In this essay, I propose that Disabled Theater identifies a paradoxical force operating at its core: even as it strives to escape the rules and regulations that pre-format theater as an art of representation, the piece must also reaffirm representational capacities to its performers. Following Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of minor literature, I propose that Disabled Theater creates a ‘minorization of representation’ by a careful attending to the particularity of its actors’ social situation and psychophysical capacities. The essay advances the hypothesis that Disabled Theater dismantles majoritarian representational framings and enframings by insisting in foregrounding its actors’ capacities to work as actors, i.e.: as agents of a particularly powerful kind of representational labor that troubles how mental handicaps and disabilities are deemed as incapable of self-representation.
Jérôme Bel’s Disabled Theater, a dance piece featuring eleven actors with cognitive disabilities from Zurich's Theater HORA, has polarized audiences worldwide. Some have celebrated the performance as an outstanding exploration of presence and representation; others have criticized it as a contemporary freak show. This impassioned reception provokes important questions about the role of people with cognitive disabilities within theater and dance—and within society writ large. Using Disabled Theater as the basis for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion of performance and disability, this volume explores the intersections of politics and aesthetics, inclusion and exclusion, and identity and empowerment. Can the stage serve as a place of emancipation for people with disabilities? To what extent are performers with disabilities able to challenge and subvert the rules of society? What would a performance look like without an ideology of ability?