By Walter Greene
Acting has always been a part of Kristen Gooch’s life. Her mother encouraged her to be involved in the arts from an early age, bringing her to children’s plays at the ZACH and Paramount Theaters in Austin, enrolling her in acting courses, and taking her to craft classes all throughout childhood. In middle and high school, she began to set out on her own pursuit of acting, taking part in school productions and theater camps that exposed her to a more independent side of the craft, one driven by her own passion rather than a parent’s guidance. But with the end of high school and the beginning of Kristen’s studies for her degree in Communications Disorders, her acting practice quickly became lost in her work.
“The curriculum was very hard, it was very medical based, and there really wasn’t a lot of room for creativity because it was more about learning medical terms and different therapy approaches . . . for several years there, I didn’t have a creative outlet.”
It wasn’t until after college that acting found its way back into Kristen’s life.
“After I’d finished college, a friend of mine told me about TILT [An Austin-based performance group committed to creating inclusive theater for people with disabilities]. She knew that I’d done theater and she told me, “Well, you should give it a try.” I was like, “I think those days are done for me,” but she said, “Just try it.” So I figured, Okay, I’ll give it a try, and I’ll just do one theater production. That was seven years ago now, and I’ve done sixteen theater productions this far.”
As far as Kristen’s concerned, there’s no looking back when it comes to her renewed love for theater.
“It was the rush. I forgot how much I missed performing. I liked being able to play a character and not have to apologize for anything that my character did, because that wasn’t me, that was my character. I could interact with the audience. It just becomes addicting–it was this new passion that’s been rediscovered, and I just love doing it . . . I can’t explain it. It’s this rush that just comes over you.”
Kristen’s passion for performance has a new outlet in the True Tales by Disability Advocate’s podcast. As with her acting, this spotlight carries more significance than just satisfying her own desire for the stage.
“I’m trying to make it as an actress with a visible disability–someone who can’t pass–and just talk about the pros and cons of it . . . Maybe someone can hear my story who’s been through a similar situation, and just find a way to keep going despite that. Growing up as a little girl, I went to plenty of plays, but I never saw an actor with a disability on stage, or on television, or in the movies. If it was, that actor was usually played by an able-bodied person. Representation is important, and maybe hearing this story can make listeners out there realize that.”
The True Tales by Disability Advocates podcast is a unique opportunity to hear disabled stories in an incredibly intimate way, with the unrivaled convenience of education through the push of a button. Talking with Kristen, the value of the True Tales podcast as a force for advocacy is brought into full light.
“I think it’s a reminder, as cliche as it sounds, that everybody has a story that needs to be told. I think that it’s important for our listeners to know that when they hear these stories–if they’re members of the disabled community or not–that they’re not alone. Maybe if you even identify as non disabled, there’s someone’s story that you can relate to. That’s the main focus, and also just to give people a chance to think about how they view the world and how they look at the world and how they interact with other people, even if it’s two people who identify as disabled, but might not have the same disability. How do we treat each other?”
If you missed it, listen to Kristen share a story of her own in the True Tales by Disability Advocates episode “Life on Wheels,” available everywhere you listen to podcasts. For more, listen to her host the most recent episode of the podcast, “Girl Power,” out now on all platforms.