Below is an interview with actor, director, producer, and activist Diana Elizabeth Jordan. Diana recently participated in the 2019 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge as the director of “I Can,” a short science fiction film.
Check out all the entrants from this year’s challenge: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOhZ4i5Tnk3hUD4BAlu5-WmeLSeY1xkue
Disabled Film Directors: Interview with Diana Elizabeth Jordan
Tell me a little about yourself!
(Laughing) I sometimes like to describe myself as a multi-passionate artist. I am an actor, director, producer speaker, artist educator, disability inclusion activist and entrepreneur. My favorite role however is being Aunt Di to my nephews James (11) and Jordan (8).
As a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity Association, can you tell me how you got started as a professional actor?
I have known that I wanted to be an actress ever since I was a little girl. I don’t think I have ever really wanted to be anything else. I did theater in elementary school, high school and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Theater and Media Arts from The University of Kansas. I started my professional career doing theater in Chicago and work in Chicago Theater until 1998 when I got accepted into the MFA Acting Program at California State University Long Beach. Since receiving my MFA, I have been working in film, theater and television here in Los Angeles and also working as an acting coach and instructor at Performing Arts Studio West.
You’ve had roles in both television and theater. What kinds of roles and characters do you want to play and has it been difficult process becoming known to casting agents, producers, and directors?
It has always been and continues to be important for me to play roles where my disability is incidental to the character or storyline and I feel very grateful for the opportunities I have had working in film, television and theater. Networking and building relationships with industry professionals be they producers, casting directors or directors can be challenging but through networking events, social media pages and other entertainment industry events, I have built some nice relationships with casting directors, producers and directors.
You are also a producer and director–what do you like about these roles that’s different from performing?
Both producing and directing are empowering. As I have stated earlier it is important for me as an actor to ensure disability is a visible and inclusive part of The American Scene. Directing and producing allow me to do that on a much larger scale by giving me the power to make choices of how I want my cast to look in terms of cultural and disability diversity. I have for the past 20 been working as an acting coach at Performing Arts Studio West (a professional training studio for adults with disabilities). It was not only a wonderful opportunity to cast the majority of my film from the performers with disabilities (Jennifer Bevans, Areceli Avila, Zuely Johnson, Patrick Storey and Delvin Williams) who study there but I was also able to work with two of my co-workers came one as well Lindsay Johnson (PASW Dance Instructor and Choreographer) who also acted and Alexander Tovar (Music Instructor, Production) who was our editor.
Please tell me about your involvement in this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge as a director.
I have been involved with The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge for the past 5 years and have worked with producer, director, writer Cory Reeder as an actor in each of the films he has produced, several which have won awards. It was while working on Ain’t Woke with Cory last year that I began to think more and more about directing. I have been directing live theater for years but never film. When I mentioned to Cory last year that I wanted to direct, he was very supportive and encouraging. For me directing is a natural expansion of my comfort zone on my journey as an artist.
Well, I honestly don’t like to give away too much but I will say this our genre we were given was science fiction and we used that genre to tell the story of our lead character Ellis (portrayed beautifully by Jennifer Bevans a singer and actress who also has cerebral palsy) finds her power within.
What are you most looking forward to during this 55-hour period where you and your crew will write, shoot, edit and post a video online for this contest?
Getting everything done on time (laughs). Seriously though it can be a bit of a pressure cooker but I also want to have a good time while we are doing it, So that is the most important thing to me work hard but also make sure there is lots of laughter too.
How have you prepared in collaboration with your crew?
There is a lot of pre-production work that goes into preparing for The Challenge, and collaboration is the key. So for example I had meetings with Sara Garth, my DP (director of photography) to find out how she liked to work. I wanted to know what she needed from me in order to support her in doing her job.
Why is it important for disabled people to be involved with all aspects of film production?
Dialogues regarding diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry are continuing and for there to be true inclusion that must include representation of disabled artists behind and in front of the camera.
What do you hope people will come away with after watching, “I Can,” the film you directed for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge?
I hope audiences are entertained by a really good story told by an inclusive and culturally diverse cast.
Do you have any advice for disabled people who want to be involved in filmmaking and directing but not sure where to start?
Live your dreams and define what success means to you. Sometimes you just have to start. It is easier than ever now to create your own content. You can write something, film it with your smartphone upload it on youtube or vimeo and get your family, friends to watch it. Your journey as an artist, will not always be easy, there will be challenges and setbacks, frustrations and probably tears. But there will also be moments of joy and surprise beyond what you ever could have imagined and those moments will make all the hard stuff worth it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?
I first want to thank our producer Cory Reeder, and all of our wonderful cast and crew with a very special shout out to our special guest star Mather Zinkel. I also want to thank our location hosts Besant Hill School in Ojai (Kristen Kashub) 60 Out Escape Rooms (Brian and Kim) Hollywood United Methodist Church (Melissa) Anya Colloff (Casting Director).
I really believe this is a very exciting time for disabled artists in the entertainment industry. Since the beginning of the year I have seen more of my fellow performers with disabilities working than ever before. Currently we have Ali Stroker an actress who uses a wheelchair portraying Ado Annie in Oklahoma! on Broadway, a recent episode of NCIS New Orleans featured several actors with disabilities in co-star and guest star roles and the episode was written by a disabled writer [Katherine Beattie]. There are still times when the progress we are making feels like two steps forward one step back but in the past few months I feel like we have taken a huge leap forward for disabled artist and I believe being a part of the Easterseals Film Challenge is a part of that leap forward.
Diana Elizabeth Jordan
Diana enjoys wearing many artistic hats. She is an award winning actor, a producer, director, a speaker-storyteller, artist educator and disability inclusion activist Since the beginning of her career, Diana is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity Association. She has been cast in over 50 plays, film. and television and was most recently seen on CBS’s hit show S.W.A.T.
Diana was first actress with a disability (cerebral palsy) to graduate with a MFA in Acting from California State University Long Beach and is featured in Liliana Moldovan’s Eroii Imposibilului, a book featuring multi-disciplined artists with disabilities.
Diana launched her EduTainment Production Company The Rainbow Butterfly Café in 2015, with a mission to eradicate disability stigmas, othering and limiting beliefs through performances and the expressive arts.
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