Disability, Theatre, and Postcoloniality: Reflections on the Politics of Performance

  • Xanthe Hunt
  • Brian Watermeyer
  • Marlene le Roux


This chapter examines the nature and role of “disability theatre” in Global South contexts, through bringing together the voices of two scholars in disability studies, with that of the chief executive of a major Cape Town theatre complex, who is herself a disabled person. After exploring definitions of disability theatre, the question of its relevance to disability liberation in the postcolonial context is examined. Connections are made between colonisation based on geography, race, culture, and disability and the potential of performance art for expunging these “occupations”. Modes of exclusion of disability from the performing arts are discussed. Decolonisation is understood as taking ownership of representations of human experiences which are “always already” combinations of cultural and linguistic traditions. Disability theatre is viewed as capable of demythologising disability, “de-ablising” performance art, and promoting disability representation.


  1. Amkpa, A. (2006). Reenvisioning theatre, activism, and citizenship in neocolonial contexts. In J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (Eds.), A boal companion: Dialogues on theater and cultural politics (pp. 161–172). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Balme, C. B. (1999). Decolonizing the stage: Theatrical syncretism and post-colonial drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bogdan, R. (2014). Freak show: Presenting human oddities for amusement and profit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Conroy, C. (2009). Disability: Creative tensions between drama, theatre and disability arts. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(1).
  5. Dass, R., & Gorman, P. (1985). How can I help? Stories and reflections on service. New York: Alfred Knopf Inc.Google Scholar
  6. Davis, L. J. (2002). Bending over backwards: Disability, dismodernism and other difficult positions. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Fanon, F. (1963/2004). The wretched of the earth (trans: Philcox, R.). (Original work published 1963). New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fox, A. M., & Lipkin, J. (2002). Res (crip) ting feminist theater through disability theater: Selections from the DisAbility project. NWSA Journal, 14(3), 77–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Garland-Thomson, R. (1997). Feminist theory, the body, and the disabled figure. In L. Davis (Ed.), The disability studies reader (pp. 279–292). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Garland-Thomson, R. (2009). Staring: How we look. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hevey, D. (1997). The enfreakment of photography. In L. J. Davis (Ed.), The disability studies reader (pp. 332–347). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Hurley, E. (2001). Review. Theatre Journal, 53(2), 353–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kriegel, L. (1987). The cripple in literature. In A. Gartner & T. Joe (Eds.), Images of the disabled, disabling images (pp. 31–46). New York: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  14. Lasch, C. (1978). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  15. Lewis, V. A. (2000). The dramaturgy of disability. In M. E. S. Crutchfield (Ed.), Points of contact: Disability, art, and culture (pp. 93–108). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  16. Murphy, R. F. (1987). The body silent. New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc.Google Scholar
  17. Norden, M. F. (1994). The cinema of isolation: A history of physical disability in the movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Sandahl, C. (1999). Ahhhh freak out! Metaphors of disability and femaleness in performance. Theatre Topics, 9(1), 11–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sandahl, C. (2008). Why disability identity matters: From dramaturgy to casting in John Belluso’s Pyretown. Text and Performance Quarterly, 28(1–2), 225–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tomlinson, R. (1982). Disability, theatre and education. London: Souvenir Press.Google Scholar
  21. wa Thiong’o, N. (2004). Foreword. In A. Amkpa (Ed.), Theatre and postcolonial desires. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Watermeyer, B. (2013). Towards a contextual psychology of disablism. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Woodburn, D., & Kopić, K. (2016). The Ruderman white paper on employment of actors with disabilities in television. Retrieved from Accessed 13 Dec 2017.
  24. Zachariah, C. L. K. (2014). Review: Stage turns: Canadian disability theatre. Theatre Research International, 39, 69–70. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xanthe Hunt
    • 1
  • Brian Watermeyer
    • 2
  • Marlene le Roux
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Division of Disability Studies, Department of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Artscape TheatreCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations