Dorothy Grace Laity
In early 2014 acting was finally removed from the exempted professions list.
This means that legally, from the application stage onward, it is no longer possible for any actor to be eliminated on the basis of their disability status.
This is fantastic for the industry in general as it forces much more equality than ever before. Unfortunately, the less handy side to that is that it can be very difficult for productions companies who aren't already experienced with assistance dogs to have the conversations they might wish to with actors ahead of engaging them.
In light of this, I have taken advice from a range of leading Irish casting professionals, and have chosen to include this page to give an overview of what having Emma on a production is like, in the hopes of laying the foundations for an open and easy dialogue.
I am available at any time to discuss specifics of having us on a production. Just give me a yell on the contact details here and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Emma in the rehearsal room 2014
Emma in her harness
Since May 2014 I have been working with Emma, a mobility and tasker type assistance dog from Dogs for the Disabled.
She assists me with mobility (replacing the use of other walking aids) and a range of other tasks. Since she is a Labradoodle, Emma is hypoallergenic. For productions overseas, Emma has a passport, but there is an additional step in booking her travel, so please email me if you have any questions in relation to that.
Her legal standing is the same as a wheelchair, which means that anywhere a wheelchair can go, Emma can go too.
Emma does not perform in her own right, but accompanies me at all times, unless the production I am working on is a period piece and her harness means she can't be in shot, in which case, unless it's a tightly closed set, my husband (himself an actor) will usually accompany us to hold her while a scene is rolling, or for an absolutely closed set, she has on occasion, stayed with a production assistant while a scene was rolling.
During our time together, Emma has experienced a wide variety of work environments, from rehearsal room and studio space, through live events (since we've been together, the biggest audience we have worked in front of so far is 8,000 people), to stage, studio, location units and even sound booths.
While Emma typically works with me on vocal commands, we also work in sign between the two of us for those situations in work where silence is essential.
Emma likes patterns and typically picks up lines and blocking about as fast as I do. If something changes during a live situation that has previously been rehearsed, she will sometimes show interest (typically a head tilt and ear prick), but she does not usually anticipate or give away plot.
Her experience of the world is at about the level of a five year old, so if you've ever experienced a well behaved child on your productions, you'll have a fair idea of approximately what having Emma along is like. We tend to find that there's rarely a logistical challenge once folks are used to us (usually takes about ten minutes).