“Virtuosity, Disability, Documentary: Technique and the Disabled Body in Oral History Performance”
by Ryan Claycomb
Documentary theatre may have been the dominant form of political theatre in the first decade of the 21st century, but the success of certain of its performances rested as much on the perceived virtuosity of its performers as on the apparent veracity of its sources. Theatre of the Real, it would seem, worked best when staged with old fashioned mimetic brilliance. But even as many of these performances sought to advocate for marginalized identity categories, they rested on decidedly ableist performance paradigms. Read against Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy, that virtuoso performer’s 2009 performance about U.S. healthcare, two different productions of oral history performance on disability feature disabled actors offer different ways to understand both the form and its politics. Through these shows, these performers mark their performances of disability by a different sort of virtuosity, one that emphasizes the difference of exceptional bodies, and makes visible the differences that Smith’s performances elide.
March 19, 2014
2:30 p.m., 130 Colson Hall