As a parent of a child with a physical disability and a strong disability advocate, I am continually searching for new initiatives that are pushing to make a difference and to propel the discussion of inclusion in our community. I was thrilled to be able to attend the stage reading and discussion of "Crippled", a play in development by playwright Paul David Power.
Crippled is a product of Paul's own experience living with a physical disability since birth. As a member of the arts community for many years, Paul also strives to further the representation of deaf and disabled artists in the Atlantic Region.
"Crippled is written by and about a person living with a physical disability. It's a new work taking place in the Atlantic Region which assists in putting diversity in our arts community in the spotlight in our region. It is Paul's hope that Crippled will not only entertain, but also inspire discussion and action to expand the diversity of our theatre scene for artists living with a disability."
Paul was joined on stage by actors Pat Dempsey, Gregory Clayton King, Kyle McDavid, and Janet O'Reilly. They delivered a heart-wrenching performance that brought the script to life in such a way that made the audience feel with their whole hearts what the character, Tony, was living.
The plot followed the main character, Tony, read by Paul, as he reflected on a lifetime of ridicule and humiliation because of his disability. Through a series of flashbacks, we see how Tony was rejected, made fun of, and assumed to be less capable because he wore leg braces and used crutches for mobility. He is short in stature – a result of skeletal dysplasia (under development of limbs – in this case, the legs). Tony has spent his whole life feeling “different” and while he has always kept a positive attitude, on this night he seemed to have reached his limit. He was tired of having to be "accepted", and tired of having to constantly fight for an identity beyond a physicality that set him apart.
My heart was left in a puddle on the floor of the theatre that night, when Paul / Tony described the scene in which his mother, having just given birth to him, was visited by a Nun in her hospital room:
"Well, my dear, we must not question God's reasoning for things like this. We must just accept them and believe that God has a plan. You have two other beautiful children. Enjoy and treasure them. Pray that God takes this baby. He's very weak. He may not last through the night, and my dear, maybe that's a blessing. He's never going to have any kind of life. Is that what you want for him? He won't walk or talk. You have to pray for peace for him. Pray for peace and accept that it is God's will."
Tony overheard his mother telling the story of his birth, and was left to wonder:
"When we hear that someone has a baby or is expecting, it's always the image of cute little babies and celebrating. I can't help but think my birth was a disappointment. I mean everybody hopes for a healthy little baby. Everybody celebrates when the baby is healthy. But when that baby isn't, what then? I mean, does the celebrating go away? Is it less of a joyous occasion? Is that baby doomed to a world of lower expectations from the very start? A world that must 'accept' them?"
I cried so hard. I was that mother. That was my baby.
After a very emotional performance, the group took a short break to allow everyone to digest and recompose before continuing with the evening's schedule.
The stage reading was followed by a panel discussion that included Paul Power with dramaturge Robert Chafe, Danielle Irvine, Leah Lewis, and moderator, Maggie Gillis from CBC. The result was a very interesting and informed discussion of disability in the arts and how to expand the diversity in our local arts community.
It is important when talking about inclusion and accessibility to recognize that people with disabilities aren't just spectators - they are artists and creators and valuable contributors. Typically, when theatres and venues think about including people with disabilities, they think about things like where the wheelchairs will be located in the audience, and how a ramp will improve the entrance way. While, yes, improving accessibility is a wonderful thing, it is also important to talk about how we can include people with disabilities as producers of art - as performers, actors, musicians, etc.
What I observed this night was a microcosm of what I want to see more of in the real world - inclusion at its best - people of all abilities and from different backgrounds working together and learning from each other.
There is no need to hide our differences. The fact is that my son might not be an actor or performer (or a doctor or lawyer), and that's ok. He is incredible in other ways, and I am comforted by the fact that the world of opportunities for people with disabilities continues to expand because people like Paul Power explore, develop, and celebrate our differences and offer its lessons to the world.
Thank you, Paul, for your incredible talent and your beautiful insight. It was a pleasure to witness and to be a part of. I wish you great success with your work, and I look forward to seeing the final play when it is performed here in St. John's. I will be the first in line for tickets, and I will recommend it to anyone and everyone with a beating heart inside their chest.
For more information about the project, visit http://www.paulpower.ca/crippled.html