Performance and Disability

Performance and Disability WG aims to provide a venue for the sharing and dissemination of scholarly and artistic work, and best practices from around the world, which explores how diverse physical, sensorial, developmental and psychological abilities manifest themselves in all areas of performance.



The International Federation for Theatre Studies Performance & Disability Working Group was co-founded by Mark Swetz and Yvonne Schmidt in Osaka, Japan in 2011. The aims of our Work Group are to create international dialogues, partnerships and networks at the crossovers of disability and performance, and to provide a venue for the sharing and dissemination of scholarly and artistic work, and best practices from around the world – research and practices that explore how diverse physical, sensorial, developmental and psychological abilities manifest themselves in all areas of performance. 

The “Performance and Disability” Working Group held its inaugural meeting during the IFTR conference 2012 in Santiago de Chile. Since then, the Working Group has had five productive meetings at the annual IFTR conferences in Barcelona (Spain), Warwick (UK), Hyderabad (India), Stockholm (Sweden), and São Paulo (Brazil) as well as several cluster meetings, steadily increasing its academic and artistic network around the world. Under the co-editorship of Mark Swetz and Yvonne Schmidt, a special issue entitled "International Perspectives on Performance, Disability, and Deafness” has recently been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Research in Drama Education in 2017. The special issue features the work of many of our WG members.

As part of our mission, we are open to any definition of disability or performance.  As a starting point, we are considering how performance may disable those with abilities that fall outside of ‘mainstream’ culture.  We seek to question ideas of normalisation, ableism, cultural inclusion and expression.  

 Some of the questions we want to consider include (but are not limited to):

  • How disability is performed (on stage and in daily life)
  • The integration and (re)consideration of abilities in performance
  • Enabling audiences and practitioners
  • Disabling practice and theory
  • The intersections of disability and performance studies
  • Genealogies of disability and performance
  • The expression of disability culture (disability and interculturalism)
  • Physical, sensorial, developmental and psychologically normality
  • How representations of disability in the performing arts can be subverted
  • Career opportunities and education of disabled performers and scholars
  • Accessible research and practice

Meetings: At every IFTR conference we will host formal presentations of papers or workshops of practice as well as pre-curated group discussions of papers. As some of our members may be practice-based researchers, we welcome workshop proposals that demonstrate your work.  Details of these proposals will be included in our call for papers. We plan to have interim meetings or cluster meetings, either virtually (lifestreaming or Skype) or in parallel with another suitably themed international conferences all over the world.

Network building: We aim to continue expanding our global network of researchers and practitioners from all over the world. At every annual conference, the working group will meet with a local organisation or individuals that works in disability and performance to observe and share each other’s approaches and perspectives. 


WORK PLAN 2018-2022 (tentative)




o   Working group meeting during the IFTR conference in Belgrade & artist meeting


o   Co-authored article for the journal TRI (Theatre Research International) by working group members focusing on the performance Dis_Sylphide by Per.Art in Belgrade, Serbia


o   Planning book project “How disability performance travels” (working title)


o   Launch of the new working group blog






o   Working-group sponsored panel during the IFTR conference in Shanghai & artist meeting


o   Work on book project


o   Several local cluster meetings or joint panels at international conferences:


§  Conference “Theatre and Internationalization and Barrie Kosky: Past, Present, Future”, Macquarie University and Goethe-Institut, Sydney, Australia


§  DisArt Festival in Grand Rapids/USA 16-28 October 2018:


§  Final symposium of the "DisAbility on Stage“-project in Zurich/Switzerland 12-13 April 2019:


§  PSi 2019 in Calgary/Canada


§  NNDR: Nordic Network on Disability Research, Copenhagen/Denmark (


§  CATR/ACRT Canadian Association for Theatre Research Conference, Disability Working Group, 3-6 June 2019, UBC Vancouver/Canada




o   Working group meeting during the IFTR conference in Galway & artist meeting


o   Work on book project


o   Several cluster meetings






o   Working group meeting during the IFTR conference in Galway & artist meeting


o   Launch of the book “How disability performance travels” at the end of the year


o   Several cluster meetings





Pilot Meeting at the IFTR-FIRT Conference in Santiago de Chile, 2012 (report by Yvonne Schmidt)


The IFTR-FIRT Working Group „Performance and Disability“ held its pilot meeting at the IFTR-FIRT Conference in Santiago de Chile 2012. Thirteen IFTR-FIRT-members from Australia, Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, and New Zealand and 25 Chilean students and practitioners attended the meeting, about 30 other persons who could not come to Chile followed our activities through our growing Mailing List and the WG blog.


The goal of this group is to have an international, interdisciplinary dialogue regarding disability and performance and to share scholarly work and best practices from around the world. Thus, we invited practitioners and researchers from Chile to our meeting who shared their work. Four presentations from Chilean presenters represented the state of disability and performance in Chile, including one presentation about Mapuche theatre that provoked interesting discussion about segregation and cultural identity. The paper session on the second day of our meeting featured five paper presentations, covering a wide range of a contemporary conception of disability in the performing arts: from performing arts with performers perceived as disabled, to the performance of disability in everyday life, to the mediation of disability to an audience.


During the conference week, the Working Group elaborated a WG statement and a four-years-plan and submitted the application to the IFTR-FIRT ExCom. One issue that showed up is the accessibility of academic conferences and research which will be an important goal of the WG. We also decided to discover innovative, inclusive forms of research, such as collaberative research through social medias and the internet, in order to make our research accessible for persons who cannot attend IFTR-FIRT conferences.


Furthermore, we touched base with a theatre group in Valparaiso that works on blind audiences, involving blind people in the artistic process. Seven members of our Working Group joined a day-trip to Valparaiso where we had the chance to attend a rehearsal of the theatre project „La Mitad Visible“ at Ex-cárcel Cultural Centre, a former prison which is an important cultural centre. The project provoked a fruitful discussion which will be continued. The dialogues with the Chilean people both in Santiago and in Valparaiso will lead into sustainable connections and cooperations in order to promote the exchange between academia and society.



Yvonne Schmidt (University of Berne/ Zurich University of the Arts):

Mark Swetz (Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London)


Stockholm 2016 (drafted by Yvonne Schmidt and Arseli Dokumaci)

Working group participants: Sonali Shah, Riikka Papunen, Margaret Ames, Ashley McAskill, Arseli Dokumaci, Colette Conroy, Kirsty Johnson, Yvonne Schmidt, Janet Gibson, Christiane Cyzmoch, Tony McCaffrey, Sarah Marinucci, Kate Maguire-Rosier, Marla Carlson, Molly Ziegler.

Our work group had a serious of presentations by group members, on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and we had a business meeting at the last day. Working group members’ presentations have focused on different aspects of the intersections of performance and disability genealogies, including dementia and verbatim theater; support structures for theaters and their ableist traditions; conversations on the experiences of pain and its incommunicability; working with actors with developmental differences; various actor training strategies that defy the norms of the healthy and ideal body.

During our presentations and discussions, various important practical issues were raised by our group members. One of them was the difficulties that non-native English speakers face when trying to follow the papers and the discussions. We have discussed what is at stake for the full inclusion of everyone in group’s activities and in order to mitigate such difficulties, we have decided to write down certain references on board (or in a shared word document), and also make sure that everyone is able to follow the pace of the arguments and slow down, or repeat where necessary.

Another problem raised was the way presentations were circulated before the IFTR meetings.  Some members pointed out that there was not enough time for them to read everyone papers in detail and be able to prepare responses beforehand. One of our members suggested a custom used at ASTR (American Society for Theatre Research) of dividing everyone into groups of three to meet at beginning of conference for 45 minutes and provide one-page responses each others’ papers (=2 responses per person). The group members were sympathetic to this suggestion, and the co-convenors might consider applying this style for next year’s meetings in 2017.

We have also discussed the relation of our work group to the broader IFTR conference and the general panels, and the possibility of opening up our paper presentations to non-members of our working group. In terms of the overall conference and the venues, we have also discussed the importance of addressing the accessibility issues, including both physical accessibility and other factors, such as presentation time allocated to the presenters. For example, a working group member with a speech difference would have needed much more time to present and discuss her research with the group. For future IFTR conferences, we would like to talk to the conference organizers about the difficulties that particularly attendees with disabilities are facing because of the time limitations etc. It might even be worth to discuss if IFTR could install the position of an accessibility expert within the ExCom or the conference planning committee. Since our Working Group has built up a knowledge based on our experiences in the past few years, we would be happy to share our expertise in order to make IFTR more accessible.


São Paulo 2017 (drafted by interim convenor Tony McCaffrey)

Local artists’ exchange meeting 8th July

One of the important features of this Working Group is the meeting with disability culture artists local to the Conference venue and in São Paulo, due to the work of Yvonne Schmidt and local contact Paula Souza Lopez this was a particularly valuable and interesting meeting.  This meeting took place at Teatro Laboratorio, University of São Paulo.

Paula Souza Lopez gave a presentation on her own work on audio-description and the collaboration with the Unlimited Festival, UK at both the London and Rio Olympics. Billy Saga presented on his work as a wheelchair using rap artist and film-maker. Marcos Abranches presented videos of his work as a dancer/performance artist with cerebral palsy. Fernando Bolognesi presented on his one-man show about his living with multiple sclerosis currently being performed in Sao Paulo. Pericles Silveira talked about his radio play which had won a BBC World Service competition and about living and working with visual impairment. Estela Lapponi presented on her work as a performance artist who crosses artistic disciplines and she presented her formulation of Corpo Intruso in her Anti-Inclusion Manifesto.

Working Group Session 1 

Present: Tony McCaffrey, Sarah Marinucci, Lua Leirner, Vibeke Grølstad.

The Working Group had resolved in Stockholm to circulate papers prior to IFTR São Paulo. Despite the number of presenters unable to attend IFTR São Paulo the members of the WG attending made a new schedule to try to combine presentation, discussion and Skype participation of as many of these papers and presentations as possible and resolved to make audio and video recordings to circulate to the wider Working Group membership, some 410 on the WG Facebook page.

Working Group Session 2

Dance, Performance and Disability in Brazil

Presentation by Carla Vendramin with video on the work of Diversos Corpos Dancantes and work coming out of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul.  We were unable to establish a Skype link with Felipe Monteiro  of Universidade Federal de Bahia - and we later learned that he had been admitted to hospital due to a complication in his condition of progressive spinal amyotrophy. Carla who is also a member of the Embodied Research Working Group of IFTR facilitated a discussion between her and dancer Lua Leirner, Eduardo Coutinho, professor of mime from USP, Silvana Bustos of Pontifical University of Santiago and Adriana de Moura Somacal of Sign Atores, and also of UFRGS. 

Working Group Session 3

Political Performance and the Public Sphere: Theatre and Actors with Intellectual Disabilities

Tony McCaffrey: Not belonging but becoming: Theatre of Intellectual Disability in a Time of Intellectual Disability

Sarah Marinucci: Disabled Theater – Shifts of Emphasis in the Reception of Theatre by and with Professional Actors with Cognitive Disabilities

Vibeke Glørstad: What does cultural citizenship mean for people with learning disabilities?

Working Group Session 4

Deaf Theatre

Adriana de Moura Somacal of Sign Atores and UFRGS  presented her paper

The theatre group as a space for the formation of the deaf actor and we were joined in the discussion of this paper by Mariana Schmitz of Université Lumière Lyon 2 and Université de Paris VIII St Denis who presented in the General Panel a paper entitled Contributions of Theater-education to French Sign Language learning and Deaf identity construction and who is now aware of the WG.

Working Group Session 5

Questioning Representation and Aesthetics

A discussion of her paper Bodily Symbols: Interpreting Meaning in Dynamic Contexts led by Jessica Stokes who participated via Skype from University of California Davis Lua Leirner then led a discussion on her paper and work as a deaf dancer between Switzerland and Brazil

Working Group Session 6

A discussion led by Lorna Sutherland via Skype from University of Alberta, Canada on her paper: Inclusive arts of dance and drama for youth with disabilities. We were joined by Mariana Schmitz from France, Adriana de Moura Somacal from Brazil and Hadeel Abdelhameed from Egypt.



Annual report from the “Performance and Disability” Working Group (drafted by Yvonne Schmidt and Kate Maguire-Rosier)


July 2018, Belgrade



Working group participants: Andrés Aparicio (Chile), Riikka Papunen (Finland), Kate Maguire-Rosier (Australia), Margaret Ames (Wales), Yvonne Schmidt (Switzerland), Christiane Cyzmoch (Germany), Michael Stokes (USA), Tony McCaffrey (New Zealand), Dave Calvert (England), Benjamin Wihstutz (Germany), Jessica Watkins (Canada), Sirató Ildikó (Hungary), Jessica Stokes (USA), Maria Koltsida (Greece), Vibeke Gloerstad (Norway) & some guests (fellow IFTR scholars and a local Serbian artist)



In its seventh year, the “Performance and Disability” working group discussed 14 papers from working group members from 13 different countries. Topics included different aspects of disability and performance in particular cultural contexts, such as issues of stage representation of disabled people in terms of the logics of normalization, a dialectic of stasis and dynamism in media narratives of disability, a politics of “care” in the making of dance theatre, accessibility to theatres and art spaces for artists with disabilities, the conditions of inclusivity in dialogue with notions of clowning and play in working with actors with intellectual disability, the ethics of ethnographic research with disabled practitioners as well as immobility as a creative practice in theatre by artists with physical disability.



In addition to the paper sessions, we collaborated with Per.Art, a local integrated dance company, based in Novi Sad, Serbia, which was founded in 1999 by the internationally recognized choreographer and performer Saša Asentić. In recent years, the engagement with the local communities has been very important for the working group in terms of the expansion of geographical and cultural diversity in disability and performance discourse. We had the chance to see Per.Art’s production Dis_Sylphide, which was presented on 7th July 2018 at the Cultural Institution Vuk Karadžić as part of IFTR’s conference in Belgrade at the invitation of the Performance and Disability working group.



After the conference, six working group members contributed a co-authored article to the upcoming journal issue of Theatre Research International, focusing on the theatrical event from different perspectives. The experience of co-witnessing a live performance (or not being able to witness) and the question of how disability performance is touring (the necessity of mobility versus the inaccessibility of theatre spaces) provoked vibrant discussion and is currently leading to another larger publication project.


In view of next year’s IFTR conference in Shanghai, there was much discussion about access concerns and modes of future collaboration. Discussion points included inaccessibility of current conference both physically and sensorially (eg. lack of audio description), the necessity of an accessibility mandate and a conference access plan for future conferences, as well as financial support, and remote attendance for disabled working group members. Rising from our members' onsite lived experiences participating at the IFTR conferences in the past seven years as well as our concerns over our members' future ability to meaningfully attend the 2019 conference and future working group events, especially in countries where access becomes a larger problem, members present in Belgrade collectively drafted and sent a letter to the IFTR ExCom.


During our business meeting we had to elect a new co-convener because Arseli Dokumaci stepped back. Kate Maguire-Rosier from Sydney was elected for the next 4-years-period from 2018-2022. The working group wrote a thank you letter to Arseli, who could not be present in Belgrade. We also discussed our new working group blog ( which we will launch by the end of the year.



Since the conference, the working group have engaged in planning cluster meetings and joint panels for the remainder of 2018 and throughout 2019. These activities include the DisArt Festival in Grand Rapids/USA 16-28 October 2018, “Theatre and Internationalization and Barrie Kosky: Past, Present, Future” conference with Macquarie University and Goethe-Institut in Sydney/Australia, the final symposium of the "DisAbility on Stage“-project in Zurich/Switzerland April 2019, PSi 2019 in Calgary/Canada, NNDR: Nordic Network on Disability Research, Copenhagen/Denmark, and the CATR/ACRT Canadian Association for Theatre Research Conference, Disability Working Group, June 2019, UBC Vancouver/Canada.




RiDE: the Journal of Applied Theatre & Performance 22 (August 2017), Special Themed Issue: International Perspectives on Performance, Disability and Deafness, co-edited by Mark Swetz and Yvonne Schmidt (Petra Kuppers & Carrie Sandahl advisors).


Ames, M, Calvert, D, Gloerstad, V, McCaffrey, T, Maguire-Rosier, K & Schmidt, Y, (2018 forthcoming) Responding to Per.Art’s Dis­_Sylphide: Six voices from IFTR’s Performance and Disability working group,Theatre Research International, vol. 43, no. 2.





Julie Dind,

Tony McCaffrey,

Jessica Watkin,

Call for Papers 2023

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