Re-imagining Disability: Performance Art and the Artists' Perspectives
thesisposted on 21.07.2015, 00:00 by Terri L. Thrower
This research investigated the relationship between personal experiences and artistic representations using qualitative methods. Interviews were conducted with 2 disabled women performers, and discussions focused on a solo autobiographical performance work selected by each artist. Because mainstream depictions of disabled people fail to accurately portray disabled lives, relying more on stereotypes, metaphors, and tired narratives than on lived experiences or self-representations of disabled people, a gap exists between representation and reality. In other words, the more disabled characters are typically represented in dominant culture, the less that actual people with disabilities are visible, included, understood, or relevant in society. By examining disabled artists’ self-representations, this research revealed specific experiences, identities, and political and cultural expression that mainstream representations often preclude. Three in-depth interviews were conducted with each artist, as well as thematic analyses of performance texts. The participants were given opportunities to interact with analyzed data—a combination of thematic analyses of the performance text with previous interview data—and provide feedback, clarification, and additional analysis. This process created interplay and interaction between artist and work, experiences and artistic depictions, and researcher, participant, and data. Results offered information on several categories: interrogating cultural designations and assumptions, re-articulating disability experience into art, self-representation and identity, creating disability culture, and the visibly disabled body in performance. Additional themes emerged, including performance strategies and each artist’s underlying disability perspective. The strategies and perspectives revealed powerful models for alternative disability representations that may narrow the “representational gap” between dominant depictions of disability and disabled people’s lived “reality.” The findings suggest that new, alternative ways of representing disability exist and must be studied further, particularly through similar studies on films, television episodes, and plays written, produced, and/or directed by disabled people. Research on audience perception changes following alternative disability media should also be done to investigate the effectiveness of these models.