TaPRA 2019 has ended
Welcome to TaPRA 2019 at the University of Exeter!

Jennifer Goddard

In terms of the theatres of learning disability, there are only new beginnings. 
Writing in 2009, Palmer and Hayhow state that ‘[w]hilst there is an admirable and growing body of literature on learning disability, and also on drama therapy and other therapeutic applications of drama, professional theatre made by actors with learning disabilities seems barely acknowledged, indeed invisible…’ (p. 2). Despite the increase in the profile of professional theatre made by actors with a learning disability in the last decade, this same statement could also be made today. Until now, the two broad approaches to theatre and learning disability have been in the application of drama for therapeutic purposes, and theatre with a social and/or emancipatory aim. More recently, however, there has been a move towards professionalisation of actors with learning disabilities (theorised by Hargrave in terms of aesthetics (2015)) and is explored in an emerging body of work that seeks new approaches by which to develop an environment conducive to nurturing the talent of actors with learning disabilities through collaborations with non-disabled actors in the construction of professional performance.  
With reference to examples of co-creative practices (defined by Schmidt as ‘…artistic collaboration between different artists on the same level’ (2017: p.450)) I argue that theatres of learning disability bring into sharp focus the binary opposition of disabled/non-disabled to consider the central role that non-disabled advocates, mediators and facilitators play. Learning disability can be seen to ‘queer’ a social model of disability, becoming the grey area located between binary oppositions. Through examining the relationship between co-creative actors, the role of the non-disabled party can be repositioned through the lens of theatre practice and in light of a complex reading of dis/ability and theatre within a ‘slippery, unfixed, permeable, deeply intersectional, intrinsically hybrid’ (Shildrick, 2012: 34) social-relational context.  

Hargrave, M. (2015). Theatres of Learning Disability. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.  
Palmer, J. and Hayhow, R. (2009). Learning Disability and Contemporary Theatre: Devised Theatre, Physical Theatre, Radical Theatre. Huddersfield: Full Body and the Voice.  
Schmidt, Y (2017) Towards a new directional turn? Directors with cognitive disabilities in Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 22(3), pp.446-459.  
Shildrick, M., (2012). Critical Disability Studies: Rethinking the conventions for the age of postmodernity. In: N. Watson, C. Thomas and A. Roulstone, eds. Routledge Handbook of Disability. London: Routledge.  
Dr Jennifer Goddard is a Lecturer in Drama at Ulster University. Her research specialism is in applied drama and disability with a particular focus on learning disability. She was a 2017-18 recipient of an Artist’s Career Enhancement Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in which she developed a co-created performance piece with a learning disabled actor and serves on the board of Stage Beyond Theatre Company, Londonderry. She is currently engaged in developing co-created performance work between students at Ulster University and actors at Stage Beyond.