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Theatre company barred from U.S.

“Crippled” playwright and actor Paul David Power (right) in a scene with Pat Dempsey, who plays Evan. 8 p.m. “Crippled” debuts at the LSPU Hall today at 8 p.m. Power shares his experiences of growing up with a physical disability and grief after loss. Visit www.crippled.ca for more information.
“Crippled” playwright and actor Paul David Power (right) in a scene with Pat Dempsey. - Contributed

Paul David Power’s ‘Crippled’ was expected to debut internationally – until the U.S. federal government got in the way

A local theatre company has had its international debut delayed by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

In 2017, Paul David Power and his company Power Productions was invited to San Francisco by EXIT Theatre after artistic director Christina Augello saw a production of their show.

In order for the company to perform in the United States, Power and the five artists working on the production had to apply for a temporary visa for the two weeks they expected to be south of the border. “Crippled” was due to play in San Francisco and in northern New York state over that period.

After two years of gathering letters and documents to complete the application – and $3,000 spent by EXIT Theatre – the company was notified that the show was not “culturally unique” enough to merit a performance in the United States.

Power says the news was tough to take, just three weeks out from the scheduled performance.

“It’s not very often that opportunities like this to perform internationally for disabled artists or disabled product comes along,” said Power.

“We were really optimistic about that opportunity. To hear from Homeland Security that we weren’t allowed, I was heartbroken. I have a team all behind me as well, so it wasn’t just disappointment for me, it was disappointment for everyone who worked on this play.”

The five-page letter from the Department of Homeland Security features letters of reference from a number of Canadian artists – including Artistic Fraud’s Jillian Keiley (spelled Kelley in the response) – explaining the value of the show in support of the visa application. Ultimately, the department did not see the show as “culturally unique” enough to qualify for the visa.

“Although the authors of these letters hold an enthusiastic and positive opinion of the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries’ production, these letters are insufficient,” reads the letter from Homeland Security.

“The authors of these letters do not identify … the art form that the beneficiaries possess skills in a style of artistic expression … which is unique to a particular country, nation, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons.”

“Crippled” is a semi-autobiographical theatre production about Power’s “experience living with a physical disability since birth as well as dealing with grief after death,” according to the show’s description.

The piece – also featuring Pat Dempsey and Matt White, with direction by Perchance Theatre’s Danielle Irvine and dramaturgy by Artistic Fraud’s Robert Chafe – played a sold-out run at the LSPU Hall in February 2018.

Power says he thinks part of the reason the show was rejected was a lack of recognition of the unique experiences of people living with disabilities – a theme front and centre in the play.

“When you think about different kinds of groups, what are we sharing? We’re sharing how we live our lives, what’s unique to us, how we approach each day, what we experience that a lot of other people may not experience. That’s all culturally unique,” said Power.

“It seems the decision-makers at Homeland Security, in my opinion, did not understand.”

The decision puts the production on hold. There is an appeals process for the decision, but Power doesn’t expect the process could be completed in time for the showing. For now, a petition to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is circulating in an effort to expedite the appeals process.

Power says the company can only wait and see what happens. An invitation to perform the show in San Francisco remains open should the situation be dealt with.

“I’m flabbergasted. It doesn’t make sense,” said Power.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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