An interview with James Sanders about his theatre company, Realwheels Theatre

The Cultch is happy to welcome Whose Life is it Anyway? by Brian Clark, the latest production by Realwheels Theatre, to the Historic Theatre this week! In anticipation of opening night, we had the opportunity to talk to James Sanders, founding Artistic Director of Realwheels, about the company’s mission and vision.

Realwheels is a professional theatre company that creates and produces performances that deepens the audience’s understanding of the disability experience. Could you tell me a little bit about the origins of Realwheels?

The origins of Realwheels go back over 20 years. It was when I was researching the body of work in film, television, and theatre that either employs actors, directors, writers, and/or producers with disabilities or stories that contains disability in their subject matter. I discovered hardly anything that was worth reproducing, save for a few gems here and there. I decided I was going to dedicate a section of my career to authentically representing disability and thus Realwheels was born. “Real” meaning authentic and “wheels” figuratively describing disability. Or something like that.

Since its founding, Realwheels has produced two original shows, Spine and Skydive and has a show in development. On top of that the company is also  active with the weekly community project Wheel Voice. How have all these different projects shaped the direction of Realwheels?

I believe Realwheels is driven by artists with vision and the voices from the community calling out to participate. And each has informed and inspired the other. The artists engaged in Skydive and Spine were greatly inspired by relationships around disability and that informed the scripts. The community artists saw these shows and many of them were then inspired to be engaged in the arts in some capacity. This engagement with the community has further inspired artists and production personnel to incorporate some of the values and relationships they have witnessed within the community of people with disabilities and to place it within their own work and/or the context of a new professional work. I believe this forms a very unique way of empowering and inspiring individuals and communities that will further reach out to the general public.

It feels like Realwheels operates at an intersection of two communities, the professional theatre community Vancouver as well as the disability community of Vancouver. What are the challenges and rewards of bring these two communities together?

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the language around describing professional and community work. I believe all of Realwheels’ work is professional and community driven, whether it is a national tour with $1 million budget or a community project that empowers non-artists to tell their stories. It’s all the same to me and I don’t think it’s really an issue that worries me too much. Many people have advised me that a company should not try to do both professional and community work but, again, I try not to differentiate between the two that much.

Whose Life is it Anyway? runs at The Cultch from March 11 – 22, 2014 at 8 pm in the Historic Theatre. Tickets are from $18 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 604. 251. 1363 or online.

Comments are closed.