(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
TCG Blog Salon
Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
REGAN LINTON: I am foremost an actor, and last year completed my MFA in Acting at UC San Diego. I subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where I’ve embarked upon my professional acting career. I am also a writer and teacher, and since I happen to ambulate on wheels, I philosophize, converse, and educate about that experience nearly every day.
JL: In a conversation about Diversity, identity and representation is important. How do you identify? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
RL: I am paralyzed (chest-down) due to a spinal cord injury from a car accident in college, and use a manual wheelchair full-time. I identify with society’s label of “having a disability,” mostly because it makes it more efficient when contextualizing myself for other people . But I don’t consider myself lacking in ability. Truly, the perspective of living at ass-level has increased my capacity for living more fully. What I lost in bodily sensation was replaced in expanded empathy and creativity, which makes me a better actor and a better human. I view my wheels and paralyzed parts as simply unique human characteristics, like skin hue or head shape.
But let me clarify: I’m not ignorant of the weight or realities of social identities…and I’m not wheeling away from or attempting to deny the truth of my physical being. I’m simply not interested in being labeled based on narrow stereotypes that were made about another person in another time and place. I believe that each of us has the power to determine how other people perceive and speak about us, but it must begin with changing how we perceive and speak about ourselves.
JL: Why was it important for you to attend the Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye panel discussion?
RL: I guessed that the conversation would revolve mostly around gender and ethnicity, which are both necessary and important. But I feel that diversity of ability needs to be part of the overall “diversity” discussion. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. lives with a disability, and yet this ratio is woefully underrepresented in theatre, onstage and backstage. So I wanted to represent that perspective in the room.
JL: Can you share one or two moments of discovery that happened for you during the panel discussion?
RL: One of the panelists remarked that he often uses a metaphor of a New York City subway platform to guide his vision of what a “diverse” theatre would look like. I love NYC, and the idea of this metaphor. But as a wheelchair user who has spent a fair amount of time in NYC, the majority of subway platforms are inaccessible to me; rather, you’d probably find me on a NYC bus or wheeling its sidewalks. This was simply indicative that we all have the potential to look around us and think, “Wow, good job, us! What diversity!”, and yet perhaps be mistakenly unaware of who’s not at the party because they couldn’t make it through the door.
JL: What is your biggest take away from the panel discussion?
RL: Making theatre is complicated, for artistic directors, directors, and all the rest of us. But complication is where theatre artists should dwell, not in cruising blandly atop the glossy status quo. Theatres and those who guide them must remember that pushing the envelope is their age-old privilege and obligation, and therefore they shouldn’t get stymied by diversifying. Likewise, individual successes shouldn’t result in stagnant self-congratulation, but rather in a surge to dive further into the muck.
JL: What areas still need to be addressed in your community? What conversations still need to be had?
RL: I think many theatres have begun the dialogue around environmental access for audiences, which is necessary and should continue. But, go further, be curious. if you’re not seeing diverse abilities onstage or backstage, why not? Can someone using a wheelchair get into the dressing rooms or go to the backstage bathroom? Can a kid with hearing or vision loss participate in your educational classes, and do your teaching artists know how to adapt? Do any of your staff exhibit diverse abilities? Where do the crutches, white canes, limps, titanium limbs, assistive devices, stutters, palsies, short statures, and other abby-normals show up in your theatre?
JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies to address issues of Diversity and Inclusion?
RL: Stop being afraid or “too busy” – start a conversation, and figure out who you’re relegating to the lobby or the back row. Then, risk that someone might think you’re nuts, and change something.
Regan Linton (MFA, MSW) is an actor from Denver, Colorado who now lives in Los Angeles. She is a 2013 graduate of the MFA Acting program at UC San Diego – the first wheelchair user to achieve this distinction. Before attending UCSD, she performed and worked with Phamaly, a Denver theatre company for actors with disabilities. When she’s not acting, Regan considers herself a writer, teacher, singer, athlete, social worker, and traveler. She uses a manual wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, and is passionate about the creative possibilities that result from incorporating actors with non-mainstream attributes into theatre. – www.reganlinton.com
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com