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The performance of disability histories: remembrance and transmission

The purpose of this innovative project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council 'Beyond Text' Programme, is to explore disability history and culture through the relationship between performance and text. Three workshops will provide the basis for dialogue and devised performance involving academics and performance practitioners. The stimulus is provided by biographical research data generated from life history conversations with past and present generations of young disabled people growing up in Britain. By engaging creatively as well as critically with these oral remembrances and embodied histories, the workshops explore the boundaries and ambiguities of textual and non-textual meaning.

CDS staff involved in the project are Sonali Shah and Mark Priestley (for more information please email Sonali Shah) in collaboration with performing arts practitioners from Diverse City. We are grateful to London Metropolitan University, Nottingham Playhouse and the University of Leeds for hosting the workshop events.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the workshop programme is to inspire academic-practitioner collaboration towards the transmission of disabled people’s history to new generation audiences, using multi-modal devised performance based on biographical research. More immediately, the objectives of the workshops are:

  • To bring together academics from different disciplines, arts practitioners and students to examine the performance potential of life history research with disabled people.
  • To explore the impact of performance on the transmitted meanings of disabled people’s remembrances, for researchers and practitioners.
  • To advance the use of para/post-textual methods in arts and social research and to promote the value of performance in research practice.
  • To demonstrate the potential of innovative collaborations and methods for the creation of a future and larger-scale devised performance aimed at new generation audiences.

Timetable of Activities

The programme will develop around three invited participation workshops, and a linked programme of collaborative preparatory and follow-up work. Further details and links to materials will be added here as the project develops.

  • Preparation of stimulus material from research data (September/October 2008)
  • Workshop 1: Histories, biographies, performances, hosted by London Metropolitan University (November 2008)
  • Workshop 2: Revising texts, devising histories, hosted by Nottingham Playhouse (January/February 2009)
  • Workshop 3: Performing lives, live performancem Stage @ Leeds (March/April 2009)
  • Dissemination and development (May-September 2009)


The programme draws inspiration from two key themes in the Beyond Text Research Programme – ‘transmission and memory’ and ‘performance, improvisation and embodied knowledge’. Disability history, until recently, remained largely unspoken, unwritten, unperformed. Disability studies and disability arts have therefore emphasised the importance of preserving and communicating disabled people’s life experiences. The predominant mechanism for this transmission, and the creation of a new social memory, has been text. However, there is also a growing interest in artefacts, images and performances of disability. The workshops will explore how textual and non-textual tools of transmission can be combined in performance. The will be achieved through an academic-practitioner dialogic process by devising a proto-performance inspired by the biographical research data.

There is also some overlap with a third theme in the programme, that of ‘making and unmaking’. The workshops will ‘unmake’ the fixed texts generated from ‘performed’ research interviews and remake a new performance in their place. Hence, the workshops continue a process of (de-re)construction involving: the transmission of memory and embodiment (life experiences of disability) into performances (recorded interviews) into texts (interview transcripts) into conversation and improvisation (the workshops) into text, movement, images, sounds (script and devising) into performance (micro-play) into artefact (an audio-visual-textual record).