MFA student hopes to change perceptions and behaviours by sharing cautionary tale in play

By Justin Waldrop Posted: November 25, 2019 5:30 p.m.

Seatbelt is an autobiographical one-act play written, performed, and directed by Natasha Urkow in partial fulfilment of her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduating show.
Seatbelt is an autobiographical one-act play written, performed, and directed by Natasha Urkow in partial fulfilment of her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduating show. Photos courtesy: Natasha Urkow

The play begins in a nightclub and quickly shifts from excitement to tragedy when 18-year-old Natasha Urkow and five others, including her boyfriend, are in a violent car crash. Drinking and driving; no seatbelts. Tash sustains a spinal cord injury.

The autobiographical play, Seatbelt, is a dramatic cautionary tale of the potential long-term consequences of drinking and driving emphasizing the social, psychological, and physical real-life aftermath created for Urkow, her friends, and her family.

“I have a history of speaking for Students Against Drinking and Driving (SADD) and the Rick Hanson Foundation – I have been telling this story for quite a while,” explains Urkow. “But turning it into a script, a solid narrative, and then bringing it to life with actors was extremely difficult because I internalize a lot and relived the trauma over and over.”

However, Urkow believes that this process is necessary to get the greatest effect from the audience.

“There are many moments where I am brought to tears on stage – and they are real tears," confides Urkow. “And I have such a great cast. They are so talented and that makes it so real.”

Tash, the main character, remains almost voiceless for the first half of the play as she battles traumatic shock, medication, doctors, alcohol and drug abuse, her boyfriend’s suicide, depression, and internal conflict.

Tash’s journey is harshly analyzed and criticized by her future-self and narrator Tash Now. The conflict stems from

Periodically throughout the play
a character named Tash Now
(portrayed via projected film),
Tash’s future-self, guides the
narrative as the story unfolds.

her own guilt concerning relationships with family, regrets, and anger over secrets she has kept. Tash Now explains how her family and supporters around are traumatized by almost losing a child and entering the unknown world of disability.

The play illustrates how the medical system perceives and works with people with mixed disabilities, focusing on the sometimes negative communication and relationships that can occur in a hospital setting between staff and patients - exposing how one’s identity becomes reliant on medicalized labels.

“Labelling is an issue because it categorizes people and tries to make them all the same. But no two people with the same disability are the same. It cannot be a strict rubric,” declares Urkow.

She describes her healthcare experience as being left to her own devices often to figure things out for herself, emphasizing the need for community and community organizations. “It is really about having many supportive people around you who can understand you and help you.”

Seatbelt brings nine actors to the stage under the guidance of Listen to Dis Community Arts founder Traci Foster. The play challenges traditional theatre conventions using film projections to integrate actors of mixed abilities into the performance. Seatbelt is a leading example of how to normalize a working relationship in performance between disabled and non-disabled, typical, and atypical artists.

“My goal is to affect change – the idea that social interaction influences perception. When you see people with mixed abilities working and performing successfully, such as acting on and working technically for the stage, you may in turn associate a positive perception with people who identify with mixed abilities,” hopes Urkow.

Dr. Kathleen Irwin, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research with the University of Regina’s Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance (MAP) says that Urkow's final MFA project is groundbreaking.

“As the writer, director, and performer of the piece, Natasha is exploring new ground in terms of performative storytelling. She is making public her very private story - a story that will take your breath away. MAP is very proud to support her in this journey.”

Seatbelt runs November 26-28 at 7:30 p.m. in the University of Regina Shumiatcher (Shubox) Theatre (wheel chair accessible). The show is sponsored by the Theatre and Film Departments, Listen to Dis Community Arts Organization, and First Steps Wellness Centre.

There is a trigger warning for mature and traumatic content. All are welcome!