Kitty Lunn, a classically trained dancer who became a paraplegic 13 years ago and went on to resume her acting career and become an activist for equal employment opportunities for People With Disabilities, has received the Rosetta LeNoire Award presented by Actors' Equity Association. Sharing the honor is Infinity Dance Theatre, a non-traditional company for dancers with disabilities and non-disabled dancers beyond the age traditionally associated with performing, which was also founded by Ms. Lunn.
The award, an engraved silver tray, was presented to Ms. Lunn’s husband, Andrew Macmillan, at Equity’s Membership Meeting on Friday, April 2, 2004 (Ms. Lunn could not attend due to illness, but was hooked up telephonically). “I’m so delighted that Andrew is there to accept my award,” said Kitty, “ because Andrew is probably the most important member of Infinity Dance Theatre – he makes the wheelchair that I dance in. I couldn’t do all of the things that I do, if he didn’t do the things that he does on my behalf.”
“It always seemed to me to be important and worthwhile if you are the one who makes a mark on the riverbank as you float along in life,” added Macmillan, “so your brothers and sisters who are upstream get a chance to navigate by the marks that you’ve made. That’s what Kitty has done. Long after we’re all gone in this room, Equity contracts will carry language that she not only wrote, but also fought to get into the contracts. It was not a theoretical exercise - it was a practical political exercise that she carried out with distinction.”
The Rosetta LeNoire Award was created by Equity in 1988 to recognize theatres and individuals that have made significant contributions toward increasing diversity and non-traditional casting in theatre. The award was named for Rosetta LeNoire, not only for her body of work in the theatre, but for founding the AMAS Repertory Theatre Company, an organization committed to maintaining an interracial company of actors.
Kitty Lunn is a former Councillor of Actors' Equity as well as a Board member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and a member of the Tri-Union (AEA, SAG, AFTRA) Performers with Disabilities Committee. It was through her leadership that contractual provisions securing the rights of actors with disabilities, and bringing the contracts into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, were negotiated into the Equity, AFTRA and SAG rulebooks. Ms. Lunn also led the struggle to have actors with disabilities included in the definition of non-traditional casting. It was largely due to her efforts at the bargaining table, at industry meetings and in public forms, that contract provisions have been achieved by Equity ensuring that required audition material will be made available, upon request, to blind or visually impaired actors 48 hours before an audition; that should deaf actors be sought, the producer will provide sign language interpreters; that if auditions are held in architecturally inaccessible locations, and an actor with mobility impairment wishes to audition, a separate audition will be provided in an accessible location; and should a role be disabled specific, the producer or theatre will notify Equity so that actors with similar disabilities can be notified of the opportunity to audition.
Ms. Lunn also served on the board of Hospital Audiences Inc., an organization dedicated to providing access to the arts to culturally isolated New Yorkers, and was Director of Services for Persons with Disabilities for the Actors' Work Program.
As an actor, Ms. Lunn continued to perform, appearing in The Chaiken Project at the Public Theatre, All About Me at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, Agnes of God with the Alliance Studio, Shadows to Sunlight at Charlotte Repertory, The Waiting at the Kennedy Center, and in a recurring role on the daytime drama As The World Turns.
Returning to dance, Ms. Lunn found a lack of dance classes open to or even willing to accept people with disabilities. Hoping to challenge people's perceptions of a dancer and to lead by example, she founded Infinity Dance Theatre, which is committed to bring the joy and drama of motion and movement to a new level of inclusion for dancers with and without disabilities. The only rules are that: (1) There must be parity of movement so that it cannot be just the non-disabled dancer doing all of the dancing, and (2) no wheelies (a stereotype and apparatus-driven device) allowed. Drawing on her own training, Ms. Lunn has developed a methodology that relies on a system of movement and balance.
The Infinity Dance Theatre performs all over the world and also participates in teacher-training programs in order to bring the joy and drama of motion and movement to a new level of inclusion by expanding the boundaries of dance and changing the audience's perception of a dancer. Learn more at infinitydance.com.
Remarks by Julia Breanetta Simpson, Co-Chair, Equity’s EEO Committee, from the Award Presentation
Although the Rosetta LeNoire Award officially recognizes theatres and individuals that have made significant contributions toward increasing diversity and non-traditional casting in theatre and, while that is certainly the case with this year’s recipient as well, I feel that equal emphasis and recognition should also be given to Kitty Lunn’s major accomplishments in ensuring contractual protections and provisions for talented union actors that have a disability.
As some of you might already know, Kitty was for many years an Equity Councillor and concurrently served on the AFTRA Board as well as chairing the Equity Performers with Disability Committee, and it was while she served in this capacity that she expanded our definition of non-traditional casting to include not only actors of color, women and seniors but also actors with disabilities, a feat that she accomplished despite some considerable opposition.
And while we still have a long way to go to achieve true equal employment opportunities for actors with disabilities, cast either traditionally, in disabled specific roles, or non-traditionally, Kitty has certainly led and advanced this issue both as an adroit advocate at the collective bargaining table, at industry meetings and public forums but also as an actor. In the former category, Equity, as well as AFTRA and SAG, largely has Kitty to thank for contract language ensuring that required audition material will be made available, prior to the audition, to blind and visually impaired actors, that when deaf actors are sought that a qualified sign language interpreter will be provided and when auditions are held in premises that are not architecturally accessible and a performer with mobility impairment wishes to audition that an alternate site will be provided. In the latter category Kitty’s work on stage and on television, in such diverse productions as THE CHAIKEN PROJECT, ALL ABOUT ME, AGNES OF GOD, SHADOWS TO SUNLIGHT and on AS THE WORLD TURNS, served to remind us that a disability does not affect an actor’s ability to move and enthrall an audience.
However ultimately Kitty returned to her first true artistic calling, being a dancer. Prior to becoming a person with a disability Kitty trained and worked as a dancer with the Washington Ballet and the New Orleans Civic Ballet and, given the fortitude that she has always displayed, Kitty set about the task of placing herself back in a dance class, despite the scarcity of classes that are open to or even willing to accept people with disabilities. Deciding that the only way to make a real difference, and to again challenge people’s perceptions of what or who is a dancer, was to form her own dance company and that led to the birth of INFINITY DANCE THEATRE, which is a non-traditional dance company for dancers with disabilities and non-disabled dancers beyond the age range traditionally associated with performing. INFINITY’S mission is to bring the joy and drama of motion and movement to a new level of parity between the dancers with disabilities and those without a disability and to abstain from the stereotype and apparatus-driven device of having these dancers do “wheelies,” thereby fully integrating all of the dancers into the emotional core of the piece. Drawing on her own training, Kitty has developed a training methodology that relies on a system of movement and balance for dancers using wheelchairs.
Since its inception INFINITY DANCE THEATRE has provided a host of dancers of a certain age and dancers with disabilities with an opportunity to express their artistry. INFINITY has gained renown by performing, both nationally and internationally, such works as “In Time Like Air” “Hoop-La” “Access” “Fly” and “Last Night of the World.” And it you have never attended a performance by INFINITY DANCE THEATRE then you have truly missed an exceptional and thrilling evening of true dance theatre.
It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to present the 2004 Rosetta LeNoire Award to Kitty Lunn.