If you’re anything like any one of this cast of clever entertainers living with a physical, mental, invisible or in-your-face disability, Singin’ in the Pain: A Disability and Chronic Illness Cabaret is for you. In fact, it’s for everyone, because which of us is untouched by a friend or family member who struggles just that little bit more than others; someone whose body betrays them and controls them and labels them indiscriminately?
Wearing a Wonder Woman costume (it was International Women’s Day and, besides, she was starring as Wonder Woman in the show about superheros that was to follow), emcee Diana Divine was funny, sultry and informative. She also sang beautifully.
Jacqueline Boxx, from Baltimore, used her wheelchair then discarded it for the floor while words like “What did you do to yourself?”, “But you’re so pretty” and “Have you tried yoga?” flashed on the screen behind her and the music repeated “Shut the fuck up”. She was the right amount of sassy, graceful and angry to make everyone want more.
The audiences’ cheers for Boxx and the other performers was about more than talent; these women gave us their personal stories, through song, dance, fan flicks and skin, and we felt privileged to hear them.
Madam Savage’s striptease was all about sexual performance intimately tied to the complications of medication and procedure, so that one might see how difficult it is to be in the moment when constantly living in the future.
Lady Stitch was dressed in white and when she took off her gloves they were red on the inside, and when she took off her dress there was red on her bodice and when the lights turned off she danced with a glow-in-the-dark red-dotted scarf. Lady Stitch suffers unruly periods and I absolutely cried at her suffering.
Ambrosia Lee stripped off layers of clothes that read “worthless”, “defective” and “hopeless”, only to end with a skimpy but bold “What’s wrong with being confident?”. Indeed, what’s wrong with being confident?
And if you didn’t get that those words are pivotal to these feisty women then you might as well rent a DVD about an able-bodied male dancer who has a fascination with his umbrella. I’d rather go to a show that has me dishing out $20 at the end because I want a shirt that says “Disabilibabe”. If I didn’t know I was a disabilibabe when I walked through the Nexus Art Centre door last night, I know it now.
Next time I feel down about my chronic illness, I’m going to remember Jacqueline Boxx on the floor flicking off the audience, not saying “fuck you” to them or to her impaired legs, but saying “fuck you” to ignorance. Empathy is sexy.
Final show tonight at Nexus Theatre.
Heather Taylor Johnson is editor of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain.