Where are they now? Lauren Hale & Stacee Parkinson

Last September, seventeen-year-old Lauren Hale from Newcastle performed to a crowd of 650 people at The Concourse in Sydney. Before this, the 'biggest performance of her life', she had sung locally at school and church functions at Christmas.

At the 2018 Focus On Ability (FOA) Short Film Awards - 650 appreciative dignitaries, celebrities, filmmakers, actors and supporters of people with disability from all over the world enjoyed her performance.

Inviting Lauren was another one of Martin Wren's brilliant ideas...

While watching the FOA17 short film ´┐ŻLittle Sparrow', Martin thought, Why not invite one of the cast, Stacee Parkinson, to performing at the FOA Awards Night? So he did, and in 2017 Stacee brought the house down singing and playing original composition 'Little Sparrow' on the piano.

In 2018, Martin took that idea even further, calling for audition tapes from FOA's database. After 85 submissions were shortlisted to five, the FOA team unanimously chose Lauren for her outstanding, pure voice.

On the night, Martin was, 'moved to tears'. He was also relieved. 'Being Lauren's first big event, we were uncertain how she'd go. She met so many new people on the day of the performance. There were lots of spotlights, producers' and stage-managers' instructions. Her family had travelled to be in the audience - a hundred reasons to freeze!'

Yet Lauren handled it with grace and professionalism. Now this young woman with Autism is off and singing, taking on Canberra at the campaign launch of Unearth-Ed, one of the largest providers of group educational travel in Australia. She'll be performing in front of executives from Canberra's most iconic tourist attractions like Parliament House, the War Memorial and Questacon, as well as leading hotel chains, politicians and media.

Her forebear, Western Australian Stacee Parkinson, who has Cerebral Palsy, seizures, vision impairments, anxiety and depression, also used her FOA performance to broaden her career with gigs at citizenship ceremonies and her local council's Australia day celebrations. Stacee received a grant to develop new work and collaborate with others.

Not only is FOA enabling careers in film for people with disability, the broader arts community has much to gain.