Saskatchewan

University of Regina tries to make theatre more inclusive

The upcoming University of Regina play will include a disabled cast member for the first time in the university's history.

For a long time, theatre has been a difficult field for people with disabilities

John Loeppky reads part of a piece he wrote about disability

7 years ago
Duration 4:07
John Loeppky reads part of a piece he wrote about disability

The upcoming University of Regina play will include a disabled cast member for the first time in the university's history, according to the head of the Theatre Department, Kathleen Irwin. 

Natasha Urkow has been acting almost her whole life, but her passion was sidetracked after a serious car accident six years ago. She was 18 years old and in a car with friends, not wearing a seat belt. They were all drinking, and the car crashed. Urkow broke her neck and back in 10 places.

"You need your body for so much of acting, that it was something that I didn't think I could ever do again," she said.

Natasha Urkow reads a piece she wrote while in her theatre class. (Tiffany Cassidy/CBC)
Despite the challenges, ​Urkow, now in her third year of Theatre at the U of R, decided to keep acting anyway. She sits in an electric wheelchair, and has little mobility in her arms. 

"My face is so ridiculously expressive and I think it's because it compensates for the rest of my body," she said. "It's disheartening because sometimes I know, if I could move my body, I could do so much better, but the fact that I can't — I just sort of use what I've got and it can get the point across."

When Urkow auditioned for the U of R production "The King Stag", it was her first time auditioning since being in a wheelchair. She was insecure heading into it, but said the director immediately tried to think of ways to incorporate the wheelchair into the steam punk theme of the play.

In theatre, most roles, even roles where the character is in a wheelchair, will be cast with an able-bodied actor. Urkow has opted to focus on writing or directing instead of acting, in hopes she can have a future in the arts. 

But acting keeps drawing her back.

"I love it too much to completely let it go."

Urkow said she's had mostly positive experiences with acting since losing her mobility, but there are still situations where she's felt people have discriminated against her. 

"I've definitely had cases where I've been told to sit and watch a lot or observe. And sometimes I have to, because it makes sense, but there's a different way to say it, and a different way to be inclusive, and there's a way not to be," she said.

New class aims to help people with disabilities participate in theatre

A theatre class aimed at making theatre more inclusive begins with a warm up. On this day it was zumba.

7 years ago
Duration 0:37
A theatre class aimed at making theatre more inclusive begins with a warm up. On this day it was zumba.
​Urkow is one of five students in the class "Devising Inclusive Theatre". The course is meant to teach people with disabilities how to express themselves through theatre. 

John Loeppky is another student in the class. He has Cerebral Palsy and has worked behind the scenes on productions, working with parts such as lighting. 

"I've always said that I like hands-on things, but quite often I'm physically incapable of them," he said.

For Loeppky, the class has been a chance to experiment with acting in a safe environment. 

"It's just been a great environment. If there's something I couldn't do, the immediate conversation was, 'OK, how do we do it?'"

The class will have a performance on April 2 at the Shubox Theatre. The students collectively wrote the piece that will be performed. 

The upcoming University of Regina play will include a disabled cast member for the first time in the university's history.

now