Magazine Feature / People

Finding her voice on stage

When Regan Linton was a junior in college, she was in a car accident that caused an upper-chest-level spinal cord injury; she will have to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The experience ultimately led her to star in a wildly successful local production of Man of La Mancha and gave her a passion for social justice that has sparked a new career.

Though people sometimes find her perspective hard to understand, Regan says the injury “enhanced my life in so many ways. The challenges I’ve experienced have been nothing compared to what I’ve gained.”

A return to the stage

Regan, now a master’s student in social work, was encouraged by a friend to join PHAMALY, the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League, two years after her accident. PHAMALY is a nonprofit theater company for actors who have physical and/or developmental disabilities.

Though Regan had been active in music and theater for most of her life, when she went on stage five years ago for her first PHAMALY production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, it was nervewracking. “I was rolling on stage feeling like the biggest idiot in the world, dancing on stage in my wheelchair,” she says. “It was a scary experience, but after the first few minutes, it was like any other performance. Everything else melts away.”

This summer, she starred as Aldonza in the musical Man of La Mancha, which garnered stellar reviews and sold out several nights of its four-week run.

PHAMALY’s philosophy is to incorporate actors’ disabilities into its productions. “Disabilities are now a huge creative opportunity for us,” Regan says. “We don’t focus on them, but we don’t ignore them, either.”

One scene from Man of La Mancha incorporated Regan’s disability to huge effect. When Regan’s character was assaulted in the play, her attackers took her wheelchair and left her stranded. Regan sang her key solo while pulling herself across the stage with her arms — an intense, difficult sight for many viewers. “You could hear a pin drop. You really felt an audience connection,” Regan says.

Regan credits her experiences on stage with turning her life around. “PHAMALY opened my world again,” she says. “It allowed me to become confident as a person with a disability.”

Turning the arts into social change

Regan’s disability inspired her to begin a career in social work. After her accident, “it was the first time in my life I’d really experienced marginalization,” she says. “It really opened my eyes to the social injustice around me — the discrimination that exists, not just toward people with disabilities.”

This new awareness led Regan to enroll in the Graduate School of Social Work, where she’s focusing on community work and doing an internship with Yoga for the People, a nonprofit that teaches yoga to underserved populations.

When she graduates, Regan wants to integrate social work with the performing arts, using self-expression to empower people in all kinds of disempowered groups, not just people with disabilities. “I want to help people find their personal voice through theater,” she says.


Comments are closed.