'We're already powerful': Theatrical cabaret gives performers a chance to challenge perceptions of disability

Debbie Patterson, the artistic director of Sick + Twisted Theatre and producer of Lame Is, says she hopes the cabaret inspires the audience to accept themselves as they are.

Lame Is cabaret, featuring performers with disabilities, returns for a second year

Winnipeg's Sick + Twisted theatre has brought back their popular cabaret, Lame Is, for a second year. The production showcases performers who have disabilities. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

It's a cabaret-style show that includes musical theatre, puppetry, and a trapeze act — all showcasing performers with disabilities.

After sold-out houses and acclaim last year, Winnipeg's Sick + Twisted theatre decided to bring back its Lame Is cabaret for a second year.

The goal of the variety show is to challenge perceptions of what living with a disability is actually like, said Debbie Patterson.

The local actor, writer and director, who lives with multiple sclerosis, is the artistic director of Sick + Twisted and producer of Lame Is.

"So much representation of disability in popular media centres on two narratives: the cautionary tail of, 'Don't drink and drive or you'll end up in a wheelchair, and that will suck.' Or the inspiration porn, which is, 'Look at this amazing disabled person who gets out of bed every day,'" she said.

"And those two things have nothing to do with the lived experience of disability."

The hope is that Lame Is will challenge people's perceptions of disability, says producer Debbie Patterson. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Hailley Rhoda is part of a trio of puppeteers performing in Lame Is who each have "invisible disabilities" — those which aren't noticeable right away but which still greatly impact their lives.

The puppets are used to express manifestations of those disabilities.

Rhoda has a connective tissue deficiency, which causes her to suffer from from chronic joint dislocations, as well as a bleeding disorder.

"So life is just a bit more difficult at times," she said.

Lame Is includes a variety of performance styles, including aerial artistry, stand-up comedy, musical theatre, mime, sketch comedy, poetry and puppetry. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Patterson says she doesn't allow her performers to complain about their disabilities or use their performance to raise awareness of their disability.

Instead, they're encouraged to use their performance to share what they've learned about life through their disability.

"I don't talk about empowering people with disabilities, because I think that we're already powerful. I think we have a lot to share that other people need," she said.

"And watching people grow into that is super exciting. Watching people claim that power is really exciting."

Patterson said she hopes this inspires the audience to accept themselves.

Lame Is features a performace from Erin Ball’s LEGacy Circus. Ball is a double below-the-knee amputee. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"I think by demystifying disability, by taking the fear out of it, we make it easier for people to live in their own flawed and lovely bodies, just the way they are."

There are two performances of the Sick + Twisted Lame Is cabaret on Saturday at Prairie Theatre Exchange in Portage Place, at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.


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