CFP: ‘(No)Bodies on the Irish Stage: “Deviant” Physicalities’, Galway, 12th-13th April 2019

Date: 12th-13th April 2019

Location: O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, National University of Ireland, Galway

Deadline for Proposals: 5pm Friday 14th December 2018

‘(No)Bodies on the Irish Stage: “Deviant” Physicalities’
O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, National University of Ireland, Galway
12th-13th April 2019

Dr Emilie Pine
Associate Professor in Modern Drama, University College Dublin
Dr Bernadette Sweeney,
Associate Professor of Theatre, University of Montana

CFP: ‘(No)Bodies on the Irish Stage: “Deviant” Physicalities’ is a two-day symposium that will bring together academics, theatre practitioners and artists to discuss physicality in performance, particularly investigating covert and concealed corporealities in twentieth century and contemporary Irish drama and practice. The title of the symposium queries the “ableist” ideology that categorises bodies as normal or abnormal and suggests a re-appropriation of the term “deviance” as a celebration of physical diversity. The symposium seeks to challenge the conformity of the bodies that we see on the Irish stage which tend not to “deviate” from a normative cultural script. Thus, these bodies can be read as both mimetic and diegetic sites of endemic societal power imbalances which do not reflect the diversity of Ireland’s demographical zeitgeist.

From the ancient practice of physiognomy, to contemporary debates on plastic surgery and theories of bodily memory, there is an enduring artistic fascination with corporeal semiotics. The physically disabled, impaired or “deviant” body has been central to this. Despite the prolific use of disability as a literary tool in Irish drama, there are few examples in Ireland, and indeed internationally, of theatres sourcing actors with disabilities to play these roles, or of ability-blind casting practices. In the 2011 Census, 595,355 people in Ireland identified as having a disability, equivalent to 13% of the country’s population. At least 1 in 10 adults between 15 and 64 years have a disability whilst 38% of adults over 65 years recorded having a disability. Yet this has not been reflected on the Irish stage. Instead, the conventions of “cripping up”, or “cripdrag”, industry terms describing the practice of an able-bodied actor playing a disabled character, are customary. By “cripping up,” an actor demonstrates his/her performative virtuosity, rather than committing to accurate representations of reality. The result is the potential degradation of the disabled body, a stylized performance evoking vaudevillian conventions; performance thus engenders belief in stereotype. This has serious implications regarding preconceptions about normalcy and corporeal perfection; the implication is that disability is performative and that physical impairment is not inherent but “deviant.”

In her seminal book on Performing the Body in Irish Theatre (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Bernadette Sweeney suggests that “[t]he body is […] responding to and existing within a culturally specific set of parameters which are subject to change” and “economic and political circumstances, education, gender and sexuality—these and other considerations shape our projections of and on the body within Irish culture and beyond.” In considering how power imbalances and ableist ideologies are corporealised in Irish theatre, it is vital to discuss the representation of race and ethnicity. According to the 2016 census, the population of the State grew at 0.8 per cent per annum while those with Irish ethnicity increased by just 0.2 per cent. The fastest growing ethnic group since 2011 was “other including mixed background”, with an annualised growth of 14.7 per cent.1 The 2016 Census indicates that the 535,475 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland originate from 200 different nations. Overall, there are 12 nationalities with more than 10,000 residents living here in Ireland from America, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Latvia, Romania, and Spain, in addition to Poland, Lithuania and the UK.2 This conference will bring together leading scholars and practitioners to access and evaluate how cultural/ethnical diversity and interculturalism is being reflected on the Irish stage, particularly examining bodies which have been denied representation.

There is an increased focus on corporeality in contemporary Ireland and it seems all the more pertinent to discuss bodily representation in Irish culture. The momentum of the Repeal the 8th Movement generated debates on bodily legitimacy and ownership whilst the booming health, beauty and fitness industries promote conflicting ideals of corporeal perfection as the physical ideal—unattainable beauty standards still glamorise skeletal physiques whilst fitness industries are championing the fit, intact and unblemished body as emulative models. How have Irish playwrights and theatre makers responded to this cult of beauty and youth? Moreover, how has this affected casting practices? The “Waking the Feminists” campaign demonstrates a demand in Irish society for an increased visibility of the marginalised on the Irish stage, with calls for inclusiveness and greater representation of female writers and theatre-makers, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, “deviant” or non-conformist physicalities, and minority ethnic groups.

Relating to twentieth century and contemporary Irish theatre and practice, proposals for papers and practice-based presentations may wish to consider the drama, theatre and performance of:

  • Gendered and non-gendered bodies
  •  Disability and performance
  •  Race and ethnicity
  •  The male gaze
  •  Nudity in performance
  •  Idealised physical standards for actors and physical transformations required for roles
  •  The body and illness/trauma
  •  The body in performance art
  •  Bodily memory, prosthesis, phenomenology, and theories of the posthuman.
  •  The hidden/fragmented body.
  •  The abject or grotesque body
  • The body in pain

Please email proposals of no more than 250 words along with a short bio (100 words) to Dr Emma Creedon at: by 5pm Friday 14th December 2018.
The conference is generously funded by the Irish Research Council and the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, National University Galway.




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