“Don't pursue a career in the Arts unless you love the Arts truly, madly, deeply. And do not have any delusions about what awaits you both in educational settings, and in the job market. …If you think you're gonna get a break because you have a disability, think again. …You better be the best you can be at what you do, and do not allow yourself to use your disability as an excuse NOT to work continually and consistently towards total professionalism and high standards of quality.”
-- Jaehn Clare, professional theatre artist, from "A Career as an Artist Ain't an Easy Row to Hoe," keynote address for The Art of Employment: Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities on March 25 & 26, 2002 at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN.
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Ethan Crough’s acting skills landed him jobs with a Broadway touring company and at Radio City Music Hall. He’s done television commercials, been cast in film roles, and appeared on the Conan O’Brien Show.
So you might be surprised he feels he must write a book about something bigger than his stage career. A book to answer the questions he’s certain his children will ask him. “It comes down to, what do I tell these children as they grow up when they get dealt all of this? How do I explain that I did some of these roles? They would say, ‘Dad, aren’t you against that?’”
His high energy, winning smile, and natural abilities put him on a theatrical career path without having prior training. He says that at his first professional audition “I just walked in and I nailed the part and it led to other parts as well.” For years he was sought after for stage and screen roles requiring actors of short stature. Crough has had professional roles—just a very few examples-- as the Mayor of Munchkinville, appeared in the play, “Killer Midgets,” and could tell David Sedaris a thing or two about Christmas Elf gigs.
“A lot of people in our organization feel very strongly against that word because it’s often used negatively. It’s used to demean people, it’s used as a joke, it’s used to ridicule.”
< Crough as E-ware Man for Panasonic (photo: Emily Westhafer)
In the meantime the advocacy organization Little People of America and others became active in protesting the stereotypical roles in entertainment given to people with dwarfism. Crough, who has achondroplasia (the most common type of dwarfism), was featured in a commercial promoting a small Panasonic camera. L.P.A demanded it be yanked. Then after auditioning for an ad in which he was to appear to be stuffed into a mailbox, “I stopped doing that,” he says.
“That’s when I started getting more into improvisation.” Crough secured a position with Second City’s New York training company and appeared at The Upright Citizens Brigade theater. For the first time he was getting recognized for talent that had nothing to do with his size. Shakespearean roles, including one with the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, strengthened his confidence.
“Then September 11th happened.” After a mid-September wedding and European honeymoon in 2001, “we were flying home and we both got messages we had lost our jobs. Emily had lost her job as a reporter and I lost my job with Second City.”
“I would say the thing we have to deal with most that other people don’t have to deal with is probably the mental assumptions that people make because we’re so child-sized.” To be babied, to be pat on the head... to have these things done where you say, ‘Whoa, did that just happen?’”
Since that time, Crough has shifted his skills of persuasion from the stage to the arenas of education and advocacy. It wasn’t such a radical transition because “that’s always been the thrust of my performance, educating people, being able to teach them something while I’m on stage.” As L.P.A.’s Vice President for Membership for the past 4 years, Crough has been in a national leadership position that provides an opportunity to exert his influence. “I find things out there that need my attention and I give them my attention.”
Two years ago he moved to Columbus, Indiana with his wife and young children (both have inherited their parents’ dwarfism), bringing with him his considerable advocacy expertise. Crough has written impassioned letters to eliminate “the M word” in the media, and appeared in speaking engagements and classrooms on behalf of people with dwarfism. This year Crough succeeded in obtaining Governor Daniels’ recognition of October as Dwarfism Awareness Month. He is also excited about his new Dwarfism Awareness Month PSA video project:
Crough is a licensed teacher and is employed as library assistant at Bartholomew Public Library. Although he would like to get paid for more of the work he does as a volunteer, Crough is pleased to use his artistic talents to accomplish his own goals. “At this point in my life, I’m more interested in creating my own opportunities than I am being told what to do by other people.”
And then there’s that book he wants to write for his kids, so they will understand the dilemmas their father faced in the performing arts. They can form their own opinions about the choices he’s made as both actor and advocate. Crough hopes some of his choices will make things a little bit easier for them and others of their generation with short stature.
Read Finding Success in Acting, Sans Stereotypes by Ethan Crough (an ArtsWORK exclusive).
Achondroplasia is the most common type of dwarfism, a disorder of bone growth.
Little People of
Inc. (L.P.A) is a national non-profit organization with over 6000
members that provides support
and information to people of short
stature and their families. Little
is L.P.A.'s Indiana Chapter.
photo by Emily Westhafer
Ethan Crough’s public talks help people understand what dwarfism is and how it is experienced, especially from his vantage point in the performing arts.
interacts with his audiences to address questions as “Do you
see this as a disability?”
He helps people understand stereotyping: “If you were going to be put into a movie based on what you look like, what role would it be?”
To contact Crough about a presentation, go to his website: www.ecrough.com