TWO months ago, he had never heard of the National Theatre of Scotland.

Now New York actor Christopher Imbrosciano is set to tour the world with them after an international casting call for actors with disabilities saw him land a starring role in the national company’s new touring production.

While the 34-year-old American is delighted that the National Theatre of Scotland cast their net across the Pond to land their man, the actor says more must be done to ensure producers in the performing arts recognise disability as a “lived experience, not a skillset.”

Imbrosciano has joined the cast of My Left/Right Foot, the critically-acclaimed comedy musical written by Robert Softley Gale, for its tour of the UK and Japan.

The show follows an amateur theatre company’s attempts to mount a stage version of the Oscar-winning movie, which they hope will land them an award. An occasionally bawdy comedy, it nevertheless gets to the centre of a contentious issue in the acting world: should actors without disabilities be playing characters with disabilities, mockingly referred to within the industry as “cripping up”?

HeraldScotland:

Imbrosciano said: “You can’t really do this musical without someone with cerebral palsy and if you were to try it, then it would completely defeat the purpose and the argument the story makes.

“It’s dealing with issues like ‘cripping up’ and an able-bodied actor playing the role of Christy Brown would be very hypocritical.”

The actor, originally from South Planefield, New Jersey, was working in Portland, Oregon, when he was contacted by a friend who suggested he should respond to the National Theatre of Scotland’s casting call earlier this year.

The part was originally played by Irish actor Matthew Duckett. Both he and Softley Gale have cerebral palsy.

“I’d never heard of National Theatre of Scotland before, but it sounds very fancy,” said Imbrosciano, speaking in a break from rehearsals ahead of tonight’s preview performance at Dunfermline’s Alhambra Theatre.

“But now here I am about to tour with them, and I suppose my cerebral palsy has helped. Cerebral palsy is as much a part of my identity as who I am.

HeraldScotland:

“It’s so important to show stories of people with disabilities on stage, because for so long there wasn’t any representation, or someone like Daniel Day-Lewis playing someone with cerebral palsy.

“The archetypes were either the plucky hero who overcomes and triumphs over the disability or the villain.”

Imbrosciano has had 25 operations on his legs since childhood and started acting at a performing arts summer camp in the US at the age of nine.

He said: “My first major surgery was when I was five. My physical therapist noticed that to get me involved in physical therapy I really had to engage my imagination. There had to be a story.”

He has since performed in theatre productions in London’s West End and New York, and appeared in popular TV series The Good Wife.

He said: “There are a lot more performers with disabilities than you’d think there are. But if you don’t see representation of yourself you don’t think it’s a possibility. Until we start to change the landscape of visibility, of seeing ourselves, then that’s not really going to change.

My Left/Right Foot, a co-production with Birds of Paradise theatre company, features songs written by Richard Thomas, who penned the lyrics for controversial show Jerry Springer: The Opera. It was one of the most popular shows at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, winning a Herald Angel and a Fringe First.

Previewing in Fife this week, it will tour to Japan where it will be staged as part of the Shizuoka World Theatre Festival on May 2 and 3, before returning to the UK for runs at the Brighton Festival and Dundee Rep later next month.

Imbrosciano senses a gradual change in the industry.

He said: “There need to be more shows like this. We’re getting better, and we’re significantly more woke than we were 20 years ago, but change comes very slowly.

I have had people say they’d love to cast me in their straight play but that audiences would wonder why.

“As an audience member if you were to see me in a play as a ‘normal’ non-disabled character you would assume that there would be an explanation as to why my character is limping.

“But we are the point in society now where we can accept an inter-racial character on stage and not question it. When do we get to the point when we can accept that maybe the actor is physically disabled, and that it’s not a character trait or a metaphor?

HeraldScotland:

“I just saw a play at the National Theatre called Downstate and there was an older man in a wheelchair and I was thinking, ‘what are you guys doing?’ “It takes for more people to think out of the box, realising that disability is a lived experience not a skillset. It’s not something to list on your resume.

“We need to cast the net wider and expose more audiences to disability. People need to be brave enough and smart enough to take chances.”

My Left/Right Foot previews at Dunfermline’s Alhambra Theatre tonight and tomorrow. Other dates: Shizuoka World Theatre Festival 2-3 May, Brighton Festival 14-18 May, Dundee Rep 21-25 May.