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A prescription for inclusion in Newfoundland theatre

Annette Powell and George Robertson rehearse a scene from "Prescription: Murder," which will be onstage beginning Oct. 31 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.
Annette Powell and George Robertson rehearse a scene from "Prescription: Murder," which will be onstage beginning Oct. 31 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. - Juanita Mercer/The Telegram

‘Prescription: Murder’ cast features actors with disabilities

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

For many years, Paul David Power felt like he was the only person who identifies with a disability performing onstage.

Rarer still was to land a role that didn’t call for a disability.

“I wanted to do a play that was just fun — that wasn’t all about disability issues,” Power says of his latest production. 

“We wanted to demonstrate that you could have a diverse cast from any background, and any physical circumstance in any play, and it doesn’t have to wait for a character or a storyline to call for that.”

"Prescription: Murder" does just that.

Power Productions artistic director Paul David Power.
Power Productions artistic director Paul David Power.

It’s the story of a brilliant psychiatrist and his mistress who hatch a plot to murder his possessive wife. They believe they’ve committed the perfect murder until the bumbling, disheveled and polite detective, Columbo — who always seems to have "just one more question" — is put on the case.

During rehearsals on Saturday, actor Annette Powell convincingly plays the role of the possessive wife, Claire Fleming.

Powell uses a wheelchair, and while the script doesn’t call for Claire Fleming’s character to do so, Powell said the chair made many scenes better.

“We had this extra creepy piece that ends up foreshadowing something that happens later, and if I had been standing, we never would have had that.”

Powell said what Power Productions is doing with its commitment to producing diverse projects with a focus on deaf, disability and mad arts means more than just performing a play in an accessible theatre.

“This is participation at its fundamental level of really including everybody.”

Power says it’s not just about wheelchair ramps, but inclusion in all facets of the community.

“The past few years, I’ve been really fortunate enough to travel across the country, and meet other regions and theatre companies with what we call the deaf, disability and mad arts domain as their focus, and we don’t have that in Atlantic Canada," Power said.

“I wanted to lead that movement to that diversity, and give other people opportunities to either appear onstage or behind the scenes. 

“I always thought there has to be more than just me with some kind of disability who is interested in theatre — I think it’s just the opportunity. Creating that opportunity includes thinking about accessibility, and who you’re reaching out to when you’re trying to cast a play, where you’re holding auditions. Is your venue accessible for performers? 

“There’s a lot of things to think about, but diversity and inclusion can be done if you’re willing to invest in it and think about it.”

That investment can be costly.

Power said his production of "Crippled," for example, included audio description — an accessibility support that took up half the production’s budget.

“It’s not necessarily an affordable thing that all theatre companies, especially in our region where many are non-profits or just smaller theatre companies, can afford. So, you don’t want to eat up your budget if you have to choose between am I going to have a set, or am I going to have audio description?”

“I always thought there has to be more than just me with some kind of disability who is interested in theatre." — Paul David Power

Power said there should be a separate budget line in grant applications for accessibility supports so it doesn’t affect the cost of doing a well-constructed production.

He believes there’s money the government can provide if it wants to live up to its commitment to inclusion and the province’s disability policy paper.

"Prescription: Murder" will be staged at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre from Oct. 31 to Nov 2. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 729-3900 or at artsandculturecentre.com.

Fans of retro television or the Columbo character will find that actor Norm Carlick exudes the true character of Columbo without impersonating him. As Power says, “he’s found his own voice for it.”

Power says the production is a chance for the community to see that a diverse cast can be assembled in the local theatre community with any show.

Twitter: @JuanitaMercer_

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