Natasha Urkow covered in a red blanket during one of her performances with Listen to Dis'.

Natasha Urkow in a 2018 performance of Mine to Have with Listen to Dis'.

Natasha Urkow didn't think that performing in theatre was still possible after a spinal cord injury. But she learned it needed to be her passion and career choice.
2 min. read

Natasha Urkow has been passionate about theatre from a very young age. “I had a knack for it,” she says. After she sustained a spinal cord injury when she was 18, she didn’t think performing was still possible. Then she went to the University of Regina and took the “Devising Inclusive Theatre” class instructed by Kathleen Irwin and Traci Foster. “I found out I was the first person in a wheelchair to perform on their main stage. That’s when I realized I needed to keep doing this and making room for people with disabilities. That’s when I knew that it needs to be my passion and career choice.”

Urkow went on to do a master of fine arts in theatre at the U of R, culminating in her graduating performance in 2019 of Seatbelt. The one-act play is described as “a dramatic cautionary tale written in autobiographical form from the true-life journey of a young woman who sustains a spinal cord injury from a violent car crash. Entering the world of ‘other’, it emphasizes the social- and psychological anxieties that the transformation creates for her and her family.”

Natasha Urkow lies in a hospital bed with a doctor standing over her in her performance of Seatbelt,.

A poster for Natasha Urkow's performance of Seatbelt.

Urkow found writing Seatbelt challenging. ”It was painful. It was also healing. Having to relive it, not just write it, direct it and perform in it, but relive those experiences that are in my memory. It was healing and very difficult,” she says. “Theatre empowers me. Especially as a trauma survivor, it helps me cope.”

Urkow is a member of Listen to Dis’ performing company. The organization, funded through the SK Arts Professional Arts Organizations Program, equips and enables people with disabilities to create and participate in art. What drives Urkow most is seeing the impact that their performances have on audiences. “There is a lot of ‘ah ha’, a lot of shock, a lot of ‘I never considered that’ – the idea of someone performing from a wheelchair or with a disability. It’s really eye-opening for them,” she says. “People can relate in so many ways, even people who have no relation to disability. They can find ways to empathize with my work and our company’s work.”

Listen to Dis’ is staging a casual read of Seatbelt to mark UN DAY: International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3. There are also plans in the works to re-stage and tour the production.

In the time Urkow has been performing, she’s noticed, in the community, that “it may be a little less shocking to know that we are artists. Most of the time, we create our opportunities to perform, we create our opportunities to work, but slowly, through some of the other relationships we’ve been able to build through partnerships, it’s been developing more. I think that we’ve opened eyes and relationships in the larger community in Saskatchewan.”