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Meet the actors from Back to Back

The members of Back to Back Theatre have at least two things in common: some level of intellectual disability; and an ongoing acting gig, touring the world with unique and successful productions.

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AUSTRALIA'S most in-demand ensemble of actors, lauded this year for creating the nation's best stage play and about to tour internationally, would struggle to make a living outside their theatre company because of what disability advocates call ''fear of the unknown''.

Cate Blanchett has jointly commissioned Back to Back Theatre's next work to premiere in Sydney next year and the company's actors, who all have intellectual disabilities, are in demand from New York to Paris for their tour of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich from next month.

But while Ganesh won best play at this year's Helpmann awards, Back to Back's artistic director, Bruce Gladwin, says its actors ''would really struggle to make a living'' outside their four-day-a-week employment with the company in Geelong.

Geelong group

In demand … Brian Tilley, left, and Luke Ryan. Photo: Jason South

Back to Back is meant to provide a stepping stone for its actors to film, TV and other stage roles, ''but really the amount of other work offered to them is fairly limited'', Gladwin admits.

Citing Back to Back's mainstream success, the lobby group Arts Access Australia is running a national campaign, ''Don't Play Us, Pay Us'', calling for producers and casting agents to ''authentically'' cast disabled actors as disabled characters as well as in roles where disability is incidental.

Actors with disabilities are ''incredibly frustrated'' that able-bodied actors are usually cast in key disabled character roles, says the lobby group's chief executive, Emma Bennison. ''It's sending a subconscious message to society that there wasn't a person with a disability good enough to play that role.''

The highest profile examples include John Hawkes in The Sessions, Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside and Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.

''We'll know we've arrived … when we have people with disabilities playing extras and everyday roles - the doctor, the lawyer or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet,'' Bennison says.

Gladwin says programs such as Neighbours not only lack cultural diversity but also a ''diversity of physical forms''.

Four Back to Back ensemble members - Simon Laherty, Scott Price, Brian Tilley and Mark Deans - are rehearsing for the international tour of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, a story that mixes cosmic Indian spiritual belief, family drama, the rise of Hitler and the abuse of power.

The actor Scott Price, 25, who has autism and Tourette syndrome, once auditioned for a role in the TV series Blue Heelers as a character with Down syndrome but didn't get the part. ''Playing a person with a disability does seem a little bit cliched,'' he says. ''But I don't mind it.''

In Back to Back productions, disability is often incidental or irrelevant to the characters. ''Back to Back is my primary source of employment but in terms of film and TV, it can be pretty difficult to get by, because a lot of [people with disabilities] are rejected for other roles,'' Price says.

Back to Back hopes to bring Ganesh Versus the Third Reich to Sydney for the first time at the 2014 Sydney Festival.

Meanwhile, Blanchett has commissioned Back to Back's next production, Laser Beak Man, based on the drawings of young Brisbane artist Tim Sharp, who has autism. The show will premiere in Sydney in September next year before heading to Melbourne in November.