Transforming mind over body: An interview with Regan Linton
Regan Linton of Phamaly Theatre Company gives us an insight into the power of the arts and its capacity to transform perceptions of disability.
The word “transform” appears in the subtitle of True Colors MUSICAL “Honk!” What kind of meaning does this have?
At the end of the fairy tale Ugly Duckling the “duckling” that was called ugly is actually a swan and grows up to be beautiful. However in Phamaly’s production, we didn’t change the looks of Ugly, other than taking off a stole with feathers, as the character grows up. We wanted to convey a transformation that doesn’t happen physically but that happens in the minds of the viewer. Since birth, Ugly was always beautiful.
As we see in words like “anti-aging” or in the bodylines of runway fashion models, the idea that every country has for “beauty” is historically very limited. The stories that are generally told are often only from one perspective. When I work on adapting an existing story, I try to realise a deeper perspective through questioning: “what is beauty?” For everyone to realise that each individual has value is the most important transformation.
What do you think is the most important thing to create this transformation through “realisation” in society?
I think that people reject or create barriers between different skin colors, languages or disabilities because difference is seen negatively as something that you don’t understand and that it is scary.
Our company tries to creatively communicate these issues by saying: “It’s not scary! To be different is fun!” For example, I use a wheelchair to get around, but I see the body as a musical instrument. Instruments are played differently based on their different types. Some are blown, plucked, and hit, right? I believe that if people can handle themselves and take actions with a confidence that they are playing music that they can only play, then others will understand how wonderfully unique they are.
One of the important things in performing arts is that “a person is present in front of another person.” Theater is a narrative that finds the meaning of life through narrating someone’s life. However, if only one kind of body is present on stage then the real complexity and diversity of this world will not be conveyed.
After I was paralyzed from a car accident, I sometimes felt that I was not part of society because I didn’t see anyone like me on television. Performing arts is a wonderful media where diverse groups of people can each prove on stage that they have a unique talent. Not only in performing arts but visual art, music, and arts in general can flip things that are considered negative to something joyful.
There is a line in “Honk!” that says: “The world is fun because we are different.” It would be really sad if we couldn’t experience the richness of life out of fear of “differences.” We experience happiness through connecting, so let’s hope that in the future, everyone in society will love each other and offer a hand others.
About Regan Linton, Phamaly Theatre Company Artistic Director
Regan Linton is the Artistic Director of Phamaly Theatre Company, a nonprofit theatre that re-imagines established works while exclusively casting actors with all nature of disabilities. Regan is the only wheelchair user to lead a major US theatre company, and has become a prominent voice for inclusion in the national theatre community.
Photo: Ryohei Tomita