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Robert Ulrich

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Breaking Down Stereotypes

Posted: 06/12/2012 2:48 pm

Often in the entertainment business, when a television series is being cast, one of the critical aspects discussed is "Can people relate to the characters?" Will viewers be able to see themselves? The majority of the populationvcan easily look at a TV show and see elements of themselves represented nearly everywhere. But, for some, who they are is portrayed only in crude stereotypes, if at all.

Throughout the history of film and television, people in this industry have been successful in beginning to break down stereotypes (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) but, unfortunately, one of the last areas to be tackled is that of the disabled community. It's so easy to dismiss the idea of a person with a particular disability playing a role that doesn't require said disability. In the real world, people with all kinds of disabilities work all kinds of jobs. It is our responsibility to open people's eyes to this reality, as well as to make them see beyond the current reality.

I've had the honor to be the casting director of Glee for the past three seasons. This show has granted me the opportunity to cast colorful and distinct roles, such as a deaf choir, a high school football player who is quadriplegic and a cheerleader who has Down syndrome, to name a few. Diverse casting is something I always strive for, but I'm only as good as my producers. I have been so fortunate to work for Ryan Murphy, for many years, who is not only open to diverse casting, but in fact encourages it. One of the many things I admire about Ryan is that he does not write down to his characters with disabilities, he does not pander to them and make them "precious." Rather, he writes them as real people, because they are real people. For example, the character of Becky Jackson, played by Lauren Potter, does not revolve around the fact that she has Down syndrome. She is a well-rounded character, funny, sexy, mean and sweet. She not only possesses good qualities, but bad qualities, as well. She is a human being.

For the past two seasons, I've had the immense pleasure of being the casting director and mentor on Oxygen's The Glee Project. My work on The Glee Project is truly an extension of my work on Glee in that I'm looking for diversity in every area, such as vocal styles, looks, ethnicity and personality. Glee, as well as the first season of The Glee Project have paved the way for such "out of the box" casting which is reflected in the current season of The Glee Project, which includes a young man who is blind, a girl in a wheelchair, a boy with ADHD and Aspergers, and a young woman transitioning into being a young man. However, these young people are part of The Glee Project because of their talent, not because of their diversity. They, mixed with ten other contenders, as a group, reflect the world we live in.

In casting, I feel it is my job to mirror society in a realistic manner with the actors we hire. At the same time, I feel that we in the entertainment industry have the opportunity and even the responsibility to broaden people's horizons to include others who may appear "different." At the end of the day, as cliché as it may sound, we are all members of the human race. Ideally, this fosters not only tolerance but also acceptance. It is often said that our similarities are greater than our differences, but if we are not doing our best to show what the similarities are, what does it matter?

 
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