Alexis Riley, Ph.D.

President’s Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Professor
Department of Theatre and Drama
University of Michigan


Alexis Riley (she/hers) is a theatre scholar, artist, and educator whose research focuses on disability performance in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. She specializes in theatre, dance, and performance studies, disability studies, and mad studies, with particular interests in practice-based research methods and accessible pedagogy. 

Her current book project, Mad Memory: Performance and Disability After Institutionalization, explores the legacy of medical incarceration–and its impact on disability communities–through the lens of performance. This research has earned numerous awards, including a generous grant from the American Theatre and Drama Society and year-long fellowships from the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and the University of Michigan President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. 

In addition to presenting her work in conventional scholarly forums, she also draws on her archival sources to devise live performances and digital humanities projects aimed at making disability history, art, and culture available to a wider audience. These projects inform her approach to teaching, which centers accessibility as a strategy for fostering inclusion in and beyond the theatre classroom. 

Artist’s Statement

My work emerges from a deep love for peripheral bodies and minds.

Through performance, I embrace disorder and divergence as critical methods of embodied inquiry, one that cultivates unexpected kinships amongst seemingly disparate people, places, and things. The productions that grow out of these explorations take many forms: a procession of performers dancing down an asylum sidewalk, a group of musicians singing by a state hospital cemetery, a series of short scenes enacted alongside objects labelled “mad,” “crazy,” or “insane.” Across all of these projects, disabled, mad, and neurodivergent bodyminds function not as medicalized sites of pathology and isolation but, rather, as treasured sources of wisdom and connection.

Grounded in disability arts and culture and rooted in feminist praxis, my methods merge improvisation, devising, and practice as research techniques to imagine accessibility as both relational strategy and aesthetic practice. For this reason, I often work with large ensembles comprised of both disabled and nondisabled artists. My goal in these projects is to challenge the dominance of conventional performance practice by equipping artists to integrate disability politics into their own work, all while nurturing cross-movement solidarity.

My work has been presented in numerous community, academic, and professional arts settings, including the Texas Center for Disability Studies, Texas Theatre and Dance, and The Cohen New Works Festival.