Personal profile

Research interests

My research is concerned to understand how vulnerable and socially stigmatised performers can change cultural representation; I have a proven track record in generating new knowledge about under-theorised cultural practices, evidenced by my monograph, Theatres of Learning Disability, which won the Theatre and Performance Research Association’s Early Career Research Award in 2016.  The awarding panel stated that the book challenges us to think and see differently…offering a ground-breaking contribution to the discipline’.   Prior existing scholarship was inadequate when critiquing works of art involving learning disabled performers. I addressed this gap, producing a detailed ethnography of performance practices, resulting in a new critical framework.

My research is interdisciplinary and concerned to understand how performers defined as ‘vulnerable’ can challenge perceptions of what is possible in performance and in doing so recalibrate the underlying politics of representation.  For example, I question why the presence of intellectual impairment is equated with socially undesirable indicators such as weakness and risk, rather than connection and creativity. I am interested in the fact (obvious but often forgotten) that vulnerability in many forms - disability, neurodivergence, non-normative mental states - is an aesthetic and social resource to be explored and celebrated, not least because it reveals the underlying inequalities and politics of ‘the normal’. Prior to my work, ways of talking about disability that did exist were inadequate as means of critically reflecting on works of art involving learning disabled performers.  My book addressed this gap by undertaking a detailed ethnography developing a nuanced and original critical framework: this critical ‘poetics’ changed the emphasis from questions of curative benefit toward deeper engagement with aesthetic judgement, which also unmasked underlying stigma.  My chapter ‘Dance with a Stranger’ (Alice O’Grady, Ed., Palgrave 2017), expanded these themes and focused on the impact of the central performer’s debilitating illness and led to the invitation to give the keynote address at the 2018 Australian Drama Studies Association conference in Melbourne: ‘Beyond Benevolence: Reframing Vulnerabilty in Theatre Scholarship’.

Recently my research focused on stand-up comedians who utilise material about shame and stigma in their work and who are adept at reframing vulnerability in unusual ways.  Support from Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research Seed Award (2019) initiated my investigation and resulted in the article ‘Stage Persona, stand-up comedy and mental health: Putting yourself out there’ (Persona Studies 2019).

My next monograph, Putting Your Self Out There: Stigma, Performance and the Ordinary, will examine the role of performance, particularly popular performance, in understanding the politics of stigma. This research responds to increased instances where comedians and other performers have addressed stigma directly in their work.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Drama, PhD, Theatre involving the collaboration of learning disabled performers: a new critical framework, University of Leeds

27 Sept 200631 Aug 2013

Award Date: 31 Aug 2013

Creative Writing, MA (Hons), Creative Writing , Northumbria University

1 Sept 20031 Sept 2005

Award Date: 1 Sept 2005

Other Courses, MA (Hons), Contemporary Performing Arts , University of Leeds

1 Sept 19951 Sept 1997

Award Date: 1 Sept 1995

Politics, BA (Hons), Politics & Modern History , University of Manchester

1 Sept 19891 Jul 1992

Award Date: 1 Jul 1992

English Literature, A Level

1 Sept 198731 Dec 2099

Award Date: 1 Jul 1989

History, A Level

Award Date: 1 Jul 1989

Sociology, A Level

Award Date: 1 Jul 1989


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