CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 30, 2016

Stage preview: One-legged dancer taps first starring role in CLO Cabaret's 'The Toxic Avenger'

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Evan Ruggiero’s first audition for the Pittsburgh CLO ensemble earned a callback. He arrived ready to dance, but that wasn’t the hard part of the audition.

“I remember walking up to the choreographer and saying, ‘Just to give you a heads-up, I have one leg.’ ”

Mr. Ruggiero was used to being the center of attention, performing as a one-legged tap dancer in solo shows at Feinstein’s/​54 Below in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For CLO, he was trying to win a job, surrounded by others who were trying to do the same.

13 comments:

Tahirah Agbamuche said...

When I first saw this article, my first thought was that this was an avengers film gone broadway, and I’d be reading about how the script will be converted. I was pleasantly surprised to find something very different. It makes my heart soar to read about emerging opportunities for the handicapped community to shine and star in a musical. In the latter of the article the author says, “The characters’ disabilities are magnified by the heightened circumstances, and they also are played for laughs, which is a tough balance.” It is amazing how accepted the disabilities are, and how they are no longer considered a hindrance, but something to be praised! A certain uniqueness that should be worn loud and proud.
I am really looking forward to more information on the Toxic Avenger and to see how this collaboration goes down.

Samantha Brown said...

I got the pleasure to work on The Toxic Avenger with these awesome actors. It was really cool to see how Evan and Wes were able to adapt the movements and story points to the fact that Evan only had one leg. They made his leg into part of the transformation between Melvin Ferd the Third and Toxie by getting a beaten up tin peg leg for him to wear when he was Toxie. It was very interesting to watch Evan move around the stage and how he did not let his leg affect him that much. I am surprised to hear that it was Evan’s first leading role because he is very talented, which means this will not be his last leading role and he has a very bright future ahead of him. The Toxic Avenger was a very funny show and pretty ridiculous to watch. I would recommend that people go see this show because it will definitely make you smile.

Alex Fasciolo said...

This just goes to show just how inclusive the theatrical community can be. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how, when it comes down to it, there’s probably a role for every different type of person and performer out there, because theatre is, in many ways, centered around humanity. Therefor, because all different types of people exist, there must be some representation (however small) for them in an artistic field, and if there isn’t, you’ve just discovered an untapped vein of artistic potential.

That’s not to say that everyone’s ideas are always good, and that there aren’t a thousand other people who are going for the type of character that you are, and that just because you haven’t seen it out there doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there, but it does speak volumes to the creative potential that such an intelligent and dedicated community can achieve. The fact that they were able to work the fact this performer only had one leg is proof of this. I can practically hear Susan Tsu talk to us freshman year about taking a perceived weakness and turning it into a strength when I read this article.

Jasmine Lesane said...

This is really awesome. I remember reading the Spring Awakening Articles about them including deaf cast members and I thought that was very cool, but when you see things like that you wonder how will this continue, how do we let this great thing be more than just a one-time thing. This is how, more big companies have to feature them onstage in leading roles. The author of this article does touch on the fact that the character’s disability’s are often used for laughs, which can be a thin line especially for minorities. However, I think, though I have not seen the show, In In Toxic Avengers it seems like they even emphasis or even empower his disability, which could be extremely helpful for both representation for disabled theatre goers, and for teaching people that talent comes in all forms! So many people can do this job, but you have to give them the chance! The Pittsburgh CLO did and that is a big step.

Vanessa Ramon said...

That is so awesome. I love finding out about how someone's passion for our business has led them to overcome hardship and achieve their dreams. It is amazing how we work in a business where we don't let the limitations of ourselves affect our ability to do the job or to hire people who might have to work a little harder but we openly welcome those challenges and use them as ways to make our art better. As for the article, I think it could have been more organized and written more effectively. The topic itself is interesting enough to keep the audience engaged, but the article was very disorganized and kind of hard to follow. It seemed like there were a bunch of facts, quotes, and information that was just thrown all together. Other than that, I would still like to learn more about the process for Mr. Ruggiero and how the entire experience has been for him.

Lia Jennings said...

I don’t think I could ever imagine myself with one leg and even on top of that being able to tap dance. I applaud him immensely for going against the grain of salt and fighting against all odds to be great and do what he loves even though I’m sure there are people who told him it wasn’t possible. I would like to see this show. I’ve heard it’s funny and different because of it’s random topic. I wonder if they play the part with the audience knowing he has one leg or if it’s not part of it and he goes around with pants on acting normal like he would. I never thought that having a mask on your face while not having a leg would make things more difficult. He must have to focus and really trace his steps each performance to know where he is and trust himself.

Claire Farrokh said...

That is so cool! It is really incredible how functional and practical prosthetic limbs have become. I remember a couple of seasons ago, Amy Purdy, a former Olympian who lost her legs in a skiing accident, almost won Dancing with the Stars. She had incredible prosthetics limbs, some of which were specifically designed to be bouncey and allow her to perform dances like the quickstep. It is so extraordinary how people are able to learn to not only walk with new legs, but do things like this! This guy is tap dancing with a fake leg!! That is crazy! I wish this article talked a little bit more about how the choreographer adaped the dances for Ruggiero, if he did at all. As much as I love hearing about New Jersey, they definitely discussed Jersey more than the actual performer that the article is about. It would be really interesting if they had some footage from the show/promos so we could see Ruggiero in action. Regardless, this was still a very interesting article with super cool subject matter!

Sarah Battaglia said...

This is incredible! It is really astonishing how much work we have done so that people with disabilities can function completely, but more than that I think this show is a huge step in the right direction for actors working with disabilities. I have read a lot of articles, most of them on this page about how we have to start making theater more accessible to people who are disabled, and this show does that. Even if it's through a comedic lens and even they reference it throughout the show it is a triumph for equality. Moving forward I think it would be beneficial to see more shows where we don't even know that one of the actors is disabled, and where it is something that we are so used to there aren't any more articles on the green page about it. A few people in my class saw this show and loved it, and when explaining it to me, the fact that the main character had one leg seemed more like an after thought than something that could make or break a show. It's time we start writing articles about disability the same way. Changing the discussion will automatically change some attitudes.

Kelly Simons said...

I clicked on this article because I thought it was interesting. I’m glad the author explained why and how the dancer lost his leg. Initially I though Ruggiero had been a combat veteran who had lost his legs in a wartime accident. After learning how many operations on his leg he had from cancer I’m impressed that he still has the physical ability to dance. Tap dancing is pretty intense physically, and to be able to do it with one leg is all the more impressive. I’ve never heard of the show, but “Toxic Avenger” seems interesting, especially after how Ruggiero describes the music: ““And the music!” added Mr. Ruggiero. “I grew up listening to this kind of music — the ’80s power ballads, Skid Row, Journey. And now, I get to sing David Bryan songs”. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for tickets to this show, the article has piqued my interest.

Liz said...

This is such a heartening article. It is wonderful not only because CLO does not give Evan a role out of pity but out of professional acknowledgment of his incredible skill; but Evan also proved his worth from an ensemble member to the leading role, title character in The Toxic Avenger. Words fail me to describe a man who should have been struggling with balance and basic chores in life because of the amputation of one leg but in stead blossom in the spotlight with his tapping. CLO has established itself as a model for the theatre companies with its open-mindedness and the brilliance of turning defect into an amazing part of the story-telling.
This article reminds me of an opera here at CMU where one of the singers was blind. Surely, she needs instructions to remember her blocking and to not fall off stage but I was truly astonished at how quickly she manages to adjust to the rehearsal room and the performing stage and how self-sufficient she is. And this should really infiltrate to every corner of our industry - people who are qualified for the job should be hired regardless of their race, gender, age, or disability because their qualification for the job is the most important. Just like one of the previous commenters said, what the article wrote about should not be a one-time story that happens so rarely we need to praise and weep and cheer drastically about it. It needs to become so regular, ordinary, common and normal that we are not amazed by the fact that a person is hired because he/she is good at the job.

Mary Frances Candies said...

What a great story of perseverance! This story reminds me of the one a few weeks ago about the diver. The diver had broke his neck while miscalculating a dive, but after recovery immediately went back to the pool to coach aspiring divers. It is so beautiful that Evan has found work in the profession that he loved before his surgery. It is also quite inspiring to know that CLO hired him out of talent, rather than pity or spectacle. I cannot speak for Evan, but this role seems more rewarding than tap dancing on YouTube.
This article, however, is a little lackluster in terms of shining a light of Evan. I wish the article was a more traditional style interview. It seems as though it had the potential to be, but for some reason wasn't. It would be great to hear more about Evan's work to get back into the industry.

Jake Poser said...

Evan was a great addition to this cast. I remember thinking at the beginning of the show, "Wow! He's incredible." He truly does not let his one leg negatively affect him one bit on stage. In this specific role, it really works for the character, and adds to his performance. Though the show was problematic, this performance wasn't. Gosh, can that man sing.
The story detailed of his growing up, battling of cancer, and multiple surgeries is heartbreaking. But I am glad that Evan found the strength to pursue his career, and passions. He serves as a reminder to all of us that our problems are not as important as they may seem in the grand scheme of things. Also, making it on Ellen (though because of an unfortunate circumstance) rocks!
The costume designer also did an amazing job of working Evan's personal abilities into the design. His prosthetic was designed to fit the character and truly added to the piece. When it was used as a prop I think it made me a bit uncomfortable, but because it was all happening on stage I can imagine that Evan was a part of the blocking and decision processes when it came to that part. Knowing he was comfortable, put me. and audience member at ease. Overall, he gave a killer performance.

Delaney Johnson said...

How AMAZING is it that theatre has found a place for every facet of person to perform every facet of life.

I am so thrilled to work for a business that allows performers of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and physical conditions to express so many different forms of life for a viewing public. From racial inclusion and music incorporation in Hamilton to the first wheelchair bound actress performing in a deaf version of spring awakening, the theatre industry in the last years have been moving fiercely forward toward complete inclusion. --- I think the performance of a one legged tap dancer is an amazing step in this direction as well and I can't wait to see not only this performance but all the other opportunities for actors with prosthetics and actresses to perform across the world. This show will definitely be added to my watch list in the next weeks. I am looking forward very much to seeing him rock the stage.