Realwheels is a Vancouver-based, professional theatre company that produces performances that deepen the audiences’ understanding of the disability experience. We tell stories in which disability itself is not the focus of conflict, but rather forms the landscape upon which universal issues are debated onstage.
Respectful and accurate representation of disability in the public sphere.
- Excellence in all operations;
- Innovation in content, presentation and technology;
- Authenticity in representing disability;
- Inclusiveness in working with professionally trained artists with disabilities and advocating for better venue access for patrons and performers.
During his third semester in theatre school in 1990, James Sanders became quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury. After a year of rehabilitation he returned to school to complete his training. What he found far more profound than the physical changes to which he needed to adapt were the shifts in perceptions he experienced from his peers and instructors. For the first time in his life he was being told what he could or could not do before he even tried. He quickly learned that the attitudinal barriers he would experience as a person with a disability would be much more difficult to navigate than the physical barriers. He set out to change this.
In 1998 James completed his studies and graduated as valedictorian from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. Shortly after, inspired by a commitment from long-time friend and theatre professional Bob Frazer, James founded Realwheels. Together, James and Bob set out to normalize disability by performing in a play that had nothing to do with James’ physicality. Not finding anything published that satisfied them, they invited Kevin Kerr to write a new play expressly for them. These three core artists proceeded to attract some of Vancouver’s finest theatre practitioners including Roy Surette and Sven Johansson, who collaborated on Realwheels’ first production Skydive.
Realwheels has had significant community impact with the premiere of Skydive, inspiring and invigorating people from all walks of life. The play is regarded as an important and innovative contribution to disability arts: featuring a professionally trained actor with quadriplegia performing on par with his able-bodied counterpart. Since then, Realwheels has created several other shows and community projects, exposing new audiences to the creative expressions of the community of people with disabilities, and impacting perceptions of disability in the general public.
- City of Vancouver’s Award of Excellence – Accesible City category (2015)
- Jessie Richardson Theatre Award – Outstanding Performance by Actor in a Lead Role – Whose Life is it Anyway? (2014)
- Jessie Richardson Theatre Award – Best Lighting Design – Whose Life is it Anyway? (2014)
- Coast Mental Health’s Courage to Come Back Award: Physical Rehabilitation Category – James Sanders (2013)
- Canadian Paraplegic Association’s Christopher Reeve Award – James Sanders (2011)
- Jessie Richardson Theatre Award – Best Direction – Skydive (2007)
- Jessie Richardson Theatre Award – Best Sound Design – Skydive (2007)
- Jessie Richardson Theatre Award – Choreography – Skydive (2007) – for the amazing aerial choreography that made a quadriplegic fly!
- Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology’s Award of Technical Merit – Skydive (2007) – in recognition of the show’s complex technical functions