Joshua Eber, an accomplished Rockland-based actor who happens to have Down syndrome, is a role model and a downright happy guy. Joshua has defied many medical expectations throughout his life in order to pursue his passion for performing.
Joshua Eber “was born to be an actor,” says his mother, Dori Eber.
Maybe it’s his huge smile, or the twinkle in his eyes, or the warmth of his greeting—whatever the reason, Joshua Eber personifies exuberance. That’s the word that best describes her son, says Dori Eber.
At 29, Joshua is an accomplished singer, dancer, and actor. He has performed professionally since the age of 4, when he made several appearances on Sesame Street. He has been featured in TV commercials for both Marshalls and MetLife and has portrayed a range of characters on film. Joshua made his big-screen debut in 2004 in Palindromes, featuring Ellen Barkin and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In 2008, he performed in The Promotion with Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, and Jenna Fischer. Last summer, he appeared for a month in the one-act play A Little Family Time, both off-Broadway and then at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He also returned to television in 2010 on ABC News 20/20’s production What Would You Do?
All this, and yet, Joshua—who has Down syndrome—takes his accomplishments in stride. The ability to entertain is simply the defining aspect of his personality.
“I’ve watched Josh at rehearsals and I’ve seen him audition for parts,” Eber says. “I think we’re all born to do certain things because we have certain gifts and talents. I think he truly was born to be an actor.”
Her son concurs: “When I audition for a part, I don’t get nervous.”
Once he’s landed a part, Joshua is all business. He reads through the script to determine if the role is one that has been previously performed on screen, and if it is, “Then I watch the movie. I get into the part of who I will play,” he says. His love of acting is what helps him excel at the craft. “Acting comes from emotion. To be an actor, a dancer, and a singer, you need to know how it feels.”
Ever the optimist, Joshua believes in the power of positivity. “When I’ve auditioned for something, I often say, ‘I nailed it.’” No matter what the role, large or small, for a national audience or a local gathering, Joshua puts his all into each performance. He especially enjoyed his part in a film created recently by a graduate student at the New York Film Institute. The work, titled The Wing Man, was a tribute to the filmmaker’s brother who has Down syndrome. The director thought so highly of the project that she believes the piece might be worthy of the silver screen.
“If that happens, I’ll become a big star,” Joshua says with a smile.
At times, Eber has had to step back from her role as mother. “An agent once asked me to read a script, but she told me I wouldn’t like it. She said, ‘Don’t read it for your son, read it for your son the actor.’” In the end, her son took the role in the independent film. “It is an interesting film, but not the kind of film I would have chosen for Joshua,” his mother says.
When he is not performing on a professional platform, Joshua is a frequent and popular cast member of ARC of Rockland’s 20 Somethings Drama Group and ARC’s Adult Drama Group. He has portrayed a range of characters, from the wizard in The Wizard of Oz to Daddy Warbucks in Annie and Bert in Mary Poppins.
“He’s not just an actor, he’s a role model,” says Ervin T. Williams, ARC coordinator of adult recreation. “He energizes other members of the cast. And he never seems to get tired. He’ll practice his lines, or a song, or a dance routine until he gets it right—and he knows when it’s right. That’s a great work ethic.”
A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Joshua has big dreams. His aspiration, he says, “is to be noticed around the world—the Hollywood kind of thing—where people would stop me and say, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s Joshua Eber. Can I have your autograph?’”
He views most of life’s experiences as opportunities to hone his craft. During the summer months, Joshua is a greeter at Rockland Boulders’ home games, a position he initially landed through ARC Careers. Now in his third year at the Boulders, many patrons know him by name and look forward to his enthusiastic welcome at the entrance to the ballpark.
Last summer, Joshua moved from his family home to a supervised ARC residence that he shares with friends. “I said to myself, ‘It would be a good idea to live on my own like my sister did when she was in college,’” Joshua recalls. “I don’t have to depend on Mom and Dad so much.”
His mother is proud of the strides her son has made. “I think back to when Joshua was born,” she says. “The geneticist came in with this speech about giving up our shopping list of every dream we ever had for Joshua. He proved the geneticist wrong. Early on, Joshua taught me that he didn’t know what he was or wasn’t supposed to be able to do. So long as we kept encouraging him, he kept trying, and that’s all we needed to know. He gets tremendous support from his father Jack, his sister Ruvina and brother-in-law Tom, and his niece Spencer and nephew Braden. I’m a very lucky mother.”
Joshua returns the compliment: “She is my hero,” he says of his mom. “She is my rock.” Then, hamming it up a bit, he adds, “She is the wind beneath my wings.”
This article was reprinted with permission from ARCLIGHT Magazine.