Channel 4 have released a moving article that was written by Seven Dwarves star Ryan Webb, who discusses the motivations he has for taking part in the show…
Twenty-six years ago, when I was a newborn baby, I was diagnosed with Achondroplasia (the most common type of dwarfism). My mother was consoled by a doctor. He explained that I may never walk, never talk, and never be able to communicate, but ‘there’s always the circus’.
On the scale of crass insensitivity it must rank pretty highly – all the more so coming from a medical professional. Thankfully, understanding of the condition has come a long way since then. People are, generally speaking, much more enlightened. But there is still an element of ignorance and prejudice among a minority…
That was one of the reasons I wanted to take part in Channel 4’s documentary series Seven Dwarves – to challenge these lazy misconceptions.
The show follows the lives of seven dwarf actors living together and performing in a production of Snow White in Woking. The series gives viewers a rounded insight into the personal and professional lives of the dwarves, and aims to cut across some of the preconceptions that small people often encounter.
Most of the hassle we get is just name-calling and finger-pointing. Normally what I find is it’s all about safety in numbers. I can walk past one guy on his own, and he’ll look at me and that will be it.
But then if I walk past him again and he’s with a group of mates, he wants to show a bit of bravado, and it’s a whole different ball game. It can be quite demoralising. I want to get the message across to people that we are no different from anyone else, and I think the series will help us do that.
I was already signed up to do panto when Channel 4 came calling. Unlike the other six, I’m not a professional actor – I do marketing for a perfume company. But I was on a sabbatical from my previous job, and wanted to get some money together to go and meet friends who were off travelling for six months. Panto seemed like a good way to make a bit of money to fund that.
But the other reason I wanted to do panto was because I had quite a lot of issues with self-consciousness. I used to go everywhere with my headphones in my ears – it helped me block out people’s comments. But that wasn’t helping my confidence. I wanted to live and work with other small people, to see how they reacted to comments. And performing in front of 1500 people seemed like an ideal opportunity to address any issues of self-consciousness.
I’m sure there are some people who would consider us performing in a panto as demeaning, but I don’t see it that way at all. At the end of the day, the panto is Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, not Snow White and the Seven Average Height People – the clue is in the name. I would never consider doing anything derogatory, but this is a Disney classic.
I absolutely loved the experience of being in panto, but I’ve decided I’m no actor. When I was younger and I was in the school play, they had to shout my lines to me from backstage, such was my stage fright. I’ve moved on a bit since then, but I was still nervous. Luckily, the others all helped me out enormously – the companionship in panto is incredible, everyone helps each other out, it’s just like an extended family. Everyone gave me a lot of advice.
The one thing they kept telling me was ‘You’ll know if it’s a good audience when the first ‘Heigh-ho’ kicks in.’ And they weren’t lying. The first few shows, we were shouting our lines right next to each other just so we could hear each other, it was so loud. It’s great, especially when you see the kids’ faces. The buzz you get when you see how happy you’ve made someone is just fantastic.
For six weeks, it was a really great experience, I loved it. But I have a full time job. I’m not about to jack it all in to become and actor.
If doing panto was an unqualified success, then taking part in the documentary was an overwhelmingly positive experience too. We all lived in the same house, which was filled with cameras. That was a bit strange – it was already an odd experience for me, as before filming I’d lived on my own, and was used to my own space. Sometimes I missed that, but mostly I really enjoyed myself. We all got on really well – the house was full of brilliant personalities. We had fun, working together, cooking together, and enjoying the odd celebration.
We did occasionally sit around in our down time and discuss our experiences, how certain things impact on us, and how we deal with some of life’s obstacles. One thing that I realised in there was that I had more confidence than I gave myself credit for. Some of the others were worried about going out on their own, but that has never bothered me.
Before filming began, I’d recently started seeing my girlfriend, who’s average height. She had a lot to deal with, what with me disappearing off to do panto, then suddenly taking part in a documentary series where I was living in a house with six other little people. But she dealt with it really well. She appears in the series – she came to visit, or I would go and visit her. She got on really well with all of the others, and bought them gifts and made them scrapbooks of their time in panto.
When the production company first spoke to us about the series, they assured us that they were going to portray us for who we are, and not go out to make us look foolish. But obviously there will always be a bit of apprehension. We all know how the media works. But they’ve been true to their word 100 per cent, they’ve been fantastic.
The episodes that I’ve seen have been brilliant. They’re a mixture of humour, sincerity, and there are really touching moments as well. I understand that some journalists practically had their ‘outraged’ stories written before they saw the programme, only to have to pull them when they’d seen the show.
There will probably be people who argue that we’ve been exploited, or that the show is in bad taste. It’s fair enough, they’re entitled to their own opinion, but until they’ve actually seen an episode, they can’t really comment, and I’d be surprised if they still felt that way having seen the programme. All seven of us would stand together and say we don’t feel like that at all. We’ve been portrayed in a great light, and I’m really happy with the results.
What effect do I hope the series will have? Firstly, I’m not in it for stardom, I work in marketing, but I know the other guys are all actors, and I hope that they get what they want out of it, that it raises their profile and pushes them in the right direction and opens up many doors.
And beyond that, I hope it does change people’s perspectives, and that perhaps we’re looked upon with a better understanding. I hope it will open up people’s minds. And I hope some people will realise the effect they can have when they say things or behave in a certain way.
For me, the experience of doing panto and filming the series has been a fantastic one. I’m a completely different person to who I was eight months ago. And the earphones are out a lot more than they’re in now.
© Channel 4