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Transforming stereotypes

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | FEB 11 2008

The reviews are in: “powerful,” “evocative,” “transformative,” say those who’ve seen the Unruly Salon, a series of free public performances by artists with disabilities that’s running until the end of March at the University of British Columbia. The performances are paired with academic presentations on issues surrounding disabilities.

“The performers have been fabulous, the scholars have been evocative and engaging, and audiences have stayed well beyond the closing hour,” says Leslie Roman, a professor of educational studies at UBC and co-creator of the series, along with Geoff McMurchy, director of the Society for Disability Arts and Culture.

“The idea here was to transform and challenge stereotypes and to provide other images of people with disabilities,” says Dr. Roman. The other motivation for the series, she says, is to build momentum “in a creative way” for a disability studies program at UBC.

Among the many performers booked for the series was Lynn Manning, a blind actor, poet and world champion judo wrestler; comic Victoria Maxwell, whose solo show, Crazy for Life, is based on her experience with bipolar disorder; and humorist David Roche, who is disfigured and encourages audiences to ask in unison, “What happened to your face?”

Academic performers scheduled to appear included Bonnie Sherr Klein, Canadian film-maker and leader in the disability rights movement; and Catherine Frazee, co-director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disabilities Studies Research and Education at Ryerson University. The papers presented at the salon will be featured in a special issue of the Review of Disability Studies.

The generosity of the performers and scholars has been amazing, says Dr. Roman. “They have very busy lives, some of the performers are highly in demand, and they have dropped everything to participate.”

The seven-part Unruly Salon series began Jan. 12; the remaining performances take place March 8, 20 and 29.

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