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    Quirky dramaturgy in contemporary UK theatre: autism, participation and access

    Leggett, Alexander (2023) Quirky dramaturgy in contemporary UK theatre: autism, participation and access. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis investigates the limitations faced by autistic people in accessing theatre in the UK, and proposes a model of quirky dramaturgy that might expand and enhance the experiences of those autistic individuals. The thesis elaborates quirky dramaturgy as a theory and practice of creating accessible pieces of performance made for autistic people that welcomes their presence and participation in the spaces and places of theatre and performance by responding to their unique needs. I argue that key features of quirky dramaturgy include relaxedness, flexibility and neuroqueerness and demonstrate their significance across the domains of space, audience, performer and community. The thesis makes a two-pronged original contribution to knowledge in theatre and performance studies and disability studies by demonstrating how quirky dramaturgy is a theory and practice that artists and scholars can use to think about the ways access can make unique theatrical experiences, and the ways it can be utilised alongside access policies to make more effective and holistic legislation for autistic people. I will show this contribution by pursuing the following three research questions: How does quirky dramaturgy create distinct theatrical experiences for autistic people that improves upon current autism friendly performances?; How does quirky dramaturgy promote self-advocacy and policy reform within the UK for autistic people?; How does current UK arts access policy do enough to help support autistic people? These questions will be informed by quirky dramaturgy made for autistics, UK arts access policy analysis, and the analysis of neuroscientific research into autism. Chapter 1 will define the term quirky dramaturgy and explain its features of relaxedness, flexibility and neuroqueerness. Chapter 2 analyses the relaxed performances of All in a Row (Southwark Playhouse, 2019) and Phillip Pullman’s Grimm Tales (Unicorn Theatre, 2018), exploring the writing of Ben Fletcher-Watson (2015), ‘The State of Theatre Access Reports’ (2017, 2019) and Jess Thom (2019) to argue current UK relaxed performance practices are lacklustre. I argue through quirky dramaturgy’s understanding of relaxedness, spatial access for autistic people can become more diverse and reflective of their experiences. Chapter 3 will examine Sometimes I Leave by Vijay Patel (Ovalhouse, 2019) and All Wrapped Up by Oily Cart (Stratford Circus, 2020) to critique theory of mind as a theoretical approach to autistic cognition, highlighting its role in making UK theatre etiquette hostile to autistics by creating misconceptions about autistic behaviour in the theatre. Using this criticism alongside the research of Nicola Shaughnessy (2013, 2015), I will show how quirky dramaturgy provides a theatregoing practice that allows autistic people to feel relaxed and be themselves without fear. Chapter 4 looks at Cian Binchy’s performance in MADHOUSE re:exit (Shoreditch Town Hall, 2018) and Xandri Selwyn’s #Binariesbegone (Autism Arts Festival, 2019) partnered with the writing of Janine Booth (2016), and the criticism of arts employment policies, I argue quirky dramaturgy ensures creative freedom and support for autistic artists through making performances that [dis]comforts. Chapter 5 will examine the gathering of autistic communities for performances before and during the COVID-19 pandemic through Annette Foster’s Adventures of the Super Autie Gang (Autism Arts Festival, 2019) and Flute Theatre’s Pericles Online (2020). Using writing from autistic activists and scholars from the book Autistic Community and The Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline (2020), I argue that quirky dramaturgy turns performance events into a hub for autistic people to gather, socialise and self-advocate, allowing communities to choose how they wish to interact and engage with access that is provided to them. Finally, my concluding chapter summarises the features of quirky dramaturgy throughout each previous chapter and reiterates the importance of quirky dramaturgy as a theory and practice that artists and scholars can use to give opportunities to autistic people in UK theatre.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2023 16:12
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 16:15


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