive to go and get training as an actor. I’m a trailblazer by default because often when I go to an audition or get a job, it's new territory for casting directors and companies because they've never really had the opportunity to work with somebody who uses a wheelchair. I think it's really important to open up the conversation so that we can inspire the next generation of performers coming into the acting world.

DAVID:
So, your experience is that you are the first for many of these casting directors and directors. And do you think that's related to the fact that you are the first graduate of a theatre school in the country who uses a wheelchair?

GEORGE:
Probably.

DAVID:
Because that is true, right?

GEORGE:
It is. I think part of the reason why I'm in this place of advocacy is A) I'm a graduate of a reputable program, but also B) I'm the only one so far. It means that I can be an example for other people to make them feel like, “yeah, I can do what I want to do, and become an actor if I work hard and train at it.”

DAVID:
What about appearing in A Few Good Men excites you the most?

GEORGE:
Oh my Goodness. So much! Working with (director) Marti Maraden is going to be incredible. But also just learning from all of the veteran actors that are on stage with me. And, doing a show that has nothing to do with the fact that I'm in a chair. It's just great that I have been hired to be an actor because of my skills. And I get to be a part of this amazing ensemble of actors. I think that that's probably the biggest thing I'm excited about.

DAVID:
And, how do you feel about being cast in a role that has nothing to do with being in a wheelchair?

GEORGE:
Oh, it's great. It's great because there are times, of course, that it's good to have an actor in a wheelchair or with a disability that's portraying what it's like to live with that. But it's also great to get away from that and see the actor and the wheelchair as an actor doing a role, whatever it may be. In all honesty, any actor should be able to play any character. So it's really cool to just do that. And that was something I really enjoyed when I was in university – the fact that I was able to just do these plays, and it had everything to do with my acting ability and nothing to do with the fact that I was in a chair. I was in some incredibly great plays. It's cool because it normalizes the stigma around disability and casting.

DAVID:
It is so cool because I think there's a misconception about inclusion, you know? Like, “disabled people should be playing disabled roles,” when in fact, yeah, that's true. But more important than that, disabled people should be playing any role.

GEORGE:
For sure.

George Alevizos

 

DAVID:
Well, you’re definitely an inspiration. Which performers inspire you?

GEORGE:
People like Ali Stroker (the first actor to appear on Broadway who uses a wheelchair; she won a Tony Award® for her performance in the revival of Oklahoma! in 2019). She's really pushing the inclusiveness agenda in the industry. Also, I really value some of those great Hollywood actors like Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. I've always been in awe of their work. Every time I watch them on screen, I'm always extremely impressed by their craft, and how they’re always working on it and improving.

DAVID:
Well, we couldn't be happier that you're coming to make your professional stage debut in A Few Good Men, George. We get excited about working with young actors who are entering their careers and introducing them to people like Marti, this cast, and this company. We’re also happy to experience that, as a theatre company, disabled inclusion is not hard. I think for a lot of people, there's a stigma around inclusion – that people think it's difficult and expensive, you know? Which hasn't been the case here. It just takes open communication as you said. Like, finding you a place to stay while you’re here took very little effort. People are so willing to help.

GEORGE:
Yeah! It's definitely easier than people think. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money and it doesn't have to be hard. I'm looking forward to living in St Jacobs. I talked to Gail, the woman who’s going to be housing me, and she seems really great, which is incredible. I'm looking forward to working with everyone. It's literally the start of my career. I'm really excited to start this journey.

DAVID:
Well, we really appreciate you being open to this conversation. Anything else?

GEORGE:
I think people being open to having the conversation is what will open the inclusion door for actors with disabilities to work for incredible companies.

DAVID:
I think whether you chose it or not, George, you make an incredible advocate. You are an inspiration already to young people who don't think there's a place at the table for them.

A Few Good Men is on stage at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse from March 4 to March 22. Click here to learn more about the show.  

George has been featured in these other articles regarding his acting career and advocacy:
University of Toronto Alumni Magazine: George Alevizos is changing the channel on representation in film and tv
Toronto Life: It’s time to include disability in the picture

 

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