Disabled Bodies in Discourse

Sara Bocchini (Artist Researcher), Dr. Demis Quadri (Supervision), Accademia Teatro Dimitri, Verscio

The sub-study “Disabled Bodies in Discourse” conducted by Accademia Teatro Dimitri investigates the connections between physical theatre and theatre made by disabled actors. Points of enquiry in the linking of these fields are actors’ training and the development of original dramaturgy by performers.

When opposing physical theatre and theatre by disabled performers, the topic of actor’s training proofs to be of interest: the training methods employed are often underlined by the idea of a “neutral presence” or “blank page” as the essential starting point for the actor to create a convincing character, and this requires professionalism. This is a problematic point, especially for disabled performers. The term “neutrality” is a good example by which to reflect on the fact that concepts such as “neutral”, “normal”, or “natural” are constructions that are deeply and culturally embedded. In place of this terminology, Rosemarie Garland-Thompson proposes the term “normate”, which does not hide, but rather reveals the nature of the construct of a given concept or point of view.

Another common feature of training methods, especially in the field of physical theatre, is to put a strong emphasis on the development of physical skills, which then leads to the concept of the actor as a “movement virtuoso”, and performance as a “display of abilities”. The history of the development of major training practices reveals the bias of a skilled, strong, capable body and its right to be on stage Consequently, bodies that do not conform to such criteria are considered unsuitable for the stage. In addition to this first trend, this sub-study will also look at examples of theatre by disabled performers, in particular the freak show and the medical theatre. With the support of researchers and artists it will address key points related to the value of the disabled body on stage: the role that “normate” society has given to the disabled body and its political and social implications.

The encounter between theatre and disability gives us the chance to face diversity in all its complexity: it forces us to enter into a new territory without a map, to create maps that do not yet exist. It offers the possibility to apply a practice-based research, founded upon the dialogue between practice and reflection.

The practice-based research process will be documented through different approaches (video, pictures, interviews with participants and researchers, logbooks, etc.), in order to value the performativity of the encounter, and thus to capture the specificity of the event. The aim is to highlight the body’s capability to be an active subject of experience and to become an object of language for the transposition of such an experience.