Re-calculating explores the reality of the disability experience

Dave Symington performs in one-man show at CBC Studio 700

Realwheels Theatre presents Re-calculating, Jan. 22 to 24 at CBC Studio 700, 700 Hamilton St., Vancouver. Tickets available at http://re-calculating.brownpapertickets.com/

Lucas Foss has more than 30 years of experience working with adults with disabilities. He's also an award-winning playwright and his most recent work, Re-calculating, draws inspiration from his long professional career.

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Foss retired from Capilano University in 2013 after 22 years as a disability services advisor. Shortly before his retirement, though, the North Vancouver resident completed a one-year paid educational leave to focus on his writing.

"What I decided to do was to create a disability awareness piece for post-secondary institutions," Foss says, explaining that Re-calculating was staged at several colleges and universities in B.C. He never intended it for professional production, he says, until he was approached by Realwheels Theatre, a Vancouver-based company that creates and produces performances that aim to help audiences better understand the disability experience. Foss worked with dramaturge Liesl Lafferty to co-write a new rendition of his play, which is being presented by Realwheels Jan. 22 to 24 at CBC Studio 700.

Directed by Jeffrey Renn, Re-calculating remains a one-man show featuring the original star Dave Symington as Jonathan, a quadriplegic drummer. Like his character, Symington is also a quadriplegic and plays electronic drums. And like his character, he has been in a wheelchair since sustaining a traumatic spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident. But that's where their similarities end.

"Jonathan's experience in the play, other than his injury, is mostly fictionalized," Foss says. Through his monologue, Jonathan reflects candidly on his life, his identity, his relationships and his disability.

"The audience, through the intimacy of the character, they get to see that they're not so different and we're all really just doing the same thing. We're trying to move forward, we're trying to heal, we're trying to find some kind of grounding in life."

Although Symington has spent a lot of time on stage as a drummer in bands, he had never acted before Foss, his longtime friend and colleague, approached him with the opportunity.

"He really jumped in and he's really found that he kind of loves it," Foss says. "Dave has quite a capacity to connect, almost immediately, with this character."

Because Re-calculating was written to create awareness and equity, Foss says casting an able-boded actor as Jonathan would not have the intended impact.

"I really felt that the audience would feel tricked and that audience members who have a disability might be very reactive to that."

Foss started working with adults with disabilities in 1976. His interest in the field of disability services was sparked while he was an undergrad at Carleton University. Working a summer job at the telephone company, Foss frequented a nearby pool hall on his lunch breaks and would often see two elderly men talking in sign language while they ate by the window.

"I just thought that was very interesting and I'd never seen anything like that," he recalls. So, he started taking American Sign Language lessons and, after finishing his degree, he began working with deaf and hard-ofhearing adults in Winnipeg, kicking off a long career as a service provider for adults with disabilities.

In more recent years, Foss built another career as an actor and writer. He wrote his first play, LittleVoices, in 1999 and it went on to win the 2013 Playwrights Guild of Canada Comedy Award. Foss also performs in the solo show, which he presented most recently at Presentation House Theatre last fall.

When the curtain closes on this new production of Re-calculating, Foss is hopeful that members of the audience will have learned to see the person before the disability.

"There's a permission that's given from the play so the next time they see or have an experience with someone with a disability, they don't have to be nervous or judgmental," he says. "I'm going to be very interested to see how audiences react."

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