B.C. artists stage Chicago-inspired performance spotlighting disrespect faced by people with disabilities

·2 min read
Amelia Cooper is one of 14 artists performing May 5 and May 14 in Realwheels Theatre's production, Wheel Voices: Tune In! (Submitted by Amelia Cooper - image credit)
Amelia Cooper is one of 14 artists performing May 5 and May 14 in Realwheels Theatre's production, Wheel Voices: Tune In! (Submitted by Amelia Cooper - image credit)

The cast members in a theatrical performance being staged virtually this week aren't likely to attack anyone who parks in a handicapped spot, but their fictional characters might.

Wheel Voices: Tune In! is a mashup of original scenes, rap, spoken word and songs featuring 14 Lower Mainland artists. It is the latest production by Realwheels Theatre, a company dedicated to telling stories that deepen people's understanding about disabilities.

The show premiers online at 7 p.m. Wednesday and includes a parody of the famous Cell Block Tango song from the 1975 musical Chicago in which six female prisoners share via song the details of the murders they committed that put them behind bars.

"They had it coming, they only have themselves to blame," the women sing.

In Wheel Voices, the song is titled Disability Cell Block Tango and the victims are people who cut in front of wheelchair users to access public transit, people who take up handicapped spots and others who have disrespected people living with disabilities.

Amelia Cooper says it's frustrating when people cut in front of wheelchair users to access public transit.
Amelia Cooper says it's frustrating when people cut in front of wheelchair users to access public transit.(Facebook/RealwheelsTheatre)

"We always think about what we would do to those people," said performer Amelia Cooper, during an interview with CBC's The Early Edition guest host Michelle Eliot.

As a wheelchair user, she's irked by people who cut in line through the wheelchair gate at transit stations. Another move she finds offensive is when people offer to bring up her situation with God.

"I've had multiple people come up to me and try to pray for me," said Cooper.

The chorus of Disability Cell Block Tango reveals the characters sought the ultimate revenge on all these offenders: "Compass gate, prayer circle, parking spot ... they had it coming," is the parody's chorus.

Cooper said creating these characters and their costumes was a blast. She plays an incarcerated drug dealer who trades narcotics for crafts while in jail. A jail where the cells have wheelchair buttons.

"Part of the reason we do it is to bring about awareness so that people know and they can try and help reduce the amount of struggles that people with disabilities have to go through," said Cooper about staging productions with a purpose.

Wheel Voices: Tune In! can be watched online at 7 p.m. PT on Wednesday, May 5, with American Sign Language interpretation. A second performance will be presented at the same time on May 14 with audio description.

Both performances are followed by a Q&A with cast and crew.

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