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Stage Turns

Stage Turns: Canadian Disability Theatre

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Stage Turns
    Book Description:

    Over the past three decades, disability theatre artists have claimed greater space on Canadian and world stages. While disabled figures and themes are theatre mainstays, productions tend to employ disability figuratively rather than engage with actual disability experience. In reaction, disability theatre pursues an activist perspective that dismantles stereotypes, challenges stigma, and re-imagines disability as a valued human condition. Stage Turns documents the development and innovations of disability theatre in Canada, the aesthetic choices and challenges of the movement, and the multiple spatial scales at which disability theatre operates, from the local to the increasingly global. Kirsty Johnston provides histories of Canada's leading disability theatre companies, emphasizing the early importance of local efforts in the absence of national coordination. Close readings of individual productions demonstrate how aesthetic choices matter and can be a source of solidarity or debate between different companies and artists. This comparative approach allows for a nuanced consideration of disability theatre's breadth and internal differences. Stage Turns highlights the diversity of disability theatre, underlining how this is critical to understanding the challenge it poses to mainstream aesthetics and to fulfilling its own artistic goals.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8670-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    Since the mid-1980s, a growing number of Canadian disability theatre artists have been doing exactly what famed athlete and disability activist Rick Hansen suggests: performing their work on Canadian and international stages. Not content simply to find or lobby for accessible audience seating, they have created and performed in their own theatres. The range of themes, genres, performance styles, dramaturgies, and production methods associated with this theatre is remarkably diverse. In Vancouver, a quadriplegic actor toured Canada in a production for which he modified swinging ballast technology to allow him to fly above stage for ninety minutes. A company of...

  7. Part One: Histories

    • CHAPTER TWO Surveying the Scene
      (pp. 19-47)

      Artists create and flout labels. Playing with, defining, and pushing organizing principles are their truck and trade. Most theatre artists choose from a range of labels (Canadian, mainstream, radical, feminist, queer, aboriginal, postmodern, avant-garde, experimental) when they solicit audiences, apply for grants, or account for their work in media interviews. Disability theatre artists are no different, but what do they mean when they pair the words disability and theatre? How do they put the terms into practice and performance?

      This chapter surveys disability theatre companies and performers in the main Canadian urban centres where disability arts and culture have gained...

    • CHAPTER THREE Workman Arts
      (pp. 48-64)

      In spring 2008, over a hundred students, faculty, artists, researchers, and interested community members gathered in a large circle at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, to watch a short performance by Toronto’s Workman Arts entitled The Chant.¹ Building a strong rhythm through clapping, stamping, gesture, choral speech, monologue, and dialogue, three performers, initially indistinguishable from the audience, emerged from the circle and invited those present to question what they knew about mental illness. What, they asked, would you do when confronted with a broad range of practical scenarios drawn from lived mental illness experiences?

      Following the performance, a panel...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Theatre Terrific
      (pp. 65-85)

      Over the last decade, Vancouver has emerged as one of the primary centres in Canada for disability arts and culture. Theatre Terrific Society, one of Canada’s oldest and most enduring disability theatre companies, has been an important engine in this process. Founded in 1985 as a small-scale education-oriented theatre to support the artistic development of adults with “mental and physical handicaps,” it has grown in scope and ambition.² Today it is a multi-award-winning avant-garde disability theatre company with international connections, commissioning and producing original plays while also offering educational programs and artistic development opportunities. In addition to its significant artistic...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Scale-Jumping
      (pp. 86-104)

      Sit down with Canadian disability theatre artists who are involved in thriving local artistic communities and ask them how they came to work in disability arts. What or who was their source of inspiration? Which artists did they connect with, and why? Their answers recall a range of local events cross-cut by international flows of artists, ideas, and influences. The national frame matters comparatively little in these stories. Unlike other fields of Canadian theatre history, creating a nationally-based identity has had little part in the narrative until recently. In England, by contrast, the National Arts Council’s dedicated funding and infrastructure...

  8. Part Two: Performances

    • CHAPTER SIX Re-Staging Disability Theatre
      (pp. 107-125)

      What are the salient features of disability theatre? Is there a distinctive and coherent disability theatre aesthetic? Is there pressure to have and articulate a coherent aesthetic as a strategy for artists in the field to receive financial and critical support? These questions cut to the core of debates that animate the field, and many Canadian artists have grappled with them in their work. In this chapter we will look at two relatively prominent productions by leading Canadian disability theatres, Stage Left Productions and Realwheels, which exemplify the tensions and possibilities put in play by these considerations. Both productions found...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Staging Schizophrenia
      (pp. 126-142)

      Mental illness has a long and varied cultural history, in which theatrical representations have played an important role, reflecting dominant cultural perceptions but also constituting them. As a result, it is important when investigating mental illness representations onstage to ask questions about context: What cultural norms and forms do plays reflect or interrogate? Who creates mental illness representations and how? Who performs mental illness and for whom?

      Vincent is a play about schizophrenia written by Terry Watada. Workman Arts (wa), introduced in Chapter 3, originally commissioned and produced the play to be part of a 1993 provincial conference investigating strategies...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Disruptive Spaces: The Clinic
      (pp. 143-154)

      Sophia Loren: Stop the stupid questions.

      Cleopatra: I can’t. We need to determine your worth as a sexual being.

      Sophia Loren: My worth?

      Cleopatra: To see if the accident has affected your sexual worth.

      Sophia Loren: Why?

      Cleopatra: To calculate the monetary worth of the sexual experiences you will never have because of the accident.

      Sophia Loren: I don’t think I can do this…

      Cleopatra: Oh please, I was 15 and had no choice. Get tough Cookie Lady!¹

      How do clinicians determine “sexual worth?” By contrast, how do individuals? What assumptions about disability and impairment underlie an idea like “sexual...

    • CHAPTER NINE Performing Paralympia
      (pp. 155-170)

      This book was completed in large part during the excited atmosphere of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, an event which more than any previous Canadian games highlighted disability in sport and society. The association originated in 2006 when, from his wheelchair, Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan accepted and waved the flags during the Olympic and (a month later) Paralympic closing ceremonies in Turin, Italy (see Fig. 9.1). The optics of these ceremonies and Sullivan’s address created enormous attention internationally and raised the expectation that the Vancouver games might engage with disability at a new and heightened level. Unlike...

    • CHAPTER TEN Conclusion
      (pp. 171-174)

      Although first canonized as part of the Canadian dramatic tradition, David Freeman’s Creeps is also one of the oldest and most celebrated Canadian disability theatre exports.¹ The play is the only non-US entry in Victoria Ann Lewis’ recent disability theatre anthology, Beyond Victims and Villains: Contemporary Plays by Disabled Playwrights.² Prepared first as a script for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1965, the play had its premiere stage production at the Factory Lab Theatre in Toronto in 1970 and a revised version was premiered as the inaugural production for Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in 1971. It won the first prestigious...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 175-198)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-214)
  11. Index
    (pp. 215-222)