“Sheltered workshops were quite progressive at the time,” Rena Cohen, the producer of CREEPS tells me. We’re sitting in The Cultch as the actors take a break. I had just watched them rehearse the first scene—four men in a filthy washroom, hiding out amongst the urinals from Carson, the boss of a sheltered workshop. It was 1971, somewhere in Canada.
When break was called, Brett Harris stood up from his wheelchair and took it over to Adam Grant Warren, who’d been sitting on the floor watching the scene. Aaron Roderick, who had just been limping and lisping started walking with his toes pointing forward again. They went from severely disabled men to regular Joe’s wearing unfortunate sweater vests.
Realwheels Theatre wants to see the fourteen percent of Canadians living with disabilities reflected in the performing arts. Three out of the seven cast members have disabilities, a first for a play whose four main characters have cerebral palsy. The play itself was a first for Canadian theatre due to its authentic national voice, and was written by David E. Freeman. Having cerebral palsy himself, Freeman’s work highlights the spectrum of disability through characters who are affected by cerebral palsy in different ways.
When sheltered workshops were started, they were viewed as a step up from institutionalization. What becomes very clear to the audience of CREEPS however, is that the four men would rather spend their days in a decrepit, disease laden washroom, than deal with their belittling boss, his underpaid and mundane work assignments, and a detrimental system designed to “help” them.
It was very hard to watch this play, not only because of its raw depiction of dressed up slave labor, but also because it was difficult to understand the dialogue at times. It was jarring to have interviewed the actors earlier, clear voiced and articulate, and then witness them on stage portraying the physical and cognitive issues that their characters faced. Adam, the only cast member with cerebral palsy, originally didn’t want his character, Jim, to portray any vocal symptoms. Through lots of coaching and exploration however, he realized that where a person stands on the symptom spectrum doesn’t matter as much as what they stand for.
Though the play is one act and remains in the same setting, the depressing background and subject matter is suspended during surrealist dream sequences. Expect to see full grown adults run around in tiny cardboard cars, dressed up as Mickey Mouse or Miss Cerebral Palsy, and tossing hot dogs around. Also expect to hear a lot of talk about balls and cunts, unless your hearing is impaired, in which case Realwheels offers ASM assistance.
The production had me swept up in the characters’ struggles and on the edge of my seat. I found myself relating to Tom, the abstract artist who dreams of respect, and Jim, who is manipulated through promotion to stay loyal to his corrupt boss. This play was written forty years ago, yet modern day Canada is still in the process of phasing out structured workshops. There are still places that are not accessible by wheelchair, and casting agents who’d prefer to train an “able-bodied” person to act like they have a disability rather than hire a disabled artist.
CREEPS took me back in time and shocked me into a new found reality. The script and its execution will entertain, inspire, and maybe even change you. A warning for mascara wearers—consider using waterproof for this show.