Saturday, December 29, 2012

Politics threatens the homes of Russian orphans

I am a member of District Six in Little People of America.  The district includes Illinois and Wisconsin.  A few years ago, through LPA, I met a couple that lives in Wisconsin.  The couple is average stature.  They are a part of LPA because of their daughter, who is a dwarf and who is from Russia.  The couple had adopted her.  The first time or second time I met the couple, they told me the story behind the adoption.  According to the story they told me, the orphanage was very surprised that the couple was interested in a girl with dwarfism.  Officials from the orphanage said something like, "are you sure you want her?"  In other words, the orphanage meant, "are you sure you want to adopt a child with dwarfism?" 

But in addition to the girl from District Six of LPA, there is also Tatyana McFadden, a Gold Medal Paralympic Athlete.  She spent the first few years of her life in a Russian Orphanage before she was adopted and she moved to the United States.  In the United States, she trained to become a World Champion Athlete and her advocacy led to legislation that has opened up high school sports to athletes with disabilities. I am sure that there are examples of children in the United States who are put up for adoption simply because they have a disability. But so long as there are children in Russian Orphanages, or orphanages anywhere in the world, and there are adults who want the opportunity to give those children a good home and the chance at a good life, it would be a shame if deserving parents weren't given that opportunity.  That may be the case in Russia.  According to a story from The New York Times, Russian President Vladimer Putin just signed a bill that bans the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Evidently, the ban is retaliation against United States efforts to punish human rights abuses in Russia. 

Last year, 1,000 Russian children were adopted by US citizens.  When the bill goes into affect, it is sure to impact some would-be US parents now in the adoption process.  According to same New York Times article, there are around 120,000 children in Russia eligible for adoption.  There are bound to be good homes for those children, whether it be in Russia or in other countries.  But it is tragic to think that some of those children may suffer the loss of a good home because of politics between Russia and the United States. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Radio City style evolution

I was Louie the Elf in the Chicago production of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in 1997 and 1998.  Before a show in 1997, a few of the other elves and I were sitting in our dressing room as some of the dancers from the cast made their way to the stage. At most, the little people cast in the show were in three scenes.  A few of the little people were in just one scene, "Santa's Workshop."  Hence, the little people, myself included, spent a lot of time just sitting around waiting for our scenes.  That's what we were doing that day in 1997 when the dancers filed past our room.  One of them, looking in at us, said something like, "Don't forget to smile."  In a way, the comment was disparaging and disdainful.  While in order to be cast for the show, the dancers and Rockettes needed to be skilled performers, the little people didn't need much skill.  We just needed to be able to move around, and to smile.  That's not to say some of the little people in Radio City shows aren't talented.  Some are very talented.  Some have moved on to act in mainstream movies and theater.  But not much skill was needed to play Louie the Elf, or any of the other elves.  When the dancer made the comment, it was as if he resented us for having it relatively easy on the Radio City set.  If the dancer did have an issue with the elves, he wasn't the only one.  Others have disliked the role because they believe it objectified little people.  Considering we were cast simply because we were little people, there probably is some truth to that belief.

For many years, Little People of America had a working relationship with Radio City.  Radio City would recruit elves at the National Conference.  In 2009, because of concerns noted above (around objectification), the organizers of the national Little People of America Conference didn't invite Radio City back.  After the 2009 conference, Little People of America as an organization passed a resolution that would allow Radio City to return to the National Conference only if employment recruiters from at least three other industries (non entertainment industries) also participated in the conference.  To this point, that has not happened. 

Radio City still performs in Chicago.  For the past two months, once a week while I shop for groceries at the Jewel Food Store, I hear advertisements for the show blasted over the intercom system between songs.  Every time I hear the advertisement, I think of my two seasons with Radio City.  Unlike Peter Dinklage and his triumphs in show business, I made no constructive contribution to awareness around little people while I performed as Louie the Elf, though I did have a very good time. But if I were looking for that same good time today, I wouldn't be able to find it.  A few weeks ago, I found a review of the Radio City show in the Chicago Tribune.  To my surprise, the article indicated that elves are no longer part of the show (for whatever it's worth -- neither are live animals).  I am sure there is no connection between the fact that little people are no longer a part of the Chicago show, and that Little People of America hasn't hosted auditions since 2008.  After all, I am almost positive that the Radio City show in New York still casts elves.  And I am sure Radio City has resources besides LPA Conferences to recruit little people.  Nevertheless, Radio City must have made a conscious decision to no longer include little people in the Chicago show, and perhaps other shows.  For whatever reason the decision was made, I can't help but feel everyone involved, or not involved, is a bit better off with the revised Chicago show.  At least when it comes to the Rockettes, the critic for the Tribune seemed to think so, writing But, "in general, they are more dignified in the 2012 edition of this show than at any of the other 10 times or so I've seen them out there kicking."