By Walter Greene
As an actor and writer, Toby Al-Trabulsi is well acquainted with storytelling–but when it comes to working on a podcast, he’s found himself in new territory. Speaking with him, I got the chance to hear how his time with the True Tales by Disability Advocates podcast team has compared to his work on stage and script, as well as some of the finer points on why True Tales is important to him and his work with sharing stories.
Toby first found his passion for acting in high school, but his love of storytelling goes back to childhood.
“I used to read a lot when I was a kid. My first love was reading. It wasn’t necessarily writing. It was stories.”
Just as Toby’s love of reading came less from its medium than what it represented and offered–a space to experience and share stories–his path to acting was led by a desire for a place to share with others, not just a spotlight.
“I didn’t go into acting with the pursuit of acting. It was just for community making and new experiences and trying something new. It was just by happenstance that I ended up loving it.”
Following high school, Toby was referred by his school’s drama instructor to join an acting company for actors with disabilities, TILT. He’s been a part of the company ever since. After his many years as an actor, Toby is looking for new creative avenues.
“The thing that drew me to podcasting is it was a new medium to explore, and I had never done it. I was interested in what that would entail, and it entailed a lot. . . It’s been great.”
Toby now has a new place for his love of storytelling and community in the True Tales by Disability Advocates working group. But just as with any new territory, he’s had to learn as he goes.
“I think podcasting is one of those things that takes time to build up to like music. . . . The thing that I’ve learned the most is that you’ve got to be in contact with everybody, more so than in theater or film. You’ve got to be constantly in contact with your team. It’s a very accountability-driven kind of thing.”
Podcasting has led Toby into new roles as well. As an actor, Toby is quite familiar with being the one on display, and his work as a host on True Tales has offered him a chance to bring that focus onto someone else.
“It was actually quite refreshing. After going on so much time performing, it was nice to take a step back and just relax into not that passive role, but that role of being there to let someone else take the spotlight a little, or take the mic I should say. . . It wasn’t as hard as you might think. I’ve been listening to people talk my whole life. Talk at me, talk to me, talk down to me. But once I took the choice to let them speak–not to sound controlling or anything–but once I made that decision that I was just going to let them speak and I’d just be there for them and not have to speak because I don’t have to, it took a lot of pressure off. It was really nice.”
Through reflecting on this new role, Toby brings awareness to a broader notion about listening to stories of disability.
“I think that there’s this feeling within the disabled community that disabled folks don’t listen to each other. There’s lots of micro-communities. I think that we as disabled folks need to just get better at hearing each other, hearing our stories. Even though we’re all in different micro-groups and different communities, I think we can just hear what each other’s experiences are like, even within the disability community. Because I have multiple disabilities myself, and if I really thought about it that would split me between multiple disabled groups. But that’s not the important part. I am a person with disabilities, and all of me is important, just like the rest of my fellow podcasters are important and their stories.”
This horizontal separation within the disability community is often ignored in the face of the oppressive, top-down marginalization that disabled people as a whole face. But for a community that already faces so much prejudice and injustice, internal solidarity is crucial.
For more to consider, Listen to Toby host the episode of True Tales, “Life on Wheels,” with guests John Beer and Kristen Gooch. Keep an eye out for his performance in the upcoming short film, Sign Here, a story on time, barriers, and second chances, as well as his ongoing work with the TILT performance group.