Meet The Actor With A Disability Who Is Helping To Transform A Classic Play

Madison Ferris as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, with Finn Wittrock as Jim O’Connor. Julieta Cervantes

“Laura is very different from other girls,” Tom tells his mother, Amanda, in The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams’ largely autobiographical 1944 play. “She’s terribly shy and lives in a world of her own, and those things make her seem a little peculiar to people outside the house.”

In most productions of the play, Tom is right: Laura is meek, shaky, a wilting flower unable to stand up to her overbearing mother. A childhood illness has left her with a leg brace and a limp; in her perception, she is a “cripple.”

The role was originally played by Julie Hayden and has been taken on by Piper Laurie, Calista Flockhart, and Sarah Paulson in subsequent revivals; each woman has brought something different to the part, but, for the most part, Laura has retained a timidity that makes her as fragile as one of the glass animals she displays in her menagerie.

That’s why audiences have been struck — and Tennessee Williams purists distressed — by director Sam Gold’s new Broadway production, which stars Joe Mantello and Sally Field. Here, Laura is imbued with a surprising confidence. Madison Ferris, in her first professional role, creates a Laura whose sense of self runs counter to the way she’s described by those around her. At times, as when she plants a kiss on her gentleman caller Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock), she’s downright bold.

“How do you move through a world that isn’t built for you?”

The stark contrast between this Laura and past iterations was by design. In rehearsals, Gold and Ferris worked together to give Laura agency. “We discussed how to make her human, and how to make her a subject of the play rather than an object,” Ferris told BuzzFeed News, seated on the floor of her dressing room at the Belasco Theatre. “We wanted her to be strong; we wanted her to have a voice, to have opinions, to love her family, to want to hang out with Jim O’Connor.”

And so, at that moment when the script calls for Jim to kiss Laura, Gold’s production has Laura making the first move.

Williams enthusiasts may balk at the changes, but The Glass Menagerie has always been uniquely suited to loose interpretation. In the production notes for the play, Williams wrote, “Being a ‘memory play,’ The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention.” The words stay the same, but Gold — and other directors before him — have allowed themselves a certain openness with the text. Part of why the play is often revived is that no two productions are alike.

It’s not just Laura’s inner strength in Gold’s Glass Menagerie, however, that distinguishes her from past Lauras. Ferris has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair; consequently, Laura’s limp, which Williams wrote “need not be more than suggested on the stage,” is presented as a visible disability. Reviews of the production have fixated on the choice to cast an actor with a mobility disability, largely because many audience members are still unaccustomed to seeing actors with disabilities onstage. What few are discussing is how disability transforms the character.

“Traditionally her fragility is her mental state, and in this production, her vulnerability is her physical state,” Ferris said, acknowledging what it would have meant to have a disability like hers in the 1930s. “How do you move through a world that isn’t built for you?”

Ferris with Sally Field as Amanda and Joe Mantello as Tom. Julieta Cervantes

Ferris is cautious when discussing her disability, not due to shame but because, as she put it, “I would hate for my disability to overshadow my acting.”

This is her introduction to New York audiences, and she wants to make the right impression. The Glass Menagerie is not only Ferris’s Broadway debut, but also her first professional role. Before this, she hadn’t acted since college, and although she had an agent, auditions were few and far between.

When she heard about the new production of The Glass Menagerie, she was in Sydney, Australia, where she had planned to spend at least six months trying to perform on a working holiday visa. Unable to travel to New York on her own dime, she put her audition on tape. “I knew that if I didn’t try, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” she said.

When Ferris got a callback, she did end up spending her own money on a flight back to the States. With the stakes so high, she admitted that she was nervous to the point of shaking, but quickly developed a rapport with Gold. The picture she’d had of Laura differed from Gold’s; throughout the audition, he wanted to see how well she took direction, and if she could play Laura in the unconventional way he envisioned the character.

Gold liked what he saw, and he continues to be impressed by Ferris’s performance in the play. “Every time she is onstage, every choice she makes, always feels like it’s her and it’s coming from an incredibly honest place,” he told BuzzFeed News. “She kind of can’t lie onstage, and that’s one of my favorite qualities in an actor.”

Because Ferris was new to The Glass Menagerie, it wasn’t hard for her to reconceive Laura. She was, however, working with a script that described Laura “like a piece of her own glass collection, too exquisitely fragile to move from the shelf.” And Gold was asking her to help create a Laura who was more steel than glass.

When learning her lines, Ferris blocked out stage directions that suggested a hesitancy and emotional restraint that her director wasn’t looking for. “It’s hard working against the text,” she acknowledged. Together with Gold, they worked on a new understanding of the character. The question was no longer “Why is Laura shy?” but rather “Why do all the other characters think Laura is shy?”

“You don’t have to be shy for people to call you shy, just because you’re not speaking,” Ferris continued. “‘Still waters run deep’ is how [her mother] Amanda describes her.”

Here, her disability also comes into play, as the way Laura’s mother, brother, and potential suitor project their expectations onto her mirrors the way Ferris is often treated in her day-to-day life. “People will think that you’re younger than you are, or your physical disability also affects your mental state,” she said. “People might assume you’re not smart or funny or a full-fledged person. And I don’t know where that comes from, maybe just a lack of representation.”

Ferris and Field in a scene near the end of The Glass Menagerie. Julieta Cervantes

Ferris thinks about representation often, but it was also a major consideration for Gold. “The Glass Menagerie is one of the few plays in the canon where there’s a character with a mobility disability, and I’d never seen it done with an actor with a mobility disability,” he said. “I thought that it would be a shame to do the play again and not give that opportunity to an actor that has a mobility disability.”

Gold’s approach is not common, as actors with disability and disability advocates are quick to point out. Casting nondisabled actors as characters with disabilities remains the norm on Broadway, as seen in productions of Richard III, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Side Show, and, yes, every previous Broadway incarnation of The Glass Menagerie.

And while there is now increased pressure to cast actors with disabilities in these parts, change is still slowgoing. There are signs of progress — the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening cast several deaf actors, as well as Ali Stroker, believed to be the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway. But even in a time of increasing awareness, disability is too often ignored in the larger conversation about diversity onstage.

“I’m tired of seeing the same bodies all the time.”

That indifference toward disability representation might account for some of the backlash this production of The Glass Menagerie has received. While the reviews have largely been positive, there have been accusations of exploitation, as well as some audience members who have confessed feeling uncomfortable at watching Ferris onstage: When she’s not using a wheelchair, she moves across the stage with her hands and her feet. In his scathing review, Rex Reed called it “alarmingly distracting.” Gold suggested that people who have a negative reaction “should be thinking about why it makes them uncomfortable to see the way Madison moves.”

More to the point, he noted, much of this criticism exposes the larger problem of ignorance about disability. “The theater community, the people who make it and the people who go see it and the people who write about it, are mostly people who think of themselves as open-minded, progressive people. They’re people who would like to be on the right side of identity politics and inclusion and diversity. And a lot of those people have a real blind spot when it comes to the disability community,” Gold said. “They’re not seeing that the way they’re perceiving the production is colored by an inability to look at that community with an open mind.”

About her role in making a statement, Ferris reiterated that she wants her acting to speak for itself so that she’s not known solely for “being an inspiration or being considered brave.” At the same time, she recognizes how few representations of disability there are onstage, and she’s willing to speak out about why she hopes to see that change.

“There are many reasons why I act, and one of them is I’m tired of seeing the same bodies all the time, in general, and I think a lot of people are, in terms of race and body shape and ability,” Ferris said. “It’s just so boring all the time to see the same people onscreen [and onstage]. And it’s just not life either.”

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Khloé Kardashian Threw Shade At Ronnie From “Jersey Shore” And It Was Savage AF

On Sunday’s episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Khloé was having some issues with her BFF, Malika Haqq.

1. Apparently, Malika was ignoring Khloé’s calls and was MIA because she was in a new relationship with…

5. And this summer, he’ll also appear on the upcoming season of Famously Single on E!, which is where he met Malika.

6. Khloé was pissed because she and Malika hadn’t been communicating like they normally do. But after chatting with her about it, she realized that Malika wasn’t actually that happy with her new bae.

7. In an interview after their moment together, Khloé was supportive of her friend.

10. It’s not the first time Khloé has come for the Jersey Shore cast. Back in 2016, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was a guest on Kocktails With Khloé and she recounted a moment when the Kardashian sister wasn’t very friendly toward her.

11. I guess not everybody can be reality show royalty like Khloé Alexandra Kardashian.

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“Fate of the Furious” Referenced The Franchise's Most Ridiculous Scene Ever And It Was Perfect

Deckard: Now don’t go getting any ideas. You and planes don’t have a good history.

Owen: No shit.

Deckard: Let’s go, Scarface. These assholes ain’t gonna kill themselves.

You can use that forehead as a runway for the plane from fast and furious 6 #RNCinCLE

— lord_snow (@Edtorr22)

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“The Fate Of The Furious” Had The Biggest Box Office Debut Ever

1. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth movie in the Fast and Furious franchise, opened domestically with a respectable $100.2 million — and internationally with an astronomical $432.3 million.

Matt Kennedy / Universal

(Both figures are estimates.)

2. That $532.5 million total worldwide gives The Fate of the Furious the biggest global box office debut of all time, surpassing Star Wars: The Force Awakens$529 million debut in 2015.

The Fate of the Furious’ international earnings accounted for more than 81% of its global box office earnings, a wildly lopsided figure even considering how vital foreign markets have become to Hollywood.

3. The Fate of the Furious has already grossed more than the first four Fast and Furious movies made during their entire theatrical run.

Matt Kennedy

4. But its domestic debut was no match for Furious 7’s $147 million opening in 2015. That was the last movie in the franchise to star Paul Walker, who died while the film was still in production.

The Fate of the Furious also just scraped past Fast & Furious 6’s $97.4 million domestic opening weekend, indicating that for audiences in the US and Canada, enthusiasm for the franchise may be cooling just a bit.

5. Internationally, the franchise shows no signs of slowing. The Fate of the Furious earned the all-time biggest debut in 17 territories, including Argentina, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Universal Pictures

6. Most impressively, the movie earned an estimated $190 million in China — beating the opening weekend record of its predecessor, Furious 7.

Chinese distributors keep a larger proportion of box office returns than other international markets, but The Fate of the Furious’ success there is another indication that China is expected to surpass the US and Canada as the biggest theatrical market within as early as the next decade. The country has become central to Hollywood’s ability to make money on its biggest blockbusters.

7. The ninth Fast and Furious movie, meanwhile, is scheduled to open on April 19, 2019 — and the tenth film will debut on April 2, 2021. With precious few franchises in its stable, Universal Pictures will likely keep filling the tank on this series for the foreseeable future.

Matt Kennedy / Universal

Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1. The Fate of the Furious* — $100.2 million
2. The Boss Baby — $15.5 million
3. Beauty and the Beast — $13.6 million
4. Smurfs: The Lost Village — $6.5 million
5. Going in Style — $6.4 million
6. Gifted — $3 million
7. Get Out — $2.9 million
8. Power Rangers — $2.85 million
9. The Case for Christ — $2.7 million
10. Kong: Skull Island — $2.67 million

*Opening weekend

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Mark Hamill's Tribute To Carrie Fisher Was Perfectly Funny And Heartbreaking

At the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Celebration in Orlando on Friday, Mark Hamill hosted a special panel in honor of the late Carrie Fisher, his Star Wars co-star and beloved friend.

Keely Flaherty / BuzzFeed News / Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

Hamill shared personal stories from his friendship with Fisher — some were funny, some were heartbreaking. Here are the highlights:

Ben A. Pruchnie / Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios

1. “Well, here’s a panel I was hoping wouldn’t come for another 30 years.”

2. “I have to tell you, I’ve been trying to deal with this — you know, there are the five stages of grief — and just when I think I’ve gotten to acceptance, I bounce back to anger. Because I’m mad. She should be here.”

3. “Let me tell you about the first time I ever met her…I was unprepared. I was bowled over by her humor and her wit, and how sardonic she was; how dark she was.”

4. “I’m still not thinking of her in past tense. Certain people have a vitality and an energy that’s so strong, it reverberates far beyond their lack of physical presence.”

5. “I have to tell you, Carrie would want us to be happy. She wouldn’t want us to become consumed by grief; she was all about having fun every day, which is why it was such a joy to be around her — well, most of the time.”

6. “When we found out in the storyline that we were brother and sister, we were more like brother and sister than we realized. Because we loved each other, but we fought and we criticized and we were judgmental and we’d get fed up with one another. “

7. “She made Solo and Skywalker look like chumps. No one had probably ever challenged Han Solo.”

8. “She reveled in being not only pretty much the only girl in that galaxy far, far away at the time, but her exalted status. She was true Hollywood royalty.”

9. “The thing she had about her that no one else could match was she made you feel, when you were in her presence, like you were her best friend. She was so laser-focused on you, so engaging, that it was exhilarating to be around her.”

10. “The moments I remember are when I had her to myself, you see. As attracted as I was to her, I thought, I couldn’t handle her as a girlfriend. She’s too much.”

11. “Part of me did fall in love with her. I think every guy that she met — I’ve heard Dan Akroyd tell stories, I’ve heard Paul Simon tell stories — she had you under her spell.”

12. “Sometimes we wanted to go that direction; on the pretext of kissing techniques. ‘I’m a pretty good kisser, you know.’ ‘Oh, I think I’m the better kisser.’ Cut to us making out on the couch like a couple of horny teenagers. What really cooled it was the fact that as some point, we both started laughing.”

13. “Carrie looked at me and said, ‘I promise you, if you go first, I’ll heckle your funeral.’ That’s quintessential Carrie: It’s so irreverent, it’s so funny. She said, ‘Promise you’ll heckle mine!’ I said, ‘Oh, you got it, babe!’ That’s one promise I won’t keep.”

14. “That’s what I thought was so incredible about her: for all the bravado, it was almost a defense mechanism. She wore this toughness like armor, but deep down, [she had] that vulnerability of a little girl. It’s enormously appealing; and she’s so smart.”

15. “Carrie will always be with us, probably stronger than ever before, because you never miss something like you do when you don’t have it anymore.”

16. “We had a long stretch where I didn’t see her for many years; perfectly friendly, we just weren’t hanging out anymore. So the great gift of coming back to these movies was the fact that I could reestablish my relationship with her, and sort of make amends.”

17. “When I go to sleep at night, there’s never a day so far when I don’t think of her. And when I think of her — and I hope you can appreciate this mental image — she’s leaning down from the celestial stratosphere, with those big brown eyes, that sly smile on her face, as she lovingly extends me the middle finger. That was Carrie.”

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There's A Touching Tribute To Paul Walker In “The Fate Of The Furious”

1. When Paul Walker died in November 2013, halfway through filming on Furious 7, the filmmakers decided his character, Brian O’Conner, would live on.

The last time audiences saw Brian, he was literally driving off into the sunset at the end of the 2015 film. “We took a lot of care in crafting that last end sequence,” director James Wan told BuzzFeed News.

2. So, since Brian is still very much alive in this action-heavy cinematic universe, many were wondering how The Fate of the Furious would handle the character’s absence.

4. The first time comes about halfway through the film, when Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) insists the crew leave him out of their latest high-stakes drama. It’s a quick, cough-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

5. But there’s no mistaking the second time Brian’s name comes up.

No matter how loudly you were sobbing.

6. The plot of Fate of the Furious is that Dom (Vin Diesel) has betrayed the team and paired up with cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who is always one step ahead of them. And it’s revealed that’s because she kidnapped his infant son — a child Dom never knew existed!

Apparently at some point while he thought Letty was dead, Dom and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) had sex and before she could tell him she was pregnant with his baby, Elena was kidnapped. In Fate of the Furious, Dom is reunited with Elena and is introduced to their son aboard Cipher’s enormous plane, where she’s been holding Elena and the baby captive in a seriously high-tech cell. And because Elena believes a father should bestow a first name on his son, the baby doesn’t have a name yet.

7. As he always does, Dom triumphs over the bad guys and rescues his son from Cipher…

…although not before Cipher kills Elena.

8. And, as these films always do, The Fate of the Furious ends with the team celebrating their victory at a family dinner.

9. It’s while surrounded by his loved ones that Dom announces he’s named his son Brian!

10. It’s a beautiful moment that pays tribute to how Brian changed Dom’s life. And it also imitates Diesel’s real-life homage to Walker.

Ralph Orlowski / Getty Images

11. The actor named his daughter Pauline in March 2015 as a tribute to Walker.

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Female Composers Want Their Male Peers To Step Up

HOLLYWOOD, California — Prominent female movie and television composers are tentatively optimistic for the future in the face of almost unbelievably bad statistics. Of the top 250 films of 2016, for example, 97% did not have a female composer, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Nonetheless, four female composers — Pinar Toprak, Lesley Barber, Carly Paradis, and Stephanie Economou — said they think the industry is shifting on a panel Friday at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Expo. They pointed approvingly to the heightened visibility of some individual female composers as well as both formal and informal networks of women emerging to lift each other up.

They also called on men to start speaking up about the issue alongside them, because gender parity won’t happen until men commit to it as well. “It would have been great to have a man on the panel,” Barber said. “And broaden the conversation.”

Barber, who recently scored the critically beloved Manchester By the Sea, said that organizations like the Alliance for Women Film Composers are critical for raising consciousness. Her own personal high profile, too, is helpful. “Producers and music supervisors and executives are seeing the image of what we look like,” Barber said. “They’re seeing the image of us at work; they’re hearing about our teams and our collaborations; they know that they can trust us with bigger-budget projects. They can see that there’s precedent.”

Paradis, a London-based composer, said seeing women in the role “empowers women to believe that they can do this kind of job.” She then cited the personal support she gets from her own friends in the industry; previously, Paradis didn’t know any fellow women composers. Now, “I feel like I’m a part of something that is growing,” she said.

Economou, who works for the composer Harry Gregson-Williams and recently collaborated with him on The Zookeeper’s Wife, said, “The line that I hear the most is, ‘How come there aren’t any female film composers?’ A big response to that is … there’s hundreds of women film composers.”

She believes progressive men in the field are becoming better allies and are starting to question their assumptions. Several years ago, at an event for composers, Economou met a male peer who turned to her boyfriend and asked who he worked for. She explained that she, not her boyfriend, was the composer. “He just got very silent for a little bit, and he didn’t look at me, and he goes, ‘I’m so sorry that I assumed that you weren’t the composer. I’m not quite sure why I did that,’” she recalled. “I was like, ‘What you just realized was the most important thing that you could ever realize.’ … It was so refreshing and wonderful to see someone be like, ‘Why is that my gut reaction?’”

Toward the end of the discussion, the moderator, Variety reporter Jon Burlingame, asked a question that was submitted on Twitter by this reporter: “What can male composers do to support female composers?”

Hire them as writers,” Economou jumped in. “Hire them as music editors. Hire them to work for you, to work on films, to get exposure.”

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Rihanna Rapped On Kendrick Lamar's New Album And Now People Want Rihanna To Rap More

1. The universe really came through today: Kendrick Lamar dropped his highly anticipated album Damn — and much to our delight, it features Rihanna rapping on one of the tracks.

Christopher Polk / Getty Images

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

2. “Loyalty,” the sixth track on the set, is the pair’s first collaboration. On it, Lamar and Rihanna ponder the importance of loyalty and trust in relationships.

Around the 1:09 mark, Rihanna raps about being a “bad bitch way before any cash came.”

3. Naturally, people collectively lost their shit, with some declaring her the new “Queen of Rap,” which…

6. …erm…we won’t go there.

Need to hear another song with Rihanna rapping, she might be a better rapper than Nicki Minaj

— Rob (@NawRob)

7. Although many fans were excited to hear Rihanna drop bars on the fresh track…


— Laia Fenty (@laiafenty)

rihanna is rapping on this kendrick track and i feel like God really heard my prayers on this one

— Lauren Chanel Allen (@MichelleHux)

10. …”Loyalty” isn’t the first time the Anti singer has rapped before.

11. Just last year, she collaborated with Mike WiLL Made-It on “Nothing Is Promised,” and she really went in.

The lyrics may be about shopping in Paris, but she reminds listeners that she put in the work to get to where she is today.

12. Then there was her remix of Wale’s “Bad.”

The original “Bad” featured Tiara Thomas’s vocals.

13. She basically already proved she could spit with “Phresh Out the Runway,” a track from her very own 2012 album Unapologetic.

14. “How could you be so hood, but you so fucking pop? / How could you be so fun, and sound like you selling rocks?”

‘Tis straight fire.

15. Fans are already calling on RiRi to release an entire rap album.

I been wanting a Rihanna rap album since she said, “I bet you niggas gon’ be like, ‘Bitch, this my fucking song.'”

— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick)

rihanna needs to make a rap/trap album. i don’t care what y’all say that would be FIRE.

— kir (@classifiedhoe)

17. Ahem.

Damn. is legendary. I can’t believe Rihanna let this kid rap all over her album and she’s only on one song. She never stops giving😍

— SCAMN. (@ILLCapitano94)

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