Actor and writer Mat Fraser spoke to Lorne Gillies about working on CripTales and the importance of celebrating disabled voices in the mainstream.
Finding romance after amputation, trying to catch a benefits cheat, to grappling with continued rejection in the arts, CripTales is a genre bending, thought provoking – and challenging – series set to change society’s perception of disability.
Even more so, CripTales is getting disabled voices into the mainstream from the initial script all the way to acting on screen.
“CripTales is very exciting because it is a strange new beast that has opened a window of opportunity and realisation in many people, we want to see more from this cast, we want to see more of these people: There are so many great actors out there, so many great stories and so much that society will recognise them being a part of if it includes disabled people,” emphasises Mat Fraser, who curated CripTales and worked as creative director on the series.
Comprised of six, 15-minute monologues about the disabled experience in the last 50 years, CripTales explores everything from disabled women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ with each episode written and performed by disabled artists.
Initially connecting with Debbie Christie (Snatches: eight 15-minute monologues written, created and acted by women), Mat was asked to curtate and be creative director on CripTales – the importance of CripTales’ success was utilising the talents of disabled writers.
“If you want to be authentic you have to have disabled writers, it’s as simple as that. We knew that if we had the writing down on the remit of nothing safe, edgy, exciting, different, weird, unexpected; the rest then takes care of itself,” he explains.
Partnering with disabled writers, CripTales features a cast of disabled actors from Liz Carr (Silent Witness), Ruth Madeley (Years and Years), Jackie Hagan (in her television debut) and more, CripTales is shining a light on the disabled narrative.
Mat continues: “I know how good all the actors are, this is just a glorious opportunity to show the rest of the world how good they are and sit back and let them do their thing.”
With celebrations around the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (replaced by the Equality Act in 2010), the BBC is hosting a month-long celebration of dramas, documentaries, news packages and discussions.
Behind the celebrations, it highlights the fact that, even in 2020, we still need such celebrations to have disabled voices in the spotlight.
“I very much hope these initiatives being set up as part of this special month – 25th anniversary celebrations – will lead to an infusion of disabled voices and faces throughout the organisation on a permanent and mainstream basis, so we don’t have to have these special events, because there will be nothing special about seeing a disabled person on television, or knowing a disabled writer did something, or hearing a disabled newscaster tell us the news: Once that happens, there won’t be any need for special events and that’s what I would strive for,” Mat reiterates.
“I understand and welcome this in the interim as a now needed thing, but I really hope in 10 years’ time we don’t need it.”
In the last week, as WarnerBros film The Witches experienced backlash for their representation of limb differences(LD), to ITV soap Emmerdale featuring a storyline of abortion and Down’s syndrome, to Spotlight’s disability optout, the disabled community has reacted with eloquence, force and awareness to negative, outdated perceptions of living with a disability.
CripTales has been leading the way with their portrayal of disability across the board, but it is evident that more needs to be done in the commissioning rooms to dissolve the idea that disability is something to be feared – as seen in The Witches – or hidden away.
Mat says: “You know whose perceptions of disability needs changing? The only people who need to change their perceptions is television executives who commission dramas.
“The audience already know about disability, everybody already knows, it’s just that [television executives] are scared and hesitant because we’re seen as a risk as, traditionally, audience figures go down when disability is involved.
“I’ve argued time and time again that this is because the way something has been written is in the tragedy model.”
By commissioning the work of disabled writers and creatives and letting their voices lead the way, misrepresentation and discrimination is sure to be a thing of the past. As the world begins, albeit slowly, to wake up to disability representation, when asked about a five year plan, Mat has one I’m sure we can all get behind.
“In the next year CripTales gets commissioned, it takes a year to make and gets broadcast around April/May of 2022; off the back of this at least three of the writers get their own television series commissioned, which takes another year to write and get made.
“Then, some of the star actors will get offered work in America in a bigger series, like something on HBO, Ruth Madeley will no longer be around because she will be in Hollywood by then attacking the film industry,” enthuses Mat passionately.
“In terms of favourite actors, there will be a disabled David Jason; I mean this in the sense that there are actors that the nation just loves.”
Mat adds: “Tom Wentworth who wrote The Real Deal (CripTales), performed by Liz Carr, should have his own television show by now; it is ridiculous. That’s what I’m trying to do, as ever, creating little windows that push people forward into bigger windows.”
The best way we can ever highlight and accurately depict the lived experience of a person is to allow them to have the platform to share their story.
“To disabled writers, I give the following advice: Write. Stop talking about it and start writing.
“You’re going to have to write three or more pieces before you get any good,” Mat fervently advises. “You don’t have the right to a commission just because you’re disabled, but you do have a right to be read if you’re disabled and good.
“All we can do right now is hone our craft and be as good as possible, and then, when you think you have a good product start sending it to production companies.
“Yes, it is unfair that they don’t read our scripts, but as many Black people, women, LGBTQ+ people will have noted before: In order to be seen as half as good, you need to work four times as hard.”
Citing Netflix’s Pose, the show was created and features members of the LGBTQ+ community, able to celebrate, challenge and beautifully articulate the experiences of those living in 1987 New York’s LGBTQ+ scene.
The only way we can change and challenge disability stereotypes is to allow good disabled writers and performers to have their stories heard.
CripTales is enthralling, gripping, humorous, unflinching, and a show that society and the mainstream has been calling out for over the years.
I certainly hope the near future sees more disabled writers, actors, directors, producers, dancers, creatives and beyond reaching the spotlight and red carpets of Hollywood.
“Sorry if that is tough love, but that is truly what I believe now in November 2020 we have to do,” concludes Mat.