Re the “faster, stronger, higher” business: what if the Olympic tagline applied not just to the sports but to the cultural events? The gold would go to the work of art that pushed the boundaries the farthest.
And this coming March, that honour might just go to SPINE, a new Canadian play by University of Alberta playwright-in-residence Kevin Kerr that will run in Vancouver, BC as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2010 during the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
Kerr wrote it specifically for leading man James Sanders, a British Columbia actor who plays a guy escaping the limits of his physical body by beaming into cyberspace. The whole enterprise is pretty high-tech: there’ll be video screens and live actors who “interact” with computer-generated people created by the artists (and operated like puppets via computer) for an effect Sanders calls “blended reality.”
For the flesh-and-blood audience at the new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in Vancouver’s historic Gastown, it promises to be a trip—like watching a play while playing a video game. Flashbacks to Tron and shades of the great Robert Lepage; portents of a brave new world of theatre.
But the real story of SPINE—or at least the story behind the story—is James Sanders himself.
The 39-year-old actor is quadriplegic. In 1990, during his third semester of theatre school, Sanders broke his neck in a freak accident while playing in knee-deep snow. What to do? Well, he was still an actor. Sanders realized that if parts for quadriplegics weren’t exactly budding on trees, he could create some. He founded a company called Realwheels, which blasted onto the scene in 2007 with an award-winning two-hander called SKYDIVE, in which the normally wheelchair-bound Sanders flew over the stage. Realwheels’ mandate is simple: Sanders wants to make world-class art that “deepens the audience’s understanding of the disability experience.” (SPINE, for example, is about “the lengths will people go to to find solutions to their problems,” Sanders explains.) No grand sermons about disabilities.
“We’re trying to make a show that could exist on any stage, anywhere,” Sanders says. “And then we sneak in this other element. And maybe it broadens people’s appreciation just a bit when they encounter disabilities in the real world.”
Tickets are on sale now at: www.sfu.ca/woodwards/tickets_spine.html.