The threshold of 'normality' : transformation in theatre for adults with learning disabilities and recovering from mental illness

  • Rebecca Higgins

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the change that occurs through the experience of Applied Theatre and participatory drama with specific participant groups: adults with learning disabilities, and those recovering from mental illness. Termed 'transformation' through an anthropological perspective of theatre and subsequent links with ritual theory, the thesis asks how and why this change (and the potential for it) can be identified through the fictive situation offered by participation in drama or theatre. This analysis occurs through the application of a particular theory: Turner's liminality (1969). Turner's (1969) theory of ritual, following Van Gennep (1977) is applied to discussion of practical field work with seven different groups to unravel the relationships between individual and group, the pretence and the real, and the self within the pretence and the real. Methodological and ethical issues arising from this are discussed. Turner's theory of the 'liminal zone': the space 'in between' one state in ritual and the next, is applied to the space of the 'theatre event' in both making (the process) and performing (the product) drama and theatre. Turner's 'communitas' is outlined as a description of the human group connection that occurs during this making and performing. The conceptual relationship between the social form of reality and the aesthetic form of pretence is discussed with reference to the work of Schechner (1988). The potential of a different objective self is of particular relevance for these participant groups because the fiction challenges the social categorisation of these groups imposed by contemporary British society. One outcome of the research is the recognition of this correlation between the fiction and reality. The participants recognise their ability as objective selves (within the pretence) and this contributes to a changed perception of their subjective selves (beyond the pretence). This is affirmed by the witnessing of the changes effected by the pretence and underlines the importance of the group within the theatre event. This transformation is outlined as a reflexive cycle, drawing on research in Health and Social Care, and in disability politics, in situating the participants as active contributors to the research practice.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorJames Thompson (Supervisor), Jane Bacon (Supervisor) & Jumai Ewu (Supervisor)

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