Actor Storme Toolis stars in one of the Shorts, What Not To Do… At A Nail Bar, Scope made with Channel 4 for its End the Awkward campaign. Storme reveals how she uses humour to deal with awkward moments…
Men have no idea how to dance with me. I don’t expect them to be experts at wheelchair salsa, but whenever I go clubbing I get high fives, people moving my wheelchair, patting me on my head and even sitting in my lap. That’s not going to make me want to speak to you.
People react in these ways because they don’t expect you to be there.
A few years ago, I went on an Inbetweeners-style holiday with my girlfriends to Zante. I’m the only disabled girl in my group of friends and we just went around and did all the usual things. We were on a boat cruise and one of the guys running it came up to my friend and said: “I think it’s great of you to let her go on holiday with you.” My friend got really offended. But you just have to laugh really.
The best way to get over awkward moments is to embrace the awkwardness and make it positive and funny. And if someone tells you can’t do something, make sure you do it.
People smile unnecessarily when they speak to me
I’m quite blunt and direct – I like people to be the same with me. I think I get more offended if people don’t ask me something. If you ask me why I’m in a wheelchair, I’ll answer the question in two seconds – I’ve been asked about a million times. And it’s better than being stared at.
The Shorts are brilliant, I like the job interview and the bar date. They’re funny and that stuff actually does happen. People talk slowly to me or they smile unnecessarily, even if they’re asking a serious question.
I think it’s important Scope is doing this campaign. Until we talk about it, nothing is going to change. Everyone is different and thinks of their impairment in their own way. I use humour and I use my job as an actor. I think humour is an important tool – what better way is there to relate to people and bring them together than when they’re both laughing?
Filming the Shorts was good fun. The actor who played the customer was lovely. She felt so awful about having to say her lines! When we had the run-through we were both sitting there cringing and wondering how we were going to get through it with straight faces.
I’m working on a theatre project with the Barbican calledRedefining Juliet. It’s a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but changing the conventional casting of Juliet by portraying her as disabled or as a larger woman. It’s subverting the usual casting of the sexy roles in Shakespeare. It’s showing disability as sexually attractive and asking why these women never get to play such roles.
It’s so important that people see disabled people in the theatre, on TV, everywhere. It was the same with race 30 or 40 years ago, disability is a fact of life – if you don’t see life on screen or in theatre it’s not a true reflection of society. People still feel uncomfortable around disability, especially seeing it as something desirable. That’s why it’s so important to show it and push those boundaries.