Tom Ellenson is a twenty-year old aspiring actor. He cruises Tinder, drinks beer on the couch, and has a borderline religious relationship with Broadway shows. But Tom must travel a rockier path to stardom than his peers: as a sufferer of cerebral palsy, the young actor is wheelchair bound.
Tom played the character Nicholas, a salty sled hockey player, in the recent sitcom Speechless. Speechless was the first television show to prominently feature someone afflicted with cerebral palsy and moreover, caught rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Aside from this impressive feat, Tom wrote and starred in a one man show that just finished up a five night run at the LES’s Flamboyan Theatre. Titled It Is What It Is, the show was part comedy, part spoken memoir, and part multimedia presentation. Speaking through a nifty text-to-voice device called Tango, Tom hit the show’s highest notes with a combination of comedic timing and sometimes-painful pathos.
In one of his bits, Tinder conversations flashed across the display screen, while Tom narrated us through the interaction (“she’s the kind of girl who’s impressed by a guy’s wheels” was a memorable line from one of these side stories), only to admit that the interactions weren’t real and in fact, his romantic options are often limited by his disability.
Tom’s deft switcheroo between the two masks of theatre-drama and comedy spoke to the kid’s talent as not just an actor, but a writer and director. Moreover, Tom’s willingness to tackle his disability head-on with humor (“Don’t f&$% with me I’m in a wheelchair”) amplified the ultimate message of It Is What It Is: we’re all different in our own ways. That we’re not divided by our differences, but united in our different-ness. That our human voice, our megaphone for creativity, whether expressed through vocal chords or Tom’s Tango, is what ultimately defines us. It goes without saying that Tom Ellenson’s is a voice we’ll be hearing plenty more of.
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