Incapacity and Theatricality: Politics and Aesthetics in Theatre Involving Actors with Intellectual Disabilities
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the relationship between people with intellectual disabilities and theatrical performance. This type of performance has emerged from marginalized origins in community arts and therapeutic practices in the 1960s to a place at the forefront of commercial and alternative theatre in the first two decades of the twenty first century. This form of theatre provokes an interrogation of agency, presence, the construction and performance of the self, and the ethics of participation and spectatorship that locates it at the centre of debates current in performance studies and performance philosophy. It is a form of theatre that fundamentally challenges how to assess the aesthetic values and political efficacies of theatrical performance. It offers possibilities for thinking about and exploring theatrical performance in a conceptual and practical space between incapacity and theatricality that looks toward new and different ecologies of meaning and praxis. The methodology of the thesis is a detailed analysis of the presence and participation of people with intellectual disabilities in specific performances that include a 1963 US film, a 1980 Australian documentary, the collaboration of Robert Wilson with autistic poet Christopher Knowles, and recent performances by Christoph Schlingensief, Back To Back Theatre and Jérôme Bel’s collaboration with Theater HORA. I examine the working relationships and the aesthetic and political strategies of these performances in specific geographical and historical contexts in order to explore what kinds of efficacy and affective engagement this form of theatre can offer to people with and without intellectual disabilities.