Navigating campus with the assistance of a cane, David Austin doesn’t ask for special assistance and certainly not sympathy.
“I want people to see me for my abilities, rather than my disability,” said Austin, who has cerebral palsy.
An aspiring teacher, the 42-year-old college junior tries to lives live as normally as possible. The Greenville native transferred to USC Upstate last year after earning his associate’s degree at Greenville Technical College. He said while it would have been easy to go to USC Usptate’s Greenville campus or to commute each day to school, Austin says it’s not his style. He wanted to be active on campus.
“I auditioned for the Shoestring Players last year and was I was cast in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’” Austin said. “It was just a small part, but it made me feel like I belonged.”
That small part has now landed him a bigger role. He’s been named the technical advisor the Shoestring Players production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” which opens on November 12.
The play set in the community of Inishmaan off the western coast of Ireland, a Hollywood film crew’s arrival is set to make a film about life on the islands. The one person who wants to be in the film more than anybody is young Cripple Billy to escape the boredom, gossip and isolation of his own life.
Austin said he was blown away by the opportunity to coach student-actor Christopher Smith of Goose Creek, who will portray young Cripple Billy, and to work alongside the cast in crew in helping them to gain a better understanding of life with a disability.
Jimm Cox, director of the show and also a professor of theatre at USC Upstate, said that Austin was a natural fit for the job of technical director.
“This play is a look at people and how we treat them,” Cox said. “Some people treat young Cripple Billy differently because of his disability. They don’t see him as other-abled.”
Cox said that during the course of the play, Cripple Billy desmonstrates that he has more abilities than many others in his village because he has the desire and the will to do something more.
“Given what I know about David, he lives that way every single day,” Cox said. “He wants to do more, he wants to help make this a better world and he doesn’t ask for any special treatment in return.”
Cox said that Austin will help bring a new perspective to the show in not only for the cast, but for those who will attend the show.
“We take for granted the full physical aspect of living life,” Cox said. “We don’t see the obstacles of getting around campus and of doing things we do every day. David can give us that perspective.”
Austin has been attending rehearsals each night and working with actors to help them to understand what he goes through on a daily basis.
“Every day is a struggle to get out of bed,” Austin said. “I’ve lived with that every day of my life and I just have to walk it off and get on with my day, my life.”
But Austin said he hopes that at the end of the rehearsals and at the end of the run of the show, he hopes people will have learned something about those who are disabled.
“I hope that at the end of this experience, people realize the obstacles I’ve overcome – doctors said I would never walk without the assistance of braces and that maybe I would need a wheelchair,” Austin said. “And maybe they will realize the abilities and gifts that we all have, despite our differences.”
Performances of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” will be held at 8 p.m. November 12-14 and 3 p.m. November 15 in the Performing Arts Center.
The cast includes: Erika Montgomery of Taylors as Kate; Candice Bryant of Greenville as Eileen; Robert Wendover of Spartanburg as Johnnypateenmike; Christopher Smith of Goose Creek as Billy; Jacob Wilson of Union as Bartley; Kacy Winterhalter of Spartanburg as Helen; Gabriel Troski of Spartanburg as Babbybobby; Alastair Mann of Spartanburg as Doctor; and Howie Jordan of Greenville as Mammy.
Ticket prices are $8 for general public and $4 for USC Upstate students, faculty, and staff.
For tickets, please contact the Performing Arts Center Box Office at (864) 503-5695 or email your ticket requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Box Office hours are from 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.