Thursday, October 11, 2018

Caught in the Act

Since the success of it's debut production, "Crippled" last year, Power Productions has been registered and incorporated as a not-for-profit theatre company that is committed to creating diverse and accessible theatre projects, professional development opportunities and community collaborations with a focus on the disability, Deaf and MAD arts sector in Atlantic Canada.

Power Productions recently presented "Caught in the Act" by Bruce Kane as part of St. John's Shorts: 3rd Annual Short Play Festival.

Starring: Krista Legge and Steve Daley
Directed by: Janet O'Reilly
Produced by: Paul David Power
Stage Management: Kim White
Assistant Stage Management: Julie Brocklehurst

This clever comedy by Bruce Kane blurs the line between fantasy and reality when Annie and Don realize their relationship is in more trouble than they thought. It’s a one act play and they are the characters – completely vulnerable to the whim of the playwright who keeps editing their backgrounds, reasons for being together and emotional baggage. Will Annie and Don remain just two characters in the mind of the writer or break the fourth wall to become a real couple in charge of their own choices when it comes to love? Clever, unique and a must for anyone who has set out to write (or criticize) a play – Caught in the Act is a comedy that dares to not only break but completely obliterate the fourth wall. 

  photos by: Ashley Harding

The Short Play Festival was a great way to begin to showcase diversity both on stage and off, with a mix of actors and production team members with visible and non-visible disabilities. While disability was not a theme of the play, Power Productions was interested in casting the piece with actors who self-identify as having a disability. A casting call went out back in July, and we were thrilled to see a response from such a diverse group of individuals! Krista Legge and Steve Daley are both first-time actors and they did a tremendous job in their roles of Annie and Don. 

Artistic Director, Paul Power said, "'Caught in the Act' was a great way to engage members of our community who have never participated in a theatre production before, on stage or off. We tried some new things not regularly seen in our arts community, including a casting call for performers who self identify as having a disability. We also expanded accessibility for backstage crew, providing further opportunities where previously there have been none. It's a great example of the mandate and goals of Power Productions in action - providing platforms and opportunities for artistic expression and exploration where previously there have been very little for artists who require accessibility supports and understanding. We really appreciate the Resource Centre for the Arts for its open approach to accessibility and discovering solutions to ensure our theatre community is more inclusive."

Kim White had the role of Stage Manager, and had this to say about her experience:

"Stage managing for "Caught in the Act" was an awesome experience. I never would have thought that I could take on such a role considering the physical barriers that often exist in theatre environments. With adjustments made by the supportive team with the St. John's Shorts Festival and at the LSPU Hall, I was able to call the lighting cues from the actual stage - tucked away behind the curtain using a headset. It was a great example of 'where there's a will, there's a way'. I'm excited to see what Power Productions will continue to do to open up more opportunities in the world of theatre for persons with disabilities... and to see what play we will mount for the Shorts Festival in 2019! I have my Stage Manager hat waiting!"

The cast and crew of Caught in the Act

Power Productions has come out of the gate running, and as a Board member, I am proud to help support the important work it is doing both in and for our community. The organization's ongoing work includes producing diverse theatrical works, raising awareness about accessibility for both artists and audiences, and supporting community projects that reflect the goals and priorities of Power Productions.  
Stay tuned for upcoming dates and events!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Just Dance

This morning, Andrew and I took Brennen to see Luca 'LazyLegs' Patuelli perform and present his "No Excuses. No Limits." program for a sold-out crowd at Easter Seals House! 

His show was similar to the one he presented at City Hall earlier this week, but there was something extra special about watching him do his thing in a space where we often gather with other families who have young ones with disabilities. It was like having a guest in our home who comes with the best of intentions and the warmest of wishes and only wants to see us all succeed and thrive and live our very best lives. It was magical, and Luca touched the hearts of everyone in the room with his positive attitude and uplifting message.

"Keeping an open-mind allows a person to adapt to any situation and find solutions despite feelings of vulnerability or uncertainty. This adaptation, in turn, spawns the persistent determination to see possibilities rather than challenges, breeding the creative thinking that allows people to overcome any obstacle."

After his presentation, Luca offered a workshop for youth and adults with diverse abilities, and Brennen and I were excited to take part in the instruction. Luca had spoken about how it is the slightest movements that make the greatest impact in a performance, and recognizing the value that each particular dancer brings to the piece.

"He understands that different body types and ability levels interpret movements slightly differently. Rather than making imitation of movements the goal, Luca works with dancers to push their boundaries and explore various possibilities which, in turn, allows for unique and emotional connections within the choreographies."

It was incredible to see so many individuals with diverse abilities throw out their inhibitions and use their bodies to create their own unique dance moves. And there were some seriously good dancers in the house!

Like Bella:

And Graysen:

And Hannah:

As a parent, when your child receives a life-altering diagnosis and you are told that he will likely never walk or talk or be able to do anything independently, so many of your hopes are crushed and your dreams go out the window. Thirteen years ago, when our diagnosis was still fresh, I could never have imagined that Brennen and I would be participating in a dance workshop, where his abilities were valued and his movements were celebrated.

Having a child with a disability is not an experience to be pitied, but a joy that makes me feel pretty damn lucky to be living this life, and I know I'm not the only one. Standing around that dance circle in the gymnasium this morning, I felt like the proudest mother there, until I caught the looks on the faces of the other parents and realized that they too felt like the proudest in the room. I am forever grateful for the gift that Brennen is in our lives, and when I attend events like this one, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be a part of this community. Watching these children, all dancers in their own right, makes me understand even more that every life holds great value and there is infinite beauty in our unique abilities.

Thank you, Luca, for spending time with us and for sharing your talents with our community. Thank you for your meaningful message. And thank you for seeing what we see - that our families are lucky and wonderfully blessed, and our children have so much to offer. I hope you enjoyed your time in Newfoundland. You have certainly left a lasting impression on all of us!

Friday, October 5, 2018

No Excuses. No Limits.

You guys are going to be so tired of hearing me talk about Luca 'LazyLegs' Patuelli, but I just can't help myself! If you saw my last post, you know that Luca is here touring the province this week, and I couldn't be more exited! After hearing him speak on the panel at MUN about 'Reframing disABILITY' a couple of days ago, it was incredible to see him perform and present his "No Excuses. No Limits." program at City Hall here in St. John's.

Throughout his career, Luca has been able to share his message with over a million audience members world-wide. Offering a charismatic, interactive, and dynamic presentation on his own successes and failures, Luca spoke personally about how perseverance has gotten him to where he is today.

Luca talked a lot about his dance career, and demonstrated how he uses his upper body strength to create a unique dance style that has garnered him worldwide recognition. Luca is the creator and current manager of the ILL-Abilities Crew, and he co-founded Project RAD, which was Canada's first inclusive urban dance program offering people of all ages and all abilities the possibility to participate in accessible dance studios.

Luca explained that in Hip Hop, the words 'bad' and 'sick' mean good, and so he uses the term 'ill' in ILL-Abilities to mean really good. It represents an adaptation of power, strength, and creativity. Believing in yourself to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Creating advantages from disadvantages, and exploiting your capabilities - to live life to the fullest potential.

Thank you to Alick Tsui for capturing these images! 

Luca's performance was impressive. His presentation was remarkable, and his message was important: "No Excuses. No Limits." I've been saying it all week, and I'm not done talking about him yet! Luca will be performing again to a sold-out crowd at Easter Seals House on Saturday, followed by a dance workshop and social. I am excited to see how Brennen responds to him. I know he will love the music and the hip hop beats, but I am not sure if he will be up for showing off his sick moves on the dance floor. Maybe we will practice a little at home before the weekend. I'm always up for a pajama dance party!

"Dance challenges us to surpass our limitations by discovering strength within. So, live your life to the fullest and dance beautifully!
- Luca "LazyLegz" Patuelli

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Reframing disABILITY

When it comes to inclusion, we try to cover all the bases as a community. There are so many areas and perspectives that need attention, and mountains are not going to move overnight, but I am excited to say that some wonderful things are happening in our province with regards to accessibility in the arts. It is encouraging to know that people (like my dear friend, Paul Power) are committed to creating diverse and accessible projects, not as some charity outreach mission, but as responsible citizens who are committed to representing the real world - a world that includes persons with disabilities.

This afternoon, I attended a panel discussion titled 'Reframing disABILTY: The Perspective From Artists in Performing Arts'.

The panel included three professional performing artists all living with a disability - Luca 'Lazylegs' Patuelli, Erin Ball, and Paul Power, and was moderated by Emily Christy, of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities - NL.

The artists each described their own experiences and various triumphs overcoming adversity in their respective roles. Their stories are both inspiring and motivating, and resulted in an important conversation around inclusivity, accessibility, and overcoming extraordinary challenges.

Paul Power has spent the last 25 years working as a writer, actor and director. Born with a disability requiring the use of crutches and leg braces for mobility, Paul has a long history in raising awareness and understanding about disability issues through his work as a playwright, columnist, director, actor and community leader. Paul is one of 13 deaf, disabled and MAD art leaders from across the country who participated in the National Arts Centre 2016-2017 cycle. The cycle was a year long process that explored diversity in our national theater scene and how artists can work to expand and strengthen disability arts in Canada. Paul is committed to applying what he's learned during this process to projects and initiatives in his own community as well as other areas of Atlantic Canada. Paul currently has his own production company, Power Productions, based in St. John's which produces and advocates for theatre projects focused on disability, deaf and MAD arts.

Paul talked about his experience as a "disabled actor" and auditioning for roles unrelated to his disability. He spoke about how he always felt like the only one with a disability in the theatre world here in Newfoundland, and how that is what led him to create plays that represented persons with disabilities on the stage. Paul said, "I think another factor of inclusion is doing by seeing, and from a theatre perspective, challenging directors and casting agents to broaden their horizon in their casting. It's not good enough just to say 'We welcome everybody'. What I've learned through our activities is that to make change you really have to go in there and pull people out to insight change because it's not going to happen on its own."

Erin Ball is a circus artist from Kingston, Ontario. Her disciplines include aerial silks and trapeze, both solo and duo, wheelchair acrobatics and aerial wheelchair, flexibility and hooping. Erin is also experienced with aerial hoop, partner acrobatics and hand-balancing. She took a year off in March 2014 due to a life changing event that resulted in the loss of her lower legs. She has since returned to her passion of training, coaching and performing, and loves adapting and creating new and different ways of executing her skills. Erin loves to move and to connect with others through movement and play, and she has worked with many diverse groups of people. She developed a workshop and manual in 2017 called 'Flying Footless' - a course for aerial coaches working with amputees. She recently hosted the first amputee circus camp week with Kingston Circus Arts. Erin is involved in many artistic projects, including her company, LEGacy Circus, and various aerial and ground works and creative audio description projects to make circus more accessible for the blind and partially-sighted community.

Erin said that five years ago, she would never have imagined where she is today. "It has been the richest, most fulfilling years of my life.. and the hardest. I have learned so much and continue to every day. Today, I am proud to call myself a member of disabled community, and I hope that I can continue to represent on the circus stage, and get as many others to join me as possible!"

Watch Erin's extraordinary story of survival and how she got back in the ring after losing her lower legs HERE.

Luca 'Lazylegz' Patuelli has lived by the "No Excuses, No Limits" motto his whole life. Born with a neuromuscular disorder affecting the bones and joints of the body, he has undergone many surgeries to support his legs, hips, spine and shoulders.

Luca has been dancing since he was 15 years old. He developed a unique dance style, taking advantage of his upper body strength. By using his crutches as extensions of his arms, Bboy Lazylegz was born! Combining his passion for dance with his knowledge of engaging the masses, he has become a strong advocate for inclusion and integration as he aims to bring people of all abilities together through the power of dance.

Luca had me in tears when he talked about working with children who have more severe disabilities. He stressed the importance of observation, stating that when working with any type of ability, you have to be able to observe what kind of movement is coming out of the person. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may have very limited movement such as the opening and closing of a hand. "Someone might look at that and think, how are we going to integrate them, but this movement of the hand can be interpreted as a beautiful movement within dance. It is the slightest movements that make the greatest difference in a performance."

To hear Luca talk about the amount of passion and energy that can be felt within those slight movements, hit me right in the heart. Thinking of my own child, who has very limited mobility and very few intentional movements, knowing that there is someone like Luca who recognizes that his movements can be purposeful and beautiful.. I was a mess. Luca, you get it, and I am so happy that you are sharing your insight with the world.

Luca is taking his "No Excuses, No Limits" tour across Newfoundland, bringing his inspiring message of inclusion, perseverance, personal empowerment and overcoming adversity to audiences young and old from all walks of life. He has just visited four locations in the province, starting on the West coast and working his way East, with performances in Corner Brook, Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, and Gander. He is now in St. John's and will perform at City Hall on October 3rd and at Easter Seals House on October 6th. Be sure to get tickets! You don't want to miss it!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ben's Adventures

Brennen and I received a beautiful book recently about a little boy named Ben.

Benjamin Robert Gerlach loved being outside with the sun in his face and the wind in his hair. He was a triplet, brother, son, friend, student and church-goer. He was also a young boy living with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. But this didn't define him. He loved lights, toys, movement, noises, his preschool class, his brother and sister, and his mommy and daddy.

He had many challenges in his short life but lived every day with a smile on his face. After a two-year fight with multiple respiratory illnesses, Ben lost his battle on May 2, 2016. This book is dedicated to Benjamin and shows that everyone can have an adventure. And despite medical and physical differences, all kids can play and dream.

Ben's mom, Elizabeth wrote this beautiful book in memory of her son. She was inspired to develop the Ben's Adventures series as a tribute to her son, allowing him to live on and share that even though his short life was a struggle, he was a little boy first.. with friends, dreams, and a love for his family and his life.

In spring 2017, Elizabeth launched the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation to spread Ben’s story, his smile, and to support their community through gifts and acts of service. Ben Smiles is dedicated to enhancing the playing, learning and living of special needs kids and their families by gifting toys and other important devices to children like her son Ben.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will support Ben Smiles' mission. 

Elizabeth believes that things happen for a reason, and this was meant to be their story.

"I can't walk. I can't talk. But that's okay! I use my imagination every day."

Brennen and I love reading this book together because it is not often that we get to see characters portrayed in stories that have abilities similar to his. We love how Ben uses his imagination to take him on all sorts of fun adventures, and I like to hope that this is what Brennen does as well. While we try to do lots of fun things together as a family, I am sure that Brennen also imagines himself floating through the clouds, or running on a beach and building sandcastles. That's just what kids do! Their imaginations are limitless and getting swept up in their thoughts and dreams is possibly the best thing that can happen to a little brain.

Elizabeth, I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet Benjamin, and I know that nothing can take away the pain of that loss, but you are doing incredible things to keep his memory alive and you are having a lasting impact on families with children like ours. Thank you for sharing your boy with us. Thank you for showing me the power of imagination. I am both inspired and challenged to embrace this ever complex life and to encourage my own child's imagination in every way I can. 

Read more about Ben's Adventures and purchase your own copy of the book HERE!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Wheelchair Accessible Edible Path

I am super pumped to share a new project idea that has the potential to have a long-lasting impact on the people of our province! I couldn't be more excited!
The Aviva Community Fund has donated more than $8.5 million over the last decade to create positive change across Canada. This year, they are donating another $1 million towards initiatives that bring people together to create change within their community.

Ability Employment Corporation has been approved to enter the contest for a chance to win $100,000 towards the creation of a new, "Wheelchair Accessible Edible Path" that will be built around the existing Farm and Market in Clarenville.

A wheelchair Accessible Edible Path would serve the needs of people with disabilities and special mobility requirements who have limited access to outdoor green spaces. In line with the Government’s commitment to "removing community barriers for people with disabilities", the Ability Employment Corporation (AEC) would like to develop this project to provide all community members, regardless of ability, an opportunity to learn, play, and reap the many recreational and mental health benefits that are connected with being outside in nature.

The Edible Path will be a ‘living classroom’, designed to educate community members and visitors about Newfoundland’s wide variety of native edible plants, as well as the health benefits of consuming the naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which they contain. The path will be wheelchair-accessible, posted with braille signs, and guided by nature specialists to ensure that people from a variety of physical and cognitive backgrounds can enjoy all that the path has to offer.

AEC is a charitable organization that provides career counseling and job placement services, along with social and volunteer programs to persons with intellectual disabilities and other barriers to employment. The Edible Path will also provide a platform for those with disabilities to build valuable employability skills while leading the ongoing path maintenance and upkeep.

A Wheelchair Accessible Edible Path would make a world of difference to families like mine. I remember shortly after my son, Brennen was born, having to make a huge mental and emotional adjustment to the hopes and dreams I had held for my family. I grew up, like most Newfoundlanders, picking blueberries on the rocky hillsides with my mother and grandmother, and skipping through vast fields of wildflowers with my younger sister. I had visions of recreating moments like these with my own family, but when we were told that Brennen was not going to be able to walk, those dreams were shattered. Just this summer, my sister took her own young children to a local farm to pick strawberries, and while we thoroughly enjoyed the sweet berries they brought back to us, I can't help but ache for the opportunity to create memories like that with my own child.

In order for the Wheelchair Accessible Edible Path to become a reality, it needs your votes! A minimum of 20,000 votes are required to have a shot at one of the three $100,000 prizes. Here's how you can help:

Visit to see the project details and create an account to vote.

Voting begins September 25th and ends October 4th. You can vote up to 10 times, so please use all of your votes! Tell your friends, share on social media, and encourage others to vote as well! The Wheelchair Accessible Edible Path is a brilliant idea that would provide many deserving individuals with the opportunity to participate in something that is so distinctly part of our culture and heritage, it should not be missed.

 “Having a disability should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life.” (inspired by Emma Thompson).

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Run, Walk, Stroll & Roll

On September 8th, we participated in the 7th Annual Stroll & Roll for Easter Seals!

This year's event took place in Bowring Park, and participants were able to choose either the the 5K Run or the 2K Walk Challenge. Serious racers could complete the full 5K with other hardcore runners on the South Brook Trail, or anyone wanting to take it easy could cruise the 2K course at their own pace around the park. (We picked the latter).

The Stroll & Roll raises much needed funds to allow Easter Seals NL to continue to offer quality programs and services for children and youth with disabilities right here in our province.

We look forward to the Stroll & Roll every year because as much as it is about raising funds, it is also about bringing together a community - families, children, parents and caregivers, all united by a common thread: we live with, or support persons with disabilities. I have written many times about how important it has been for me to connect with other parents who are experiencing similar challenges, and I am lucky to now have so many friends in this community. It's the people we meet at events like this one who help me to think differently about disability and help to bring more understanding and acceptance to this sometimes intimidating journey.

The Stroll & Roll is open to anyone and everyone, and this year, we invited some of Brennen's friends and supporters to join our team! Here are some photos from the day!

After the walk, there was a barbecue for all participants and some really fun lawn games set up in the park. My sister brought her little girl out with us for the afternoon, and she had a blast! They have just recently moved back home to Newfoundland, and it is so nice that they will now be able to join us for events like this one. She is the sweetest!

There was live entertainment by local group, Junction Road, and they were fabulous! Brennen loved the music, and had a few dances with Nanny!

We found some painted rocks throughout the park, including this one that we all thought was very fitting.

And we even spotted some secret fairy doors leading into some of the biggest trees. 

We had a wonderful time strolling and rolling with some very special people supporting a very special cause. The weather was just right for this time of year and made for the perfect send off to summer. Even though the kids are back to school, it is still technically summer for another couple of weeks, and this day will be one of our favourite memories from this summer, for sure!

Thanks to everyone who joined us, who sponsored our team, or who has shown their support in other ways. If you would still like to donate, it's not too late! Help us help Easter Seals meet their goal of raising $20,000 to support their programs and services for persons with disabilities! 

Click HERE to donate!