JUST WHAT THE DOC ORDERED
Ever felt like you’re less than perfect? Trailblazing Frank Enstein lead Daniel Monks has been there, and he has a powerful message for Bleach* audiences
L ife hasn’t been easy for Daniel Monks, who at the age of 11 was rendered temporarily quadriplegic after a spinal cord tumour biopsy and permanently partially disabled.
Growing up, he struggled coming to terms with his homosexuality, closeting himself for many years.
But, against all odds, this gay, disabled performer made lemonade of life’s challenges and is now starring in his first live lead role.
“It’s a magical dance theatre re-imagining of the classic tale Frankenstein,” he says.
“The big change the directors have made is they consider, what if the doctor was outcast and the reason he creates these monsters is to feel loved? I play the doctor.
“I’m creating the beautiful, wonderful super-humans who in my eyes are perfect.
“My thought process is if they love me it will give me more worth. So it’s a tale about self-love and how we perceive our imperfections.”
Daniel’s disability is something that could hold him back in a leading role, but instead of letting it, he got creative with Frank Enstein directors Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood.
“I have limitations – my right arm is completed paralysed and my right leg has partial paralysis,” Daniel says.
“As anyone with a disability knows, when you have limits life is all about finding different pathways and finding ways to do what we want to do.”
The pathway to realising this particular dream was a windy one – Daniel admits he almost lost his way.
“When I was younger all I wanted to do was act but when my disability occurred my mindset was ‘Now I can’t act, I don’t know of any other disabled actors’,” he says.
“Through that I discovered filmmaking and studied at the National Film School.
“I went behind the scenes because I thought that was where I could still be involved if I wasn’t acting. I started making a film that was essentially based on me and I thought, well, there’s nobody better to play me, than me. So I did and shooting that film every day I realised that’s what I wanted to be doing.”
Daniel’s potential as a performer is far greater than he originally envisioned.
“I do feel as a disabled person we need more representation on stages and screens,” Daniel says.
“A part of the reason I would never give up is that I want to change the precedent.
“I want to blaze those trails so other young disabled people won’t give up on those dreams.
“It’s really heartening and exciting to see other success stories and I hope it continues until it becomes normal.”
This poses the question, as a disabled actor, how does he feel when he sees able-bodied people portraying a disabled character?
“It’s hard. I’ll first say there are always exceptions – for example, you need an ablebodied actor if you’re seeing the character before their disability. A study in the US found 95 per cent of disabled characters on screen are played by able-bodied actors. That is just baffling and insane.
“That statistic needs to flip and we need to at least be casting disabled people in disabled roles. Screen Australia did an amazing study and found disability is the most under-represented minority on screen. The odds are stacked against us, but that’s why we need to keep being ourselves and pushing forward.”
While Frank Enstein doesn’t explicitly explore disability, Daniel relates to its themes of self-love and acceptance.
“I think currently there are so few stories about disability in terms of roles,” he says.
“Often my roles are my character exploring the concepts that do relate to disability, like Frank Enstein.
“There aren’t authentic stories about disability.
“The dream is to play characters where the disability isn’t denied nor highlighted – I’m more than my disability. ”
Daniel’s close connection with his character in Frank Enstein should strike a chord.
“It’s been really beautiful and I’m really excited to share it with audiences. If I’d seen the show when I was younger, especially after I became disabled, it would have had a great impact on me. Even just working on a professional dance show, I mean, if acting was a long shot, dancing wasn’t even on the radar.
“So it’s been really amazing, fulfilling my childhood dreams of performing and acting and dancing, but also on a project that means so much to me.” Frank Enstein, tomorrow and Saturday night at The Arts Centre
Daniel Monks plays the doctor in Frank Enstein, a haunting dance theatre re-imagining of the classic tale.