Artists with Disabilities Oral History ProjectArtists with Disabilities in Performance Collage

Propelled by a powerful history rooted in the struggle for civil rights, artists with disabilities are creating a vibrant arts culture which embodies the individual and collective experience of disability. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the interviews in this collection explore the lives and works of seminal artists in dance and performance art. More about this project

See our related project on the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement.

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On Childhood and Creative Development    On Identity Politics     On Artistic Networks

On Art, Access, and Attitudes      On Making Art Happen   

Oral History Transcripts
Lynn Manning Frontis Photo
Photo courtesy of Center Theatre Group

Lynn Manning  Transcript
Poet, Playwright, and Actor

When Lynn Manning, an aspiring visual artist, was shot by a stranger in a bar and blinded, he channeled his creative energy into writing and theater arts. Not one to back away from artistic challenges, Lynn Manning has created a body of work over the intervening years that has garnered critical acclaim. His autobiographical solo show, Weights, which chronicles his childhood and young adulthood in South Central Los Angeles, won three NAACP awards in 2001, including best actor. In addition to his success as a playwright, he has a long list of acting credits to his name. Committed to bringing theater arts education to underserved communities, he cofounded the Watts Village Theater Company and is president of the Firehouse Theater Company, which is dedicated to involving people with disabilities in all aspects of the performing arts. Lynn Manning won the Blind Judo World Championship in 1990, and teaches judo to blind and visually impaired adults.

See Lynn Manning perform

Neil Marcus Frontis Photo
Photo courtesy of Gary Ivanek

Neil Marcus  Transcript
Performance Artist

"Disability is an art — an ingenious way to live," Neil Marcus writes. This award-winning playwright, actor, poet, and performance artist earned national acclaim when he crafted his experiences as a man living with dystonia, a severe neurological disorder, into a powerful staged work. Storm Reading, first produced in the late eighties, challenged audiences to reevaluate conventional ideas about disability and set a standard for performing artists with disabilities. Voted one of Los Angeles’ top ten plays of 1993, it enjoyed a nearly decade-long run. Since then, Marcus’ passionate stance toward life has infused his artistic choices. Believing that "life is a performance," he has cast his creative net wide, participating in a range of diverse projects.

Special Effects: Advances in Neurology by Neil Marcus
See Neil Marcus perform
Disabled Country
Disability Social History Project
Dystonia Foundation

Bill Shannon Frontis Photo
Photo courtesy of Bill Shannon

Bill Shannon  Transcript
Interdisciplinary Dance and Media Artist

Bill Shannon defies categorization. This interdisciplinary performance and media artist has spent his life drawing on his tremendous creative energy to make art happen. Diagnosed with Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome as a young boy, he developed a dance and movement vocabulary informed by his early experience with his disability. Using customized rocker-bottom crutches and a skateboard, he has created a body of work, rooted in street dance, which he has performed throughout the United States and abroad to significant acclaim. Part social critic, part educator, part rebel, all artist, Bill Shannon continually challenges his audiences to question what they think they know.

Judith Smith Frontis Photo
Photo courtesy of Margot Hartford

Judith Smith  Transcript
Artistic Director, AXIS Dance Company

After breaking her neck in a car accident and navigating a difficult period of rehabilitation, Judith Smith — a woman compelled to push boundaries and see what’s possible — found herself intrigued by movement and dance, wanting to explore what her newly disabled body could do. In 1987, she cofounded AXIS Dance Company (then AXIS Dance Troupe), which pioneered physically integrated dance created through the collaboration of dancers with and without disabilities. Under her creative leadership, AXIS has grown into a dynamic ensemble known internationally for its artistic excellence. The company has received numerous prestigious dance awards and has worked with some of the nation’s leading choreographers. Deeply committed to promoting and supporting physically integrated dance, AXIS has also created a comprehensive community education and outreach program.

Greg Walloch Frontis Photo
Photo courtesy of
Patricia Lugo Varela

Greg Walloch  Transcript
Writer and Performer

Greg Walloch, born with cerebral palsy, first began to discover the power of his artistic voice while still a teenager, and now, in his thirties, has achieved wide recognition as a writer and performer. Cutting his teeth within the performance art scene in Southern California in the mid-eighties, he then moved to New York City in 1992, where he continued to hone his craft. He weaves his experience as a disabled man and as a gay man into his work. His solo show, White Disabled Talent, has toured extensively within the United States and abroad. He has a range of film credits to his name, and coproduced and starred in F**k the Disabled, a concert/documentary film about his life.

See Greg Walloch perform

Additional interviews with artists with disabilities, which were conducted as part of the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement project, include Victoria Ann Lewis and Cheryl Marie Wade.
Homer Avila dancing
Photo courtesy of AXIS Dance Company

Homer Avila, In Memoriam

Dancer, choreographer, and educator, Homer Avila, was looking forward to being part of this oral history project, and we were eager for his contributions. He participated in early project planning, visiting with us when he was in the Bay Area. Sadly, Homer Avila died before we had the opportunity to record his story. He danced in New York on Friday night, checked himself into the hospital on Saturday, and died on Sunday, April 27, 2004. More on Homer Avila


This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

National Endowmen for the Arts

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