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Wheelchair is no hindrance for OSF actor

In love with acting since childhood, Regan Linton thought her dream of being an actor was shattered after a car crash on a Los Angeles freeway left her paralyzed from the chest down.

"After that, I didn't think performing would be possible," says Linton, 33, who was a college student at the time of the crash. "We don't see people with disabilities on stage. I bought into what society said about disabilities."

But after returning to her native Denver, Colo., Linton began performing again with the Phamaly Theatre Company, whose actors have a range of disabilities.

"I found them, and my world opened up again. I found out how I could use this instrument I have for acting," she says, motioning to her body.

A high school athlete who competed in soccer, softball, skiing, cross-country running and swimming, Linton remains an active swimmer and hand-cyclist. She says the general public and people with disabilities have a greater awareness than ever about adaptive sports, but perceptions of what disabled people can do in other areas of life are at times slow to change.

"I believe there's something I can do with my identity that is exciting and fresh in theater and that people can relate to. I can show that people of all abilities can act and perform," she says. "People see a lot of adaptive sports. It's the go-to activity after an injury. My inspiration as a kid was in theater and the arts. I would hate to think of kids with disabilities feeling they have to opt out of theater."

This season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Linton is inspiring audiences of all ages on multiple fronts — teaching workshops to students and tackling two vastly different roles on stage. She plays a mysterious woman decked out in a glamorous red gown and diamonds in "Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land" and a military fatigues-wearing Don John in "Much Ado About Nothing."

She says her wheelchair sometimes isn't relevant to the storyline of a play and other times it is. When audiences see Don John in the wheelchair, for example, they bring their own social understanding to the play and may interpret that the character was injured in a war.

Linton says being an actor in a wheelchair doesn't require as much accommodation as some people believe.

As the mysterious woman, she wears velvety gloves. At first, the gloves were too slippery for her to get a good grip and turn her chair's wheels. The costume department made a quick fix by adding grip patches to the gloves.

When actors have long periods between lines, they often wait in downstairs dressing rooms at the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Linton does the same thing, but she gives herself a bit more time to get back and forth because she uses the theater's elevator.

Linton credits OSF with renovating a unit of its actors' housing to make it wheelchair accessible — a move that will make the unit more versatile in the future.

"It's a new frontier of theater. It's not fully explored. People think it's more challenging than it really is," she says. "It's about humans banding together and making it work."

Linton says being left paralyzed after the crash has in some ways given her an advantage as an actor.

"I've experienced tragedy and loss and a range of human experience that allows me to connect with those emotions. I deal with a lot of physical challenges 80- and 90-year-olds deal with. When you feel you're battling against your own body, it mirrors a lot of challenges in life," she says.

"I would never say I would want it to happen again, but it's given me so much perspective," Linton says. "I was always a bit of an old soul growing up. But this gave me a perspective on the world and human fragility. It makes me a more empathetic human being — and empathy is the number one thing you need as an actor."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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Regan Linton plays Mysterious Woman in 'Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,' directed by Stan Lai and continuing in the Bowmer Theatre through Oct. 31. Photo by Jenny Graham
Don John (Regan Linton) lays a plot with her followers, Conrade (left, Armando McClain) and Borachio (Barret O'Brien), in 'Much Ado About Nothing.' OSF photo by Jenny Graham