An exploration through practice of how the identity category of disability might be (re)constituted during a creative performance process
This thesis explores through practice how the process of devising a theatrical performance might affect the constitution of dis/ability identity, centrally engaging with the theories of postmodern feminist, Judith Butler. Initially, the study concentrates on the current trends in disability theory and presents a rationale for the comparative analysis of feminism(s) with disability theory and the disability movement. It pays particular attention to postmodern feminism(s)’ critique of the exclusionary nature of oppositional identity politics. It assesses the opportunities for theorising identity formation opened up by the critical thinking of Butler and the contribution this might make to emerging disability theory. Two types of theatrical intervention are discussed as centrally informing the practical element of this thesis: the first, contemporary disability performance and its creative engagement with access and the second, previous attempts to apply Butler’s provocations to theatrical practice. This thesis investigates how the integration of disability theory and Butlerian theory was achieved through three practical devised performance projects with community groups of disabled participants. The first, BluYesBlu, was a pilot project undertaken with a group of learning disabled devisers/performers. Methodological and ethical issues arising from the practice are considered. The subsequent projects were This is My Life, again with learning disabled participants, and Natural Woman?, with a group of physically disabled collaborators. All three projects incorporated the collection of audience responses and their analysis. This thesis discusses how dis/ability identity was reformulated as an effect of production and reception. As the challenges, issues and the critical thinking that emerged from each project were very dissimilar, this thesis argues that utilising Butler provides a route through ‘difficulty’ to a more open, flexible and inclusive formulation of dis/ability identity than was previously available. Furthermore, the embodying of Butler’s theories in this critical practice validates her theories as politically and ethically effective.