By Kristina Shelden
Realwheels Theatre: No experience necessary, they don’t give a crap that I walk funny, and they’ll teach me everything I need to know. Done and done.
I’ve always been in love with the arts. I think it started when I stood in front of my TV as a little girl belting out songs with Ariel, The Little Mermaid. Throughout my entire life my parents and friends had to deal with performance after performance, solicited or not. I’ve been in jazz bands, performed in musicals, busked solo at Granville Island, performed on stage with my own band, rocked open mic nights, and studied music seriously in college. My career in music was growing with exponential promise.
But, in 2008 I was in a car accident and suffered a serious spinal cord injury. At first, I thought my days in the spotlight were forever over. Oh, how little I knew then.
The thing is, when you have a creative soul, no power in the world is capable of taking artistic expression away from you. I’ve learned over the years through my experiences with VAMS (Vancouver Adapted Music Society), SCI BC (Spinal Cord Injury BC), and other organizations and amazing peoples, that there is always a way, no matter your physical capability.
This brings me to the present. Although music is my first love, I thoroughly enjoy pretty much any form of art, and I’d been thinking for a while that I miss acting. I know I definitely miss being on stage — its siren song luring me with increasing intensity. So I started to look into what possibilities were available.
I was very worried at first, knowing that I had no recent experience, no headshot, and no knowledge of an adult acting scene whatsoever. But fate had a twinkle in her eye and in a moment of generosity introduced me to Realwheels Theatre Company:
“Realwheels is a Vancouver-based, professional theatre company that produces performances that deepen the audience’s’ understanding of the disability experience. [They] tell stories in which disability itself is not the focus of conflict, but rather forms the landscape upon which universal issues are debated onstage.”
I found out that yearly they produce a Wheel Voices project that unites professional artists with the community of people with disabilities for a series of workshops, culminating in a live performance. This could not be more perfect for what I wanted. No experience necessary, they don’t give a crap that I walk funny, and they’ll teach me everything I need to know. Done and done. I joined.
Turns out this year they’re doing a burlesque show.
Uh huh… the first time I get back on stage in a theatre performance, it will involve lace, lingerie, and losing my clothing. Right. Thanks, Fate – too cute.
But, as they say, go big or go home, right?
The truth is, though, I’m grateful to be a part of this show. Firstly because I strongly believe in the arts. Theatre is as much therapeutic as it is entertaining, for performers and audience members alike. And I personally know the struggle one can have to live life with a disability, and have felt the advantages of taking part in production.
For the performers, we increase our social and community involvement — which, when it sometimes feels easier to be a shut in, is completely invaluable. We learn improvisational skills which activate our minds and gives us skills to navigate any situation — not just in the theatre, but in day to day life as well. And, it increases confidence and allows us to explore our bodies in ways mundane life simply doesn’t provide opportunities for. There are so many advantages, physical and emotional, to diving into a theatre production for anyone, never mind someone living with extra challenges.
Secondly, the arts are a unique form of communication between performer and audience. They are a platform within which we can highlight serious topics in accessible ways, so as to address deep concerns and communicate them to people who might be unaware.
This year, we’ve made the bold choice to discuss sexuality and disabilities.
Sexuality can be a taboo subject in any circumstance; however, the taboo factor seems to be exaggerated when it comes to the disabled community. Many disabled peoples feel they aren’t recognized as having a sexual identity. There are people who have never experienced physical intimacy; even simple skin-on-skin in an affectionate and endearing manner can be denied to someone with a disability – especially those with more visually obvious impairments.
The straight truth of the matter is: peoples with disabilities have sexual identities just the same as any able bodied person.
To challenge this, SexyVoices “boldly explore[s] sexual identity from a disability perspective. SexyVoices showcases members of the disability community in performances that break down the stigma surrounding sexuality and disability in playful and dazzlingly unexpected ways.”
Sexuality can be a taboo subject in any circumstance; however, the taboo factor seems to be exaggerated when it comes to the disabled community.
I’ll admit that being a part of this project has both been fulfilling, and a little frightening. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty open-minded and easygoing when it comes to sexuality, but that casual view I felt I held has been challenged during this process. I’m being forced to not only deeply and publicly consider my own sexuality, but highlight it in terms of my disability. I didn’t even realize the hang-ups I had within myself – and the act of literally baring myself, both artistically and physically, is forcing me to identify them, and address them. I am learning to find my sexy voice.
I believe that’s what this show is all about: looking past the shiny veneer of preconceived notions and really digging in to understanding how important sexuality is to all people. What I’ve learned during all this is that we all experience sexuality in much the same way. We tend to segregate ourselves into different categories but the truth is that there’s no one right way to have sex or to indulge in intimacy.
It’s upsetting to me that there are people out there who have never experienced intimacy because of their disability — that there are people who are disregarded outright as viable partners based solely on the fact that they have a disability. I am thrilled to be a part of this project, one that smashes through that shiny veneer of preconceived notions and showcases the sexual identity of all peoples.
This show will knock your socks off with fun, frisky, and fabulous performances by a wonderful group of disabled performers. I hope you will join us for an amazing evening where we really let go and bare ourselves emotionally and even a bit physically, in performances that will intrigue and provoke in a celebration of everyone and everyBODY.