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Toby Parker Rees

RespectAbility Entertainment Professionals Lab, Summer 2023

Toby Parker Rees headshot

Toby Parker Rees

Toby Parker Rees is a writer and filmmaker based in the UK. He was one of three writers selected from thousands of entries to write a half-hour film for Channel 4’s BAFTA-winning new talent strand On The Edge. Toby’s script is a mermaid tragicomedy about finding yourself all of a sudden in a body that won’t do what you want it to, based on his experiences with adult-onset epilepsy. The film, which stars Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education) and Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), recently finished post-production and will be broadcast later in the year.

Toby developed epilepsy nearly fifteen years ago and has been living with it ever since. His work increasingly attempts to represent the reality of living with epilepsy, especially the uncanny numinous feeling on the other side of a seizure – somewhere between pure panic and silly ecstasy, not yet quite yourself again.

He started writing after a bad experience as an actor in a touring Shakespeare production – a group of children with Down Syndrome were made to feel unwelcome and rude for enjoying the play too audibly. Toby was performing with his arm in a sling that night after dislocating his shoulder in a violent seizure, so it felt particularly galling to listen to some of the cast, crew, and venue staff talk about disabled people as an inconvenience. Since then, he has tried to make work that is inclusive in both form and content – the conventional ways of doing things were not made for everybody, so it’s worth experimenting with new ones.

He won the IdeasFund Innovators Award for his efforts to make theatre a more inclusive space. He has directed his own work at Bristol Old Vic, The Yard, Camden People’s Theatre, Pleasance Islington, Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, and a lot of pubs. Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You) selected his one-act play to direct himself for a charity gala at the Royal Court. The Independent said his writing ‘thrives on well-observed dialogue’ and The Scotsman said it has ‘a raw ambition and energy that makes it feel unlike anything else you are likely to see at the Free Fringe, or beyond’. He’s been supported by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and the Ronald Duncan Prize, and his plays have been Number One Pick of the Fringe in “What’s On Stage” and “FringeReview.”

As a winner of their Beyond Award, he was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella to adapt his tragicomic monologue play the great dog, Pan (originally written on attachment at Bristol Old Vic) into an experimental film, which was one of twenty selected for Bow Arts’ international moving image biennial.

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After an extensive search and interview process, 20 individuals were invited to participate in the Los Angeles Cohort of RespectAbility’s 2023 Entertainment Lab taking place May 1 – June 9, 2023. This 6-week Lab aims to develop and elevate the talent pipeline of disabled entertainment professional working behind-the-scenes in television, film, and streaming, while connecting them with industry professionals and creatives. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health, and other disabilities ranging in age the 20’s through the 50’s. The Lab is a recipient of The Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award.

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