Actress to close disAbility Month

Actress Anita Hollander will be at Kent State, speaking about her life and experiences on October 26th for disAbility awareness month.

Throughout the month of October, Kent State’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) center has been advocating disAbility Awareness across campus along with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, the Panhellenic Council and the Undergraduate Student Government.

The ‘d’ in disAbility is lower-cased and the ‘A’ is capitalized because SAS aims to “stress the ability within disAbility” said Sue Smith who is the editorial communications associate at SAS.

There are approximately 1,000 students registered with SAS at Kent State University, according to Dr. Amy Quillin who is the associate director at SAS.

Hollander is renowned for her roles on “Law & Order”, “As the World Turns” and playing Grizabella, a cat shunned by the rest of the tribe, in the world Broadway play, “CATS.”

Hollander was diagnosed at the age of 21 with neruofibrosarcoma, a form of cancer of the connective tissue surrounding nerves. After going to nine doctors that just thought she had a pinched nerve, finally the tenth doctor noticed something the others didn’t in a test, and a tumor was found in her leg. The doctors did surgery and removed most of the sciactic nerve in her leg and she walked with a brace for five years, still performing. But cancer cells had been left in her leg and the tumor grew back.

Chemotherapy had damaged her leg so much to the point that it was past repair, so at the age of 26 the doctor felt it was necessary to amputate her left leg.

“So twice in my life I had to learn to walk all over again, with different obstacles,” she said, “first a brace, then with a prosthesis and on one leg with crutches. She always felt these challenges were a test to see if I really wanted to be an actor. In fact everything that happened to me was a gift that has FED my life as an actor throughout my life”.

She was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where she had her first professional acting role at Musicarnival, an Equity summer stock theatre, as Gretl in “The Sound of Music.”

She went on to train at the Carnegie Mellon University, and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and has been in many Broadway plays, televisions shows and movies.

Hollander travels performing her one woman show, “Still Standing”, a “musical survival guide for life’s catastrophes”. It is a story about her life from diagnosis to getting married and having a daughter. It consists of fifteen songs, each representing a “tool for survival”. She includes humor, perspective, imagination, family, love and chutzpah.

“Everyone has to get through difficult times, and this show was written to help them all to find ways to survive such times,” she said.

Her show has been performed in the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center.

Hollander is a National Board Member of AFTRA, (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and is on the negotiating team for the new SAG/AFTRA contract for actors on television series and movies. She is also a national chair of the “I AM PWD” campaign for inclusion in the arts and media of people with disabilities, where they “transform performers with disability, into performers with visibility.” It is a civil rights campaign seeking equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the entertainment and news media.

She now lives in New York City, with her husband Paul Hamilton, and has a daughter who is a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, both are also actors.

Hollander has managed to stay positive through everything life has thrown at her. She says, “people with disabilities get through each day just as anyone does without a disability. We deal with what we have to deal with if we want to live a full life.”

“The best that we can all do is support each other and help others find their confidence by giving them positive encouragement.” She tries to do this with others, like the kids she teaches in her children’s choir, where two students in fact have disabilities themselves. She says, “ We all do what we can to get through the hard things in life, and it seems the more we struggle, the more joy we seem to find.”

Quillin and the SAS committee in charge of disAbility Awareness month chose to invite Hollander to Kent State because of “her message of strength and positive attitude.”

Hollander is dedicating her performance at Kent State, to her cousin Katy Hamilton, who recently succumbed to Lymphoma, passing away at age 18.

“She never saw anyone struggle so hard with such a radiantly positive attitude” Hollander said. “I hopes she is out there somewhere listening on Tuesday.”

Contact Amanda Crumm at [email protected] and Megan Wilkinson at [email protected].