Arts and Culture / News

Music student uses pageant crown to advocate for disabled performers

Jenna Bainbridge

Jenna Bainbridge auditioned at schools across the country and found the best fit practically in her backyard.

Bainbridge — a sophomore from Castle Rock, Colo., majoring in voice performance with an emphasis in musical theater — received a DU Provost Scholarship, a music scholarship from DU’s Lamont School and a private scholarship.

While DU made good financial sense, the University also was a good fit for Bainbridge for its willingness to accept her as she is.

An actor. A singer. And a person with a disability.

“The whole reason I am going to school is to try and bring awareness to the fact that disabled actors and performers are [often] not cast and to try and break down those barriers,” Bainbridge says. “I want to go into major theater and movie companies and convince them that just because a part isn’t written as disabled doesn’t mean you can’t have a disabled person act it because in every aspect of life you are going to meet people with disabilities and they’re doing all sorts of jobs and doing all kinds of things. So who is to say that can’t be in a movie or a stage play?”

Bainbridge became paralyzed from the shoulders down at just 16 months. To this day, doctors are unsure what caused the paralysis.

Today it hardly seems the energetic Bainbridge could be slowed down, but she is still partially paralyzed from the waist down and has a limp. Her disability didn’t stop her from making her theater debut at age 10, and it hasn’t kept her from excelling in numerous roles.

Bainbridge has performed in Tick, Tick, Boom and Side Show at the University of Denver and in the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League’s (PHAMALy) How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

But Bainbridge also has seen opportunities pass her by.

She’s been told that she wasn’t cast for several roles because “they didn’t think they could make a limp work.”

In her junior year of high school, she auditioned for colleges at a national thespian conference in Lincoln, Neb. She asked representatives from the schools that didn’t call her back what she could do differently at her next audition.

“I had two or three schools tell me that the reason I didn’t get a call back was because they had a heavy dance emphasis at their school and they didn’t think I could do the dancing. Or they didn’t want to accept someone that couldn’t do the dancing and have to change the program for them,” Bainbridge recalls.

Besides her roles as student and performer, Bainbridge recently was named Miss Castle Rock 2011.

Cathy Kasch, a voice lecturer at Lamont, encouraged Bainbridge to compete in pageants, particularly in the Miss America pageant. It was advice Kasch herself had received when she was a college student and resisted until she learned the competition was more scholarship pageant than beauty pageant.

Kasch was named Miss Colorado in 1978.

“When Jenna auditioned at DU, I remember her telling the voice faculty that her goal as a singer was to make it very normal to see disabled individuals on stage. The Miss America scholarship pageant is the largest scholarship foundation for women in America today. Most of the points are accumulated through interview and platform, and she has already been championing disabled individuals for years,” Kasch says.

Bainbridge did well in the 2011 Miss Colorado Scholarship Pageant in June, making it to the top 15. She believes she was the first person with a disability to compete at the Miss Colorado pageant. She plans to go back next year in hopes of winning the title.

Kasch says she hopes Bainbridge’s competitions will provide her with money for her education. She believes Bainbridge’s strength is being a natural actress with a beautiful voice. In just a short time at DU, she says Bainbridge has carved out a niche for herself, making it to the top choir, taking a lead role in a musical, and growing vocally and personally.

“I think the pageant along with everything she has been doing is helping her to blossom as an individual,” Kasch says.

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