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My granddaughter, Izabel Estrin, found a mission for her life in her first year of college. Izabel was born with no right hand and half a right foot. As her grandmother, I see how everything Izabel learned in her first year at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts pointed to a path of making meaning of all she brings to theater. She wants to study more acting and move into choreography for different bodies; she wants to direct adaptive and accessible plays. All that is in her way is money.
Mary Parker Created 1 Project
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Izabel has grown so much, from the shy young girl feeling “othered” by schoolmates and strangers, with deep doubts in herself, into a young woman strong in her identity as a capable and creative individual. What is more, she has developed a worthy, larger vision that includes others who have faced, and will face, similar challenges without a strong role model and advocate. Her first year was paid for with financial help from the school and from me and other family and friends. This year, while the school is offering some support, I cannot. I lost my partner Dana, to Lewy Body Dementia recently, and the financial toll has made it impossible for me to help. Dana and I have given and received a great deal as Unitarian Universalists over many years, not the least of which is an appreciation for the generous spirits of UUs. As members of this movement, this faith, and our shared commitment to support programs and people who seek to make a real difference in our communities, I wanted to reach out to you now. It’s a compassion issue. It’s a justice issue. It’s an opportunity to be part of a special young woman’s unfolding. Please, be as generous as you can. Help Izabel continue in school and build a space for people with disabilities and different abilities to thrive in the world of theater. The possibilities are great…and so is the financial cost. Please. And thank you in advance!

Izabel says :

My goal is to use my education to change the face of disability representation in theater and film, and I need your help to do it. I am a daughter, a sister, a lover of dogs, music, art, makeup, acting, dancing, singing. I am also a disability advocate; I was born without my right hand and with a partial right foot.

When I was little this did nothing to stop me. I played freely without a care in the world about what I looked like or how I presented myself to other people. I was determined and creative. I existed with my disability, and I saw it as a part of me that I worked with and adapted to. I learned how to do the monkey bars, I played the violin, I skied and ran cross country. I was unstoppable. Middle school proved more difficult for me. I became extremely self-conscious about my physical difference. A lot of this was because I never saw people like me doing the things I was interested in. I loved music and acting and dancing, but I saw no representation in the music and films and plays that I idolized. At the time, I just accepted that that was how it was.

Because I was born with a limb difference, it often feels that, in my everyday life, I am confined to being one type of person: “disabled.” People who look like me are rarely featured, and if they are, their entire character arc and personality is that they are disabled even though oftentimes the actor playing the character with the disability isn’t even disabled themselves!

In tenth grade, I decided that despite this extreme doubt that I had in myself, I wanted to act. I started auditioning for–and getting cast in–shows at my local youth theater and high school. These years in high school when I began acting and theater were a revelation. I knew the first moment I stepped on stage and found confidence in my uniqueness that I could be whoever I wanted to be, and that this was what I wanted to do. When I’m acting I can forget that label of “disabled,” and explore other aspects of being human while adapting to whatever comes my way.

I knew I wanted to act seriously not just because of the euphoria that comes with performance, but because I never wanted children like me who were born with a disability or lost a limb to feel like they didn’t exist or that they couldn’t pursue what they were passionate about just because they didn’t see anyone like them doing it.

I knew when I applied and got excepted to NYU Tisch School of the Arts for Drama that I wanted to use my degree to represent body diversity in theater and film. In the future I hope this will involve much more than just acting; I would love to choreograph for disabled bodies and direct accessible and adaptive shows.

I believe that I was given this opportunity and accepted to this amazing program, in a city that is the heart of theater and film,  to make this difference. My first year at the program completely opened my eyes and further confirmed that this is what I need to pursue. I fell in love with the program and all of my classes and teachers and long studio days. I am in the Meisner studio, and I spent nine-hour days, three days a week there, learning acting and voice and speech and movement and clown and stage combat and crying and laughing.

I noticed, though, that apart from one other girl who was in a different studio, I was the only one who had a physical disability in the drama department at NYU. That’s ridiculous! That under-representation is ridiculous. I know for a fact that there are many talented and creative disabled actors out there, and the under-representation in the industry which is reflected at my school makes me sad.

One community to whom this project is important is a group I am a part of called the Helping Hands Foundation. This is a group of people and families with limb differences. I started going to their gatherings when I was two years old, and now I see the little kids in that community growing up. I want to be a role model for them and help create a world where they can see themselves reflected on screen and stage. At every winter gathering of this community, there are guest speakers (limb different athletes, models, scientists, etc). It would be amazing to stand up in front of that community as a working actor, director or choreographer!

This program at NYU is so important to me. In one year I have grown and changed so much, and I can feel that this is the right place to be in pursuit of all of these things that I’ve mentioned. However, as of right now, I cannot afford to return. After weeks and months of back-and-forth with the financial aid office, I still do not have enough money to attend next fall.

I understand that it is a privilege that I even got to go for one year and that many students cannot afford higher education. But I also understand that this is an important opportunity, and I will do everything in my power to make the most out of it because it is about so much more than me and my getting a college degree.

The total cost of attendance at NYU for next year is $72,000. Here is a breakdown of what I’ve got so far:

$37,000 covered by loans ( I am borrowing the maximum amount I can), scholarships, parent contributions, friend contributions, and summer work

$15,000–help from my great aunt

$21,000—this is what I still need

NYU is notoriously stingy with financial aid. As part of my package, they included a $51,000 parent loan (for one year). My mother is a single mom and a teacher (and I have a younger brother, too), and this loan is larger than her annual salary, so we could not accept it. I knew when I decided to go to Tisch that it would be a massive financial stretch and might not work out. Against my mother’s practical advice, I decided to try to make it work. I would not have succeded without the help of literally hundreds of people who made small contributions last year; my first year was, in part, a gift from my community. This is part of what makes me want to see this through. I don’t want to let them down!

My tuition payment is due the first week in August. If I have not raised the funds by then, I will move on to plan B. This would either be studying at a non-degree (less expensive) studio in New York or living at home with my Mom in rural Vermont, working at the local general store, and taking some community college classes.

Here is a link to my NYU program if you would like to read more about it.

https://tisch.nyu.edu/drama

Thanks so much for considering my project!

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