A quick chat with the amazing Mat Fraser. If you don’t know him, read this then LOOK HIM UP.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists with disabilities who aspire to succeed in the entertainment industry?
Be prepared for NO, but keep going until they give in. Be better at what you do than your non-disabled counterparts and you might just get seen as almost as good. Fuck the system, but if you ain’t mainstream success, to some extent you have to behave as if you love it. Don’t use your disability to get away with lack of talent, bad behavior, mistakes, and other human attributes. But, by all means, use it to perform, make yourself more interesting, and recognize the duality of being different in as positive a way as you can manage. It will help.
Can you provide us with a little background on your life prior to becoming a performance artist?
Normal school; got expelled for too much sex, drugs, and rock and roll; 16 years professional rock drummer in bands like Living In Texas, Joyride, and The Grateful Dub. Then I got my disability consciousness and became a performance artist, actor, writer, poet etc.
As a triple threat rock musician, performance artist, and actor, which of the three are you most passionate about and why?
Well, all of them...but I guess portraying disabled characters that reject the tired clichés of “Hollyweird”, showing us to be the full gambit of possibilities that we are. That gives me a thrill.
You also have passions for martial arts, writing poetry, and radio. Can you elaborate on these hobbies for us? Also, do you have any additional interests that you enjoy?
Well none of them are hobbies. I am a martial artist which is a way of life. Radio, I do professionally for the BBC, and I still occasionally write poetry, but I prefer scripts these days. One day I’d like to write a whole play in modern verse.
For 15 years you were a drummer for several rock bands. Would you mind telling me about your experiences with these groups?
Sex, drugs, rock and roll, occasional groupies, and more drugs. I had a great time in Living In Texas, signed to EMI France, and was on day-time TV. We had a big LP, spent lots of money, and then were dropped by the label. We toured a lot in 80’s in Europe, then 90’s in Europe, and Sweden until we settled in a speed metal band/dub reggae band in Brixton, London. Happy, simple days of maximum partying.
That sounds insane! What are your personal opinions about touring and have you given any thought to performing with a band again in the future?
I would love to. In fact, I’m trying to put together a Cramps/Velvet Underground tribute band, made up of freaks and tattooed girls, called The Spazms. Touring has its own rhythm, and once seasoned in it, you can learn to really enjoy its fun...lack of sleep, good food etc. These are the down sides, but still worth it all.
Well, after those crazy and successful days as a drummer, you expanded your musical stylings to rap and speaking poetry, recording several albums. Tell us more.
I wanted to SPEAK to people, tell them how shit I thought everything was, and communicate my disability in society angst to the world. It never occurred to me how ludicrous that was: a white, middle-class, disabled, old rapper from Britain. I liked what I did though, and did 2 LP’s full of my vitriol and rhythms.
Well, aside from your talents as a musician, you have a few fun projects you are involved with right now including hosting at The Slipper Room, various burlesque shows throughout Manhattan, and the Coney Island sideshow. Could you give us some more details about these events?
Well, I regularly host the Slipper Room shows now. I get on with their house style and like to bring my mutated sideshow humor to bear on the bare. The sideshow itself is a great place to hone your performance skills and find out who and what you are as a disabled performer. I love working there and hope to be able to do a lot of next year’s summer season. That also goes for the occasional flash style performances I’ve been involved in, in NYC. I love the openness of possibility there.
In addition to these shows, you have Beauty and the Beast coming up, in which you are accompanied by Julie Atlas Muz. Can you describe the show and your performances to first-time audiences for us?
It’s between theatre and Live Art, it’s a child-like story for adults, it’s the ultimate romance, and it’s quite nude, but not rude. It makes people cry, cheer, and standing ovate. An hour long, we interpret the classic story to inhabit the Oedipal transfer and the equation of mutation as beastly, to find true love only can be free when one is free of all trappings of so-called “prisonesque” normality.
How do you handle mistakes during a public performance?
Treat it as a lesson, be focused enough to not let it happen again, but don’t kill myself with remorse.
Was creative performance always an aspiration for you?
It’s my life, indeed. I am stared at 24/7 in my life. To be able to control the nature of that attention is a wonderful gift, catharsis, therapy. But, most of all, it is power, the power to transform people’s minds and ideas, to help them open up into more knowing beings, and to enjoy life. I get all that and loads more by being a performer; so of course, it is the only way for me to go. The alternative is being unable to change the misconceptions and prejudices about disabled people, which I have no interest in or time for.
What kind of parts do you prefer to play in terms of your roles or gigs as an actor?
Anything at all, but I love it when it has nothing to do with my disability...however I also love it when it’s integral. These days I enjoy comedy and character roles.
Well, since we’ve been talking about your disability…being born with phocomelia, can you provide us with a little background on how life for you differs from those who have been born without this syndrome? And, can you briefly describe phocomelia for those who are unaware?
It means seal-like limbs, which is fairly descriptive because our limbs do look a bit like flippers of seals, especially in X ray format...you can see the bone structure is flipper like...The differences I have encountered growing up are less about how I manage to dress and wipe my ass etc., but more about the social stigma of being extremely physically different and the negative assumptions/reactions you get from the general masses. Most of the time they are lovely, but not always. Dealing with that and processing how to manage it all while remaining sane and functional has been what growing up was all about for me.
How has living with phocomelia affected your being a drummer and performance artist?
As a drummer, merely physically, in that I had to literally reconfigure the drums’ positions in order to play them well. As a performing artist, they have been my inspiration, my reason for becoming a performer, so living with them has been a joy.
Now, how about a few random questions? Can you tell us a bit about the most memorable film or television production in which you have participated or acted?
My film “Unarmed But Dangerous” was incredible. It cast me as the action hero, “Bruce Willis with flippers”, as it says on the back of the DVD. Really violent, underground sicko, British gangster film…I loved it. Then, the big TV series came out in the U.K., “Cast Offs”, because I have a big part and get to play a really complex character. And, because it is seminal in that all 6 main characters are disabled and moreover all played by disabled actors…Never happened before.
To you, the word “success” is defined as what?
Fiscally independent sanity, smothered in universal love.
Any last words?
Get me a drink!