Accessibility, Inclusion & the Theatre: An Interview with Paul David Power
July 15, 2021
Newfoundland-based theatre artist Paul David Power describes his play
Crippled (Breakwater Books) best: "a love story where one of the people in that story happens to live with a disability." From childhood conflicts to overwhelming adult loss and grief, from despair to hope, Crippled presents the commonality of our inner struggles with personal demons, framed against our exterior struggles with the perceptions of others. We chat with Paul about his play, accessibility and the importance of inclusion on stage and off, and his work with Power Productions, a non-profit committed to producing diverse theatre.
All Lit Up: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What attracted you to theatre?
Paul David Power: I’m from St. John’s, Newfoundland, born and bred! I’ve been involved with theatre and the arts for most of my adult life starting way back in the 1990s with an acting class at Memorial University. I’ve been writing all of my life as well and actually have a degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto.
I think there’s two main attractions for me when it comes to theatre. First is that sense of camaraderie and community. I think a lot of people involved in theatre, especially here in Newfoundland, do it for that sense of belonging. Creativity can be a rewarding but often lonely experience. Theatre depends on that love and willingness to work together you’re your peers to create. That’s a big part of what makes it fulfilling for me. That need for collaboration certainly became more apparent to me over the past couple of years during the pandemic. Secondly, theatre allows you to share yourself, and if you are a writer, your story on an intimate and immediate level with a live audience. I love that instant relationship between creator and audience.
ALU: Your play, Crippled, has received glowing reviews for its portrayal of a person living with a disability. Can you tell us a bit about the play and what you hoped to achieve when writing it?
PDP: Well, I’m an artist, and as an artist it’s important for me, or I have this need to express what I’m feeling through creation. Not always for the public eye. But, in 2003 my partner Jonathan passed away suddenly and I found myself doing a lot of things to deal with that grief—video productions, drawing, poetry, and journaling—just to get those feelings out. Then, the playwright in me resurfaced and the journey started from there. It’s an important story to tell for me, but I think it’s a strong story that people can connect to as well. If you’ve ever gone through loss, this thing we call grief, it’s a journey in itself and you change but you do survive. I think that’s the crux of what I wanted to share.
And then the disability side—well it’s part of my identity, so sharing what it’s like to live with a disability just stemmed from being truthful about life experience. It’s also very important to me as an artist with a disability to create and produce works that represent characters that live with a disability, but the narrative doesn’t always have to focus on the disability—I would describe Crippled as a love story where one of the people in that story happens to live with a disability.
ALU: What is the role of Power Productions in the disability community? Does advocacy play a part in your work there?
PDP: In 2017 I held table reads throughout Atlantic Canada as part of the development of this show Crippled. These table reads, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, included community discussions about diversity in the arts in Atlantic Canada in St. John’s, Newfoundland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Moncton, New Brunswick. The end result was a report submitted to Canada Council to the Arts entitled "Crippled: Atlantic Region Table Read & Community Discussions Final Report.” The report highlights a number of common issues and challenges throughout the Atlantic Region that impacts the representation of persons with disabilities in local theatre. These issues include accessibility, audition and project inclusion, information sharing and opportunities to develop skills. The report also offers a number of recommendations to address some of these ongoing issues. A main recommendation was the need for a community leader to ignite change and Power Productions was born.
Power Productions was incorporated in 2018 as a non-profit organization with a board and formal artistic team. Our organization’s ongoing work includes producing diverse theatrical works, raising awareness about accessibility for both artists and audiences, and supporting projects that reflect the goals and priorities of Power Productions.
ALU: In what ways can performing arts be more accessible to disabled artists as well as audiences?
PDP: We really need to think more about accessibility on stage and off. That means being thoughtful when it comes to where you hold auditions, your ideas for casting, your ideas for the types of stories to tell all the way to your audience. There’s entire sectors of our population that our theatre world is missing out on and that’s a shame.
I’d like to see more focus on "inclusion." The word "accessibility" can be a scapegoat, used to tick off boxes. We need to focus on the lived experience of someone who may have a disability, respect that disability is indeed a unique culture, and creators and leaders should take time to learn and understand that culture—not just make sure there’s a ramp into the theatre.
ALU: Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us?
PDP: Right now I am working on a new piece about addiction and disability during the pandemic. I’ll be sharing a scene from that at the upcoming St. John’s Short Play Festival in September.
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Paul David Power’s work includes roles in over 30 stage plays across the country as well as directing and producing. His was President of the Liffey Players Drama Society in Calgary, Alberta for three years, Artistic Director for Hubcity Theatre in Moncton, New Brunswick for five years and Artistic Associate for the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland for three years. Paul identifies as a disabled artist. He owns Power Productions, a professional theatre company dedicated to the development of works and artists with a focus on the disabled, Deaf and MAD Arts domain. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
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