Regan Linton, who received a master’s degree from DU’s Graduate School of Social Work in 2010, made theater history this fall when she became the first person in a wheelchair to be named artistic director of a major U.S. theater company.
And it makes perfect sense that the company in question is Phamaly, a Denver-based professional troupe that produces plays and musicals cast entirely of performers with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. It’s a company that Linton first encountered in 2005 as a longtime actress looking to return to the stage after a severe spinal cord injury.
“I’ve always performed—I was in musicals in high school—but in college I discovered theater for social change: doing theater in a way that is not just entertainment, but can also make a social impact,” Linton says. “Then, when I was injured, it was kind of like this weird blessing in a way. It was like, ‘I see a greater purpose here.’ I’ve been given a greater purpose by virtue of what my body is now, and I’m creating social change just by getting on stage. Acquiring a spinal cord injury changed the nature of how I engage with theater and what I see the purpose of theater to be.”
She discovered part of that purpose at DU, where her interest in social work found its truest expression through her passion for theater. A performer with Phamaly while she was in grad school, Linton began to see how the two fields were connected.
“One of the biggest things that I discovered was that social work was largely about empathy and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and that’s exactly what I do as an actor,” she says. “I made the connection that in some ways theater can be social work—it is one of the greatest forms of creating empathy.”