Audiences in Milwaukee have seen local arts groups gradually improve access for people with disabilities through means such as increased wheelchair seating, hearing aids, and sensory-friendly performances.
But few have seen what Renaissance Theaterworks puts on the stage of Cost of Living. A professional theater directed by a disabled person, with two disabled actors playing disabled characters.
In the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Martina Maggiok, two characters in wheelchairs interact in subtle and complex ways with two others who care for them.
Renaissance performances begin January 20 at 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee’s Broadway Theater Center.
In “Cost of Living,” Ani, left quadriplegic in a recent accident, cautiously accepts help from Eddie, a shelved truck driver and soon-to-be ex-husband for DUI. Meanwhile, doctoral candidate John, who was born with cerebral palsy, hires Jess as his caregiver. She has at least one secret of hers, which he is trying to find out.
Majok, who is not disabled but used to work as a caregiver, requests in the script’s production notes, “Please cast disabled actors in the roles of John and Ani.” She said no when the company asked for an exception.
Majok told Melissa Rodman in an interview for PublicBooks.org. correct Actors, in any role. The hardest part was finding someone who was sassy, humorous, and could be incredibly working class, which was harder than finding an actor with a disability.”
Regan Linton, who plays Ani in the Renaissance production, and Ben Larnan, who directs it, are past and present artistic directors of Denver’s Family Theater Company. Linton is well aware of her role for Ani in her club-produced “Cost of Living” at the Manhattan Theatre, and for an actor who uses a wheelchair to appear in her Broadway show, she has her I became the fourth person.
After a highway accident in 2002, Linton suffered a complete T4 spinal cord injury. Unlike Ani in “Cost of Living”, Linton can use his arms.
In addition to her acting career, Linton is a regular writer for New Mobility, a magazine published by the American Spinal Cord Association to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and related disabilities.
What Linton wrote for New Mobility is worth keeping in mind when watching this play.
“We need to remember that we disabled people are not the only ones moving around the world in need of care. Some of our vulnerabilities are the wheels of our dating profiles. Thanks to pictures like this, it might be a little more obvious… But everyone out there is hollow and vulnerable., with injuries, insecurities, emotions, and a lot of baggage.”
In discussing the play, Raanan pointed out that people with disabilities are at different places in their journey. Ani has had her disability for less than a year, but John she was born with CP. “Not everyone with a disability reaches a certain level of acceptance, love, etc.”
Both Raanan and Linton are happy to put on plays with characters with disabilities here, but they don’t want “Cost of Living” to sound narrowly about disability. “I think the strength of the play is in the relationships,” Linton said. “Cost of Living” says a lot about intimacy, both the physical intimacy of caregiving and the emotional intimacy that develops between the two of her.
It’s also a play about class and economic struggles.
Thinking about accessibility in big and small ways
In producing “Cost of Living,” Renaissance had to think about accessibility in both the small a and the big a sense in order to use Linton’s trope. A little bit of logistics: Is the door wide enough? Are there captions? Big A is more philosophical. We want everyone to be able to participate.
Luckily, Renaissance has a field-tested accessibility plan secret weapon in marketing director Sarah Kliger Huang, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a scooter and a service dog. (She’s also understudied for Ani’s role on the show.) She said her return to Renaissance, the company she worked for 10 years ago, had nothing to do with the production. .
But it was a coincidence for “Cost of Living.” “Sarah was great,” Ranan said.
Kriger Hwang summarized some of the accessibility changes Renaissance made for the show for viewers.
- Wheelchair seats have increased from the usual 3 seats to 9 seats per performance.
- Increased number of accessible parking lots closer to the theater.
- Open captions for each performance. Captions are displayed on screens built into the set.
- We have reconfigured the lobby for wheelchair users to easily navigate to the bar, ticket office, coat check and restrooms.
Renaissance hired Milwaukee’s Pink Umbrella Theater Co. to “consult with us and lead the training of RTW and Next Act staff on best practices for welcoming audiences with various disabilities,” says Kriger Hwang. wrote by email.
The theater space at 255 S. Water St., which Renaissance shares with the Next Act Theater, already features stair-free access, hearing-loop listening system technology, and well-lit rails for each seating section.
Lisa Rasmussen, managing director of Renaissance, said in an email, “With David Cheksalini and Next Act Theater’s excellent plans, we are very pleased that RTW will be able to play in the most accessible theater for Milwaukee production companies. I am happy to
Budgets for Renaissance productions are typically around $80,000. Rasmussen said the “cost of living” will be about $150,000, with much of the increase going toward his ADA-compliant housing and travel expenses. The company raised special funding and was able to issue grants to offset costs. This includes a grant from his Kasey’s Fund at the United Performing Arts Fund that supports accessibility in the arts.
“We will have additional staff on site for each performance to meet the accessible needs our audiences bring to us,” Kriger Huang said in an email. We plan to be as prepared and flexible as possible to provide an enjoyable theater experience for everyone.”
Renaissance artistic director Susan Fete said future productions “will continue with many of the changes implemented in Cost of Living, including captions, sensory-friendly performances and increased wheelchair capacity.” wrote in an e-mail.
if you go
Renaissance Theater Works “Cost of Living” January 20-February 12 255 S. Water St. For tickets, rtw.com Or call (414) 278-0765.
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