“I always tried to hide my disability when it came to my role as an actor in the performing arts, but when I finally started to embrace that part of myself, that is how I stood out.”
Recently, on a balmy Brooklyn night, I sat on the porch of multi-hyphenate Bree Klauser, learning how claiming her identities in a newfound way has shaped her in her career. Dressed in a flowy red jumpsuit and adorned with an Earth Bender medallion necklace, this actor, singer, and voice artist exuded a fun-loving and generous vibe. Lucky neighbors also find Bree on this exact porch sometimes singing with a jazz combo as part of Operation Gig (an initiative to bring accessible entertainment to our Ditmas Park community).
Born legally blind in both eyes, Bree identifies as a queer, non-binary person who alternates between use of she/her and they/them pronouns depending on context. A native of Long Island, she moved to Ditmas Park at age 18 and got her BFA in acting at nearby Brooklyn College. Shortly after graduation, she joined Theatre by the Blind, which has since expanded its mission to increasing visibility for all disabled actors (as is evident in the new name Theater Breaking Through Barriers). As Bree explains: “Anything we do as TBTB, we try to see through the lens of ‘OK, if we have a person with a disability or a company of both disabled and non-disabled actors, how can we make it part of the story without making the story about disability?’”
“What is unique about you and how does that influence you as an artist and as a person?”
Bree credits her success to leaning into the question “What is unique about you and how does that influence you as an artist and as a person?” In addition to singing, Bree mastered voice-over acting, and can be heard in the Audible Original Series Phreaks – based on the phone freaks of the 1970s – alongside the voices of Christian Slater, Carrie Coon, and Justice Smith. People also recognize her from her recurring role on the 2018 Apple TV+ show See starring Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard. On a show set in a dystopian future where everyone is blind, Bree represented the low vision community as one of the few legally blind actors on the show.
So… Bree was making her way professionally, walking the red carpet in Hollywood and growing used to the lifestyle inflation of being a successful working actor… and then… in March 2020… the pandemic hit.
Quarantimes virtually wiped out the entertainment industry as Bree and all her colleagues had known it for all of their working lives. To make matters worse, although she has mostly recovered from her personal bout with COVID, Bree still suffers from Parosmia (disruption of the normal sense of smell). “As someone who is visually impaired, I always have a really keen sense of nose – like a K-9 – and now that doesn’t work as well even a year and a half after having COVID.” Bree described the sensation of being down another two senses as “demoralizing.”
Thankfully, by the end of 2021, things had started to pick up again, and Bree was able to book her first commercial campaign when Mastercard developed its Touch Card for the blind and visually impaired. “When I go out for these ‘blind roles,’ the people doing casting expect someone with a cane and glasses and a dog, and fit what we have seen in the media of what a blind person looks like.”
“I know I’m legally blind. I know where my struggles are, but I’m not going to pretend to have an experience that I’m not.”
Bree started a dialogue with the director of the campaign, explaining how blindness exists on a spectrum: “I know I’m legally blind. I know where my struggles are, but I’m not going to pretend to have an experience that I’m not.” Impressed by her authenticity, the director asked Bree to be the voice of the campaign and had her consult on the script to accurately represent the blind and low vision community. “To contribute something to the world through the art we are a part of? This is the best way that I can contribute to humanity right now.”
Bree’s next big adventure entails traveling to Japan with TBTB to perform in two theatrical pieces. She describes the first play, Brecht on Brecht, as a communist Godspell in that it is a devised ensemble meta-theatrical play with music.
The second play, Tatiana Rivera’s The Difference of Beauty is a series of monologues on the subject of self-image. Tatiana Rivera used interviews with all the actors as inspiration for the piece. Bree remembers during their session that “she [Tatiana Rivera] was able to unearth things I hadn’t even discovered on my own. So, it was very healing, and it was a safe place to share that.” Now Bree is eager to see how the individualistic nature of the piece will land with Japanese audience members who were raised in a more collectivist culture.
“There’s not a non-binary desired body type. There’s something liberating… This is a role I can see myself in.”
On a personal level, Bree feels uncomfortable with the social label of “woman” which happens to be the theme of her monologue in The Difference of Beauty. Growing up socialized as a girl, Bree spoke with me about body dysmorphia and how her journey with gender healed that. Switching pronouns, they feel less pressure to conform to a certain image. “There’s not a non-binary desired body type. There’s something liberating… This is a role I can see myself in.”
In preparing for their trip to Japan, Bree describes different acting modalities. They describe working for film and television as comparable to running a marathon because there are long periods of waiting around. But theater, on the other hand, is more of a sprint, and they look forward to reacquainting themselves with that process.
What else is next for Bree? They recently booked a psychological thriller/horror series audiobook called Blood Forest, and landed a role on the adult cyber punk noir animated feature Nascence (which will be in development next year).
“Everything about moving back here – to the house in Ditmas Park Brooklyn – has been driving toward creativity, community, connection.”
Does Bree’s Quarantale have a “happily ever after” post-COVID? They say yes. After coming out of the isolation of quarantine, they returned to the place where they came to be an artist. When they moved from a railroad apartment to their current, more communal living situation – to the house in Ditmas Park Brooklyn – they gained a greater sense of community as well as performance-sized porch. “Everything about moving back here has been driving toward creativity, community, connection.”
Bree told me Quarantimes had taught them how to be vulnerable as an adult, as well as how they can take those lessons into their acting and performing. Leaving Bree’s porch that night, I felt a sense of warmth and camaraderie imagining all the opportunities about to come their way.
I hope Bree will invite me back to the porch for a report on the trip to Japan once they return!
© Taylor Beckman (8/11/22) – Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Follow link for more information about Operation Gig & their innovative “Musician Guarantee Fund.” Even if you can’t attend any of the performances, consider donating to this 501(c)(3) anyway in support of local musicians impacted by COVID: “Our mission is to bring music to the community AND make sure we are paying our professional musicians respectfully.”
Watch a snippet of TBTB’s 2021 production of Brecht on Brecht at the ART/NY Theatres in NYC. This is a tribute to Bertolt Brecht and remembrance that life is precious.
About Tatiana Rivera: Tatiana holds a M.F.A in Playwriting from Columbia University, School of the Arts, where her thesis play, Finding Damascus, explored themes of religion, identity, family, and faith.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Photo Credit: Ben Esner Photography (2022).
Use of photos by FF2 is courtesy of Bree Klauser. All Rights Reserved.