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Wheelchair-bound actress Regan Linton joins a new PHAMALY

Regan Linton

Regan Linton won a Denver Post Ovation Award for her role in PHAMALY's Man of La Mancha. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The accident that nearly ended Regan Linton’s life has instead transformed it.

In 2002, when Linton was a junior in college, she was in a car accident that caused an upper-chest-level spinal cord injury. Though people sometimes find her perspective hard to understand, Linton — who uses a wheelchair for mobility — says the injury has “enhanced my life in so many ways. The challenges I’ve experienced have been nothing compared to what I’ve gained.”

Linton, now a master’s student in social work at DU, was encouraged by a friend to join the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League (PHAMALY) two years after her accident. The Denver-based nonprofit theater company features actors with physical and/or developmental disabilities.

Though Linton 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.”

In summer 2009, Linton starred as Aldonza in PHAMALY’s production of the musical Man of La Mancha, which garnered stellar reviews and sold out several nights of its four-week run. The role netted Linton a Denver Post Ovation Award for best actress in a musical.

After that she was featured in PHAMALY’s Vox Phamalia, an original writing workshop and performance that ran for five shows to sold-out audiences.

PHAMALY’s philosophy is to incorporate actors’ disabilities into its productions.

“Disabilities are now a huge creative opportunity for us,” says Linton, who also has appeared in PHAMALY productions of The Wiz, Our Town and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among others. “We don’t focus on them, but we don’t ignore them, either.”

One scene from Man of La Mancha incorporated Linton’s disability to huge effect. When Linton’s character was assaulted in the play, her attackers took her wheelchair and left her stranded. Linton 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,” Linton says.

The Denver native 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.”

Linton’s disability also 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 Linton to enroll in the Graduate School of Social Work, where she’s focusing on community work and interning for Yoga for the People, a nonprofit that teaches yoga to underserved populations.

When she graduates, Linton 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.


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