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Teal Sherer and Ashley Wright in "Cost of Living." // Costume design by Amy McDougall. Photo by Pink Monkey Studios

Citadel’s Cost of Living features actors with disabilities in complex roles

Cost of Living
The Citadel Theatre; written by Martyna Majok; directed by Ashlie Corcoran; until Sun., Feb. 2.

Anyone who kept up with the internet’s most popular web series in the early 2010s will have heard of American actor Teal Sherer. She played Venom from the Axis of Anarchy in the third season of The Guild and also created her own web series, My Gimpy Life, about trying to find her way in Hollywood as an actor who uses a wheelchair. 

The series touches on many of the, frankly disturbing, things that people have said or done to her in public, but more importantly was a way for Sherer to advocate to have more performers with disabilities included in the industry, taking on roles that didn’t solely focus on their disabilities. Now, Sherer is in Edmonton to star in the Pulitzer-winning play Cost of Living, which includes actors with disabilities playing fully developed characters in a play that is about much more than disability.

“I think because we rarely see disability represented and we rarely see actual actors with disabilities playing those characters that the disability aspect tends to be, like, almost the focus … but I know for Martyna [Majok] … the writer, for her it’s about class,” Sherer says.

John, played by Christopher Imbrosciano, is wealthy, has cerebral palsy and hires Jess, played by Bahareh Yaraghi, who is “a Princeton grad struggling to make ends meet” to be his caregiver. Meanwhile, Sherer plays Ani, who turns to her estranged husband Eddie, played by Ashley Wright, for help after a car accident leaves her paralyzed. 

“At the end, I think it’s about our need for human connection,” Sherer says.

She adds that having been disabled since she was 14 years old, she was “immediately struck by how authentic and real the characters felt.”

Sherer describes her own character, Ani, as being layered.

“She’s been in this terrible car accident … she’s sad and she’s angry and she’ brash, but she also has these beautiful moments of vulnerability and she’s lovable, and she’s sexual—she’s just such a human,” she says. “And as a person with a disability, it’s just so great to see human disabled characters.”

Ani’s vulnerable moments include a bathtub scene with Eddie, and Sherer says Wright’s personality helped make those moments much easier for her as a performer.

“Just to feel so comfortable and to be able to play a character who is at many times so vulnerable, and his character is too, and to be able to feel open to explore those emotions is everything,” she says.

The production is being presented in association with the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver, where the cast performed before the holidays.

Sherer says that overall the Vancouver audience’s reaction was “really good,” but some individuals seemed a little taken aback by the strong language used in the play.

“That was one of the [pieces] of feedback we got a lot was just getting used to all the swear words was a lot for some people,” she says. “But overall it was well received.”

For this performance, the Citadel Theatre partnered with Chandos Construction for a $130,000 renovation to the Shoctor Theatre’s backstage to make it accessible for performers with mobility aids. 

Sherer has been using the dressing room that now has two accessible bathrooms and an accessible shower, and has been pleased with it.

“I mean, they’re far better than my bathroom at home,” she says with a laugh.

The Shoctor Theatre will also feature an extended accessible seating area for the run of Cost of Living, which, according to a Citadel press release, will act as a pilot for a permanent accessible seating expansion.

Sherer is happy that plays like Cost of Living are encouraging theatres to make their facilities more accessible.

“Because of this show, people are being more mindful and changes are being made that hopefully will now last forever,” she says.

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