Gary Corbin thought that once he had survived cancer, people would be fair with him and he could continue to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Unfortunately, he found out that the world of stage and screen just wasn’t ready for a one-legged man.
“I believed in the American Dream, that everybody has an opportunity,” he said in a telephone interview from New York, “but people said that it’s just not true in my case.”
Having lost his right leg to bone cancer (osteogenic sarcoma) in 1975, Corbin found that he wasn’t getting any scripts or auditions and eventually realized that he wasn’t going to get any work as an actor by waiting around for it.
He was walking down a street in Harlem one day when it hit him. If he wanted work as an actor, he’d have to make a show for himself.
This led to the creation of his critically-acclaimed one-man show “….four one-legged men!” which premiered at last year’s Buffalo infringement Festival.
In a series of short pieces, Corbin plays four different characters, each with one leg, in four different time periods.
“We’re people with the same types of trials,” he says of the characters in his show and physically unique people in general, “this show is about the universal human spirit in all of us.”
Looking for a place to perform it was the next step. The Franklin Furnace Foundation let him know about the Buffalo infringement Festival and he applied.
He credits the fest with helping him dust off the demons that were torturing him at the time: the loss of his grandmother and the loss of love. He tried sex and religion but realized that what really works is performing
“I wasn’t rejected,” Corbin remembers, “I was supported; they helped me put it up there. It let me know that I could probably produce it myself in New York City.”
The show has received rave reviews, both in Buffalo and later when it played The Producers Club in the heart of Manhattan’s Theatre District. Corbin was able to produce the show himself with support from just about every source available to individual artists including: The Franklin Furnace and Jerome Foundations, The New York State Council on the Arts, and The New York Foundation for the Arts.
Corbin is now considered an “emerging artist” who is on the verge of contributing something major to the world of theater and performance art.
He feels his show offers a service that can open doors so more physically unique people can get their stories told. Corbin argues that while many people in the theatre world say they support and show diversity, there is a resistance to presenting physically disabled characters in a rounded way.
“I show people with disabilities as multi-dimensional,” Corbin comments, “theatre needs a facelift, we need new ideas.”
Those new ideas will be presented this June as “….four one-legged men!” comes to the Montreal infringement Festival.
Corbin has never been to Montreal and is very excited about coming to play.
“People who go out of the country come back more rounded, with a broader perspective on life” he observes, “I’m looking forward to performing again.”
And judging by the buzz already building on message boards and through word of mouth, Montrealers are excited about Corbin’s show, too.