Realwheels’ managaing artistic director, Rena Cohen, talks to us about their upcoming show Comedy on Wheels and the importance of comedy and humour when coping with life’s challenges.
Could you tell us more about the Comedy on Wheels production?
Comedy on Wheels is an arts-based community collaboration project that falls under the banner of Realwheels’ “Wheel Voices” activity. We’ll be collaborating with people with disabilities, and we welcome anyone who self-identifies with disability to participate. We’re going to create an original show together, the full title of which is: Comedy on Wheels: Celebrating Canada’s Birthday with Belly Laughs.
We launch the project on February 4th at GF Strong – very soon! A very special guest, professional comic Ryan Lachance, will perform at our launch. Ryan, who happens to lives with CP, will share some of his experiences – guaranteed to make you laugh! After some Q & A and mingling, we’ll start the first training workshop that afternoon. The Comedy on Wheels cast will then meet every Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon through May.
The rehearsal process will culminate in a production at Performance Works on Granville Island in May 2017 (May 18,19 & 20).
What’s also SO exciting is that several international comic artists are going to be contributing to this project. We’re going to have an incredible experience learning from the very best.
We believe that shared laughter strengthens human bonds and dissolves barriers.
Why did you choose to focus on comedy and disability?
Our Wheel Voices projects tend to choose us. Comedy on Wheels is a response to the expressed needs of past Wheel Voices participants to engage in a performing arts experience that’ll strengthen and capitalize on one of our community’s greatest assets – the ability to use humour and storytelling to cope with life’s challenges.
We believe that shared laughter strengthens human bonds and dissolves barriers. Disability humour has the potential to undermine ableist assumptions, while also making disability issues more accessible to audiences. And, through comedy, people see past the disability and truly connect with the person.
Can you think of a time where you witnessed comedy making an impact on the life of someone with a disability?
I can think of several, but an obvious example is with one of our original Wheel Voices participants, Andrew Vallance, who has gone on to perform his original comedy across Vancouver. His experience with Realwheels gave Andrew the initial boost of confidence that he needed to take David Granirer’s course in comedy, and launch a performing career. We continue to nurture Andrew’s naturally comedic insights and stage talent through Wheel Voices. Andrew is an important emerging comic artist. We’re stoked to have offered him his first performance platform, and look forward to continuing to support his development.
Why do you think it’s important to have a sense of humour about disability?
A sense of humour is important, period. Humour is a tool that we all use, to cope with life. Given that people with disabilites frequently have lots to cope with, the capacity to harness humour may be especially important, but humour is universally important. It’s how many of us are able to connect with our fellow human beings; shared laughter creates human bonds, through which barriers dissolve and identities merge.
What should able-bodied people know when it comes to comedy and disabilities? Is it OK to laugh?
It sure is okay for people to laugh! We hope to tickle the funny bone of every audience member. We anticipate that our Wheel Voices community performers will be exploring issues that audiences will recognize or identify with, and that some parts of the show will cover territory that’s likely to resonate particularly with persons with disabilities, while being entertaining to anyone.
Also, because 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday, we’ll be giving some topical focus to the Canadian experience. That said, the subject matter will be determined by the participants. Source material will be whatever makes the participants irate, or passionate, or perhaps about what strikes them as absurd.
The voices of people with disabilities are thoughtful, articulate, and often very funny
Comedy can be received very differently depending on the viewer. Where do, or will you, draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate, funny and not funny? Or does anything go?
We have a few ground rules: Nothing racist, sexist, or homophobic. Otherwise, anything goes. The main test will be “is it funny?”
David Granirer, an international comedy expert, will be helping facilitate the production. How did he get involved with Realwheels?
I’ve known about David’s work for some time, and know several people who’ve taken his comedy course. I approached him last year to invite him to work with our community. We’re thrilled to have David facilitating our comedy workshops, and we’re privileged to be able to offer his training free of charge to community participants. In fact, the whole Comedy on Wheels experience is offered free of charge to participants.
How does Comedy on Wheels speak to Realwheels’ vision and mandate?
Our mandate is to create and produce performances that deepen understanding of disability. The voices of people with disabilities are thoughtful, articulate, and often very funny, so it’s natural for us to be providing this platform for the community and subsequently for audiences. We offer a safe place to explore theatre-based creativity, and then we apply some of the rigour that’s associated with this artistic discipline.
What can audiences expect from the show?
First and foremost, they should expect to be entertained and to laugh. If they learn something in the process, even better.
How can people get involved with Realwheels and Comedy on Wheels?
If you’d like to participate in Comedy on Wheels, just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a voicemail: 604-322-7425 Email usually gets a faster response, but we get back to everyone!
If you’d just like to come check out the launch—we welcome you! Just let us know in advance through email or phone so that we can manage numbers.
People can also share their thoughts by joining the #WheelVoices community. Through our #WheelVoices community page on Facebook, anyone who self-identifies with disability can share stories and contribute to the conversation. We will have a special Comedy on Wheels hashtag for those who wish to participate in the process digitally.
Comedy on Wheels: Celebrating Canada’s Birthday with Belly Laughs.
Get Involved: Starting February 4, 2017. E-mail email@example.com or call 604-322-7425.
Show Dates: May 18, 19, and 20.
Show Location: Performance Works at Granville Island
Tickets: Stay Tuned! More details to come!