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Title: Hand-in-hand? : a playwright's journey into learning-disability theatre
Author: Johnson, Judith
Awarding Body: University of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2020
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How do playwrights avoid ventriloquism when making work for and with learning-disabled people? How can the practical demands of theatre be adjusted to give learning-disabled performers fair and equal access to theatre-making? What is the ‘proper’ goal of this work in terms of audience and critical reception? These questions and others are addressed in the broad context of my practice as a playwright with over thirty years’ experience in applied/community theatre, set against the background of a burgeoning learning-disabled theatre sector. This is carried out via the devising/writing and production of a new play, Trisomy 21, which examines issues related to Down’s Syndrome. Trisomy 21 is written with Razed Roof, an inclusive theatre company with a core group of learning-disabled practitioners/participants who also work alongside sixth form students. My thesis focuses on my personal and professional analysis of the process of making Trisomy 21. I also explore the critical context and work of other playwrights and practitioners in the field. I examine current trends in learning-disability theatre and especially questions of ‘authenticity’ and ‘autonomy’ as the dominant values by which learning-disabled work is critically judged, and funded – or not – and the consequent under-valuing of non-learning-disabled writers in the sector. I propose, instead, a concept which I have called ‘hand-in-handedness,’ a shared-agency approach of learning-disabled and non-learning-disabled participants/practitioners working together and supporting each other which also encompasses a symbolic vision of connectedness. This is bolstered by my reading of the work of Eva Feder Kittay, a leading proponent of the ethics of care, a movement in moral philosophy which sees moral action as being embodied in interpersonal relationships rather than by a drive towards individual autonomy. This is the first study of its kind by a playwright and as such constitutes an original contribution to this widening field of theatre scholarship.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: CHASE
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available