chapter  9
A great and complicated thing
Reimagining disability
WithVictoria Lewis
Pages 13

As the civil rights model of disability fought for in the Disability Rights Movement (DRM) in the 1970s/80s was institutionalized in Disability Studies programs during the 1980s/90s, so too did disability theater move from sketch comedy and autobiography to multi-character plays in the 1990s. These plays reflected a new understanding of disability identity as a social construction, and provide complex roles for disabled actors. Playwright John Belluso insisted disability is a social phenomenon not a biological experience. This essay argues that social phenomena, including disability economics and history, are a hallmark of contemporary disability drama. As the author’s career moves from street theater to regional theater to academia, the invisibility of disabled people in public life was a given as was the persistence of simplistic, harmful stereotypes of disability across popular and elite media. The author suggests some dramaturgical remedies for the higher education classroom: history plays, verbatim theater and comedies accompanied by background readings from disability studies. Also recommended—creative collaborations with disabled scholars and activists, such as those of the author with Paul Longmore in the 1990s; and intersectional partnerships across the curriculum.