By Zach Labbadia
It goes without saying that the acting market is highly saturated, which makes it a very competitive creative profession. Besides connections and talent, to achieve any success you must have an identifiable brand or anything that would make you unique in the industry.
Last year, when I started doing serious work on developing my acting career with a growing consulting firm, I did not consider identifying what would help me stand out to agents and casting directors. I also held some doubts about my acting potential due to me being autistic, and that there would be no chance that I would “make it” professionally.
But, in recent years, we are seeing more autistic talent on stage, film, and television. Mickey Rowe had his career breakout as the first autistic actor to play Christopher Boone in Syracuse Stage’s production of Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime. Kayla Cromer and Coby Bird also appear in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay and Locke & Key respectively on television. The entertainment industries are finally making more of an effort to include disabled talent and further diversify the casting process.
But despite this change, I was hesitant to broadcast my diagnosis and market myself as a disabled actor. “Why” “You can actually stand out!” a consultant said. I am not really ashamed of my diagnosis, but besides not wanting to be type-casted in the long term, I had some trepidation about how I would be treated behind the scenes.
We have also seen the spectrum mostly portrayed negatively and by non-autistic actors. One example is Sia’s controversial directorial debut, Music, which came out recently. In the film, “Zu,” a nonverbal autistic teenage girl is portrayed by Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical actress. In response to the valid backlash on Twitter, Sia callously told an autistic actress who would have portrayed “Zu,” that “maybe [she’s] just a bad actress.”
What made me change my mind? I understood that character type can change the longer I work as an actor. There are also a lot of household names out there that I never knew are on the spectrum, from Henry Wrinkler, to Anthony Hopkins, to Daryl Hannah. Very recently, Elon Musk opened up about his Aspergers’ diagnosis while guest-hosting Saturday Night Live. Finally, I realized that the stigma thrives in silence and that dehumanizing perceptions by the public are the result of the media’s portrayal of disabled persons.
Today, I run a YouTube channel where I not only share my reels, but also videos detailing my experiences as an autistic man now living independently in the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. I also
upload a monthly Zoom interview with disabled actors, including TriBeCa nominee Samantha Elisofon, Little Voice’s Andrew Duff, and Conor Tague. Not long ago, I became a member of the acclaimed neurodiverse theater company, E.P.I.C. Players, where I have performed in two of its virtual cabaret fundraisers with Elisofon and Tague.
I know I am more than just my diagnosis, but I am no longer reluctant to embrace it as a part of my personal brand as an aspiring performer. I am a stocky,
Zach Labbadia is an aspiring autistic actor currently based in Astoria, Queens. He received his B.A. in Theater Arts from Clark University in 2016. In 2019, he acted in a independent short film, “Winning Streak,” that recently completed its post-production phase. He has been a member of off-off-Broadway’s E.P.I.C. Players since September 2020 and performed in two of its cabaret fundraisers so far.