Thursday, August 9, 2012

Diversity, the new normal

Leader of the Pack, a web series, celebrates diversity and shakes up what is "normal".  And the creator of this wonderful series devotes himself to creating projects where diversity and disabilities are a way of life.

See the trailer to this great series

Richard Redlin's Leader of Pack Web Series Makes Diversity Normal

Richard Redlin skiing the Rockies - Bob Wolman with permission

A producer and actor with firsthand knowledge of disabilities devotes himself to creating projects where disabilities & diversity are just a part of life.

“Diversity is the new normal,” is the motto by which writer/actor/producer Richard Redlin characterizes the projects he is creating – especially his current one, the Leader of the Pack web series which has recently garnered best actor in a comedy nominations at ITVfest for its leads, Lauren Potter (Glee) and Luke Spinelli. While most of Hollywood winks at diversity by having one or two ‘minority’ ethnicities or disabled among its cast, Redlin courageously makes it his business to “focus on people’s abilities rather than their limitations and to show that we are all so much more than our bodies or the roles that society outlines for us” through his projects like Leader of the Pack, with its Down Syndrome young stars and his dark comedy Legs, which not only starred Robert David Hall (Dr. Robbins on CSI) but featured actors with disabilities playing able-bodied characters with the audience none the wiser.
Though people may think that Redlin’s interest in diversity has more to do with being disabled himself than courage in project selection, Redlin’s fear-defiance was long ingrained him before the accident where as a 22-year old industrial painter, he fell down a smokestack in an oil refinery.
“Before getting hurt,” Redlin explained, “I led a life that made Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise look like school boys. I must have hitch-hiked /drove drive-away cars or cars in general back and forth across the country at least ten times. I would work high up in the steel, painting bridges and smoke stacks during the summer and take off with the first snowfall. Lots of wilderness camping throughout the Southwest. In Colorado, I started work in a dead man's gear down in a hard rock mine setting charges of ammonia nitrate and dynamite, calling out "Fire in the hole!" before throwing the plunger that would blow the shit out of the caves in search of molybdenum. I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes in Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona (where one time I landed with my chute tangled in power lines, short-circuiting an entire electrical grid…) I hiked naked (wearing only my boots) atop Glaciers in the Canadian Rockies and shot white water rapids during the spring thaw.”

e skydiving and black diamond run (expert) stand-up skiing may have been the active Redlin before the accident, but he was just as fear-defying after it, whether it be in defiance of the doctors’ predictions of life-long wheelchair-occupancy or in overcoming his handicaps to mono-ski, scuba dive, swim with dolphins (while working at the Dolphin Research Lab in the Florida Keys) or fly into the active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“The physical challenges were tough,” Redlin said of developing his own rehab program, “and the emotional challenges were tougher; especially because I had to process all my grief regarding my sister’s death.” (Lhauri had been found dead in her apartment just six months before the accident.) Art, as in painting and drawing, and helping others enabled Richard to heal himself. “One of the most rewarding experiences for me was teaching kids [with and without disabilities] to swim while working at a swimming school in San Diego. I had benefited greatly from the program and wanted to give back so I got myself hired there.”

Actors with Disabilities in Hollywood

So naturally, when Richard started expressing himself through the art form of acting, the reality that opportunities for actors with disabilities were extremely limited didn’t sit well with him. “The ‘disabled’ roles were stereotypical and few and far between and the use of actors with disabilities in ‘regular’ roles was basically non-existent. So, rather than whine about it, I kept going for roles and at the same time began to create opportunities for myself: producing, writing and directing -- first in theatre, then in films.”
Not only does Redlin live by the intention to ‘live life to the fullest no matter what the circumstances,’ he tries to provide opportunities and encouragement for others to do the same. “I find it ironic that in a business [entertainment] that is based on imagination,” Redlin said, “there is such a tremendous lack of vision, especially where people with disabilities are concerned. There are organized protests and political maneuverings calling for an increase in the opportunities for the ‘underrepresented’ categories of people in the American scene in entertainment. However, I feel that my job is to show ‘how it’s done.’”

Ryan Murphy & Lauren Potter’s Extraordinary Contributions

He also credits producer/writer Ryan Murphy for doing an extraordinary job making inroads on GleeNip/TuckPopular, and American Horror Story. And according to Cynopsis on July 31, 2012, Murphy has been selected as the recipient of the 2012 International Emmy Founders Award. This honor, which recognizes an individual who crosses cultural boundaries to touch our common humanity, will be presented at the 40th International Emmy Awards Gala on November 19 in New York City.
Redlin, also, has nothing but praise for his leading star Lauren Potter (Becky Jackson on Glee and Jenny Cole on Leader of the Pack). He shared with us a comment she made about how she felt being part of Leader of the Pack: “I’m so excited to be part of this show because it’s about a boy with Down Syndrome and all the people in it are a little different. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see Down Syndrome, but when all of the people that are acting with me are a little different, then I don’t just see DS, I see just me.”
Redlin says that Lauren is another great example of someone who hasn’t let anything stop her. “When she decided as a young girl to become an actor, she encountered many naysayers, so she decided to just listen to those who told her she could do it and continued to work hard. Now she’s a successful actor, big time advocate and advisor to Obama as the only person with an intellectual disability on The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.”
Believing in self-empowerment like he does, Redlin gravitated readily towards doing a web series because “it’s something we could do ourselves without waiting for permission or having to sell someone else on the idea.” And SAG-AFTRA has made it much easier to work with union actors through its New Media contracts.
And because Redlin believes so firmly in “we are all so much more than our bodies,” when he cast the characters with Down Syndrome in Leader of the Pack, he “only brought in the real deal.”

Why Down Syndrome? Why High School?

The inspiration for the LOTP story came out of a conversation Redlin had years ago with his friend Gail Williamson, former director of the Down Syndrome Association of L.A. and long time advocate for people with all types of disabilities. “She has a son Blair who has Down syndrome and is an accomplished actor,” Redlin explained. “I took the germ of the character [Blake] and developed it.”
Because self-image is an influential part of our lives and is directly affected by what we see in the media, choosing a coming of age framework for a story about DS was a natural choice for Redlin. “After all, self-image is mostly what teenagers struggle with in high school,” he said. “I liked the idea of a ‘secret life.’ Most parents have no clue what’s really going on in the heads of their kids. It’s amazing what people forget as they get older and adopt new images for themselves. Plus, it was a way to show these kids just being kids. The twist is that they have Down syndrome, but it’s really not about DS per se.”

Environmental and Racial Blindness Themes

LOTP is about more than kids with disabilities dealing with normal high school issues of acceptance, image, friendship, and love. It is also about how we treat our environment and racial blindness.
“Environmental issues are important to me and will be continued throughout the series,” Redlin affirmed. “Before I got hurt I almost took a job as a smoke jumper in the National Park Service. Most people don’t realize that we exist in a tiny envelope of air. The planet will be fine and new life forms will develop, but it will become uninhabitable for human beings if we don’t keep that envelope clean.”
Redlin revealed that the roles of black girl/white boy and the other racial representations were written that way from the beginning. “Growing up in Chicago, racial diversity has always been a thing of mine. I’m against homogenization. I support and celebrate people’s uniqueness. We should learn from each other’s POV, adopt or be influenced by them, but not become one and the same with them. It makes for a richer life experience.” It is his intention to continue to mix it up like this until “diversity” actually becomes a non-issue.

The Web Series Birthed

To get the web series made, Redlin and his co-producer wife, Marielle, made deferred deals with cast and crew and used their own cash for food and services for which they weren’t able to barter. In fact, he and his wife are proud that they made the meals themselves so that everyone ate healthily, despite the extra work. Three episodes are currently online and to keep going, they are currently fund-raising through Indiegogo, which allows ordinary people to donate/support online for a variety of perks. Plus, for those online viewers who want to voice their opinions to today’s TV decision-makers, Richard Redlin and his project are part of an online web series and indie film competition, called NexTv Viewer’s Choice Competition, where he is currently in second place.

Be gentle.


  1. Pretty nice post. I just came across your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really liked reading your posts.

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