‘Crutch’ shows how one man used creativity to overcome obstacles

Bill Shannon in 'Crutch'
Shout! Factory

We talk a lot about privileges in today’s culture, and that is certainly not limited to ableism. It’s easy to forget the guarantees we have because we are healthy or that opportunities that seem typical for us might not be for others.

For dancer Bill Shannon — the subject of Sachi Cunningham and Vayabobo (Chandler Evans) latest documentary ‘Crutch’ — his life, although more difficult in that sense, did not hinder him from going after what he wanted. Instead, it enabled him to think outside the box to achieve his dreams.

Shannon’s degenerative hip condition is an obvious factor to this film, as well as his journey dealing with chronic pain, but as Shannon puts it: “As an artist I don’t have an agenda”… he just wants to perform and do what he loves. What people take from that is up to them and he won’t force it—just like how the film gives more of a lens to Shannon’s life, his struggles and how he overcomes them, than acting as a tell-all for disabilities.

The messaging is still there, it’s just up to the viewer to find it.

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It’s not all about the dance either: Shannon has lived a multi-faceted life as well as a skater, and so much more. Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage, depict Shannon from his early years to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist whose work finds outlet at prestigious venues worldwide.

As it says in its official description, the story dives into Shannon’s provocative street performances, in which he exposes the hidden world of assumptions disabled people encounter in public, on a daily basis. While the film questions his early exploitation of strangers’ Good Samaritan impulses, it also marvels at Shannon’s ability to create solutions and empower others to navigate similar challenges.

Shannon discuses more on his life and the making of ‘Crutch.’

For you, where did that ability to push forward come from?

I think, to a certain extent, we are dealt our personalities from birth… little three-year-olds have different personalities, you know what I mean? I think it’s that and also, just curiosity is the biggest thing. Just endless curiosity, always wanting to solve problems, [I had that] even as a little kid. I think having the curiosity bug probably was a main driver of why I just kept trying to do what I was doing. 

What were your thoughts when the documentary was being made about your life? 

I’m used to talking to people, I talk to a lot of people anyway. My street performances are about being an open book, so I’m here to talk to whoever. A documentary that is made of your life over that timeframe is going to have so many possibilities of where to go. It’s impossible to say this is what should have happened, they had the difficult task to edit all of that and make it work. I feel like the documentary just has its own life and its own identity. It’s not me, it’s an angle on me or a version on me….But I feel like they did a great job. As an artist, I don’t really think about that too much. I’m more interested in what I’m working on and as far as exposure and measuring exposure or thinking about it—I try not too. It is what it is and then today with media saturation, it’s like on to the next thing. That was great…now, next thing. It’s such a quick timeframe for all that stuff. 

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What do you have going on next? 

 I have definite plans to go to New York and shoot a short film collaborating with Nowness films, [but] everything is about following the path and hoping for the best.

Any piece of the doc stand out to you?

Traffic, the piece that’s featured in the doc, that piece was a nice moment in time for sure. It’s about the viewers passing by…saying oh I do that. I don’t think anybody is going to get a better understanding of me—the piece wasn’t about me. It’s about the viewer and the gauge, but maybe people will see some of themselves in that moment and think about it [all] differently. 

Is there anything you hope people take away from ‘Crutch’? 

That’s not how I think. As an artist I don’t have an agenda… for people to learn and change, that happens. But it happens in the way you don’t expect it, too. I’ve pretty much not been engaging that I want it to do anything. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. I just need to stay out of the way and that’s how I think about work. I’m just trying to get on the same language as you because it’s like, what’s the point of art if you’re not trying to tell or trying to show people the light? People are going to see the light when they’re ready and there’s nothing I can do about it but just be myself and follow that path. By doing that, I’m able to then be a presence in other people’s lives and maybe that will make a difference. It’s not something I’m hoping or wanting, it’s just something that happens. 

‘Crutch’ will be streaming exclusively on discovery+ Oct. 14. 

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