In pandemic times, digitally-delivered theatre has been a kind of consolation prize to theatre-goers who can’t safely attend an evening out given the ongoing risk of COVID-19 infection.

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This article was published 13/5/2021 (412 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In pandemic times, digitally-delivered theatre has been a kind of consolation prize to theatre-goers who can’t safely attend an evening out given the ongoing risk of COVID-19 infection.

But the ability to create theatre at home has been a boon and a blessing for a couple of Winnipeg theatre artists performing at this week’s online Cripplepalooza show, a comedy-circus-mime cabaret showcasing disabled artists.

Billed as "Smith and vonWhatever," comedy duo Fiona Smith and Andrea von Wichert enjoyed the opportunity to get back in the theatre game decades after both attended the theatre program at the University of Manitoba, where the two instantly clicked as kindred creative spirits.

In the intervening years, which saw the English-born Smith move from to Japan and then northern Ontario, the pandemic created a lifeline connecting her to theatre. It was a line she thought was cut in 2007 after she suffered a wasp sting.

"In a split-second, my life went from being functional and able-bodied to ... not," she says in a Zoom interview.

From that single sting, Smith developed Systemic Mastocytosis, a rare and incurable cellular disease.

"I became completely allergic to the world," she says. "My access to everything outside of my house was cut off."

For the past decade, Smith, 51, has been looking for a way to get back into theatre while working remotely from her Winnipeg home. In 2020, when working remotely became the new norm, that opportunity finally arrived.

"I know everything‘s been bloody awful, but for me it’s been fantastic," she says. "Because it’s opened doors and it’s opened people’s minds and it’s opened people’s hearts.

"I’m always trying to make magic out of mayhem."

Cripplepalooza, a production of local company Sick + Twisted, will feature two comedy pieces from the twosome, including their first ever musical collaboration, a song titled The Same Conversation.

"It’s kind of a country-ish song about the conversation I had with my doctor every three months about medication," Smith says. "It’s a very tongue-in-cheek look at the very serious conversations that we have when you’re dealing with very serious medication."

The song holds a similar meaning to von Wichert, 50, who has had her own travails with medical professionals after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

"I very much consider myself a psychiatric survivor, if anything," she says.

For both artists, the cabaret is a restoring treatment of its own, thanks to producer Debbie Patterson, who created this avenue for disabled artists.

"Traditional theatre-making in general is a very ablist world," von Wichert says. "Because Sick + Twisted theatre is so radical in its approach to art-making, Deb Patterson has created a space where, as she would put it, ‘the disruption of disability" is the driving and motivating catalyst."

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Cripplepalooza also features performances by burlesque duo Sassy & Quirky, deaf mime troupe 100 Decibels, local funnymen Adam Schwartz and Mike de Jong, contemporary dancer Natalie Sluis, Hailley Rhoda, The ‘lectric Brains Club Band and Sara Arenson. Cripplepalooza will be hosted by Anishinaabe Two Spirit Comedian/Producer Issa Kixen.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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