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A real virtual world

When playwrights are interviewed, they usually enjoy chatting about character development and plot points. Not Kevin Kerr.

When playwrights are interviewed, they usually enjoy chatting about character development and plot points. Not Kevin Kerr.

Why discuss the mundane when you can get really excited about “brain interface,” “neuroplasticity” and “sensory substitution,” all forms of cutting edge research relating to spinal cord injuries.

For the past two years Kerr, the current University of Alberta drama department’s playwright in residence, was immersed in the world of quadriplegia to write Spine. “It is a character-driven story about a man trying to use technology to reinvent his body and his identity,” says Kerr.

As a co-production between the university and Realwheels, a Vancouver-based theatre company that attempts to normalize attitudes about disabilities, Spine has its world premiere at the Timms Centre Feb. 4 to 13.

The fourth year BFA acting class, including St. Albert’s Sarah Sharkey, barely has time to catch its breath before taking the show on the road to the Paralympics at the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad March 10 to 20.

Kerr has written a multi-layered narrative of a man in transition. He has just lost his job, he is a quadriplegic and his marriage is in crisis. “His whole sense of self is derailed and he goes on a journey. He enters a rehabilitation centre where he meets another injured person. She is paraplegic, the result of a failed art experiment,” explains Kerr.

While she looks for answers in the scientific world of cutting edge research, he instead chooses the path of virtual reality where he can reinvent himself. “They have to face a sudden shift of who they are and what they have to do to survive.”

Directing the production is Bob Frazer, a colleague of Kerr’s from their Studio 58 days. While Kerr navigated towards playwriting, Frazer made his mark in television with roles on X Files, Taken and Cold Squad. He also performed in Kerr’s award winning Unity 1918.

Tapped for the lead is actor James Sanders, the founding artistic director of Realwheels. Sanders became a quadriplegic from a spinal chord injury and has dedicated his life to changing ingrained attitudes through theatre and wheelchair rugby.

Kerr can’t seem to say enough about Matthew Skopyk’s sensor design, a new form of technology that allows actors to control some of the effects onstage throughout the performance.

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Spine<br />University of Alberta Studio Theatre<br />Runs from Feb. 4 to 13 at the<br />Timms Centre for the Arts<br />87 Ave. and 112 St.<br />Tickets: $10 to $20. Call 780-420-1757 or visit

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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