My research investigates the politics of
mad and disabled embodiment.
In sum, I am interested in how cultures identify and respond to mental and bodily difference, and how those differences are represented in performances staged across time.
Mad Memory: Performance and Disability After Institutionalization
My book project, Mad Memory: Performance and Disability After Institutionalization, analyzes performances mounted on the grounds of Oregon State Hospital as an embodied record of mad and disability cultural memory. Through a combination of historical research and performance analysis, I investigate a range of practices mounted from 1883 to the present: vaudeville theater, social dances, documentary photography, film performance, museum curation, and memorial design. My intersectional analysis uncovers subversive acts of queer/trans intimacy, Indigenous self-determination, and mad/disabled world-making, all enacted through state hospital performances. Taken together, the corporeal counter-archive I assemble transforms psychiatric institutionalization from discrete event to contiguous process—one inextricably intertwined with the operations of colonialism and empire. Moreover, while Western biomedical frameworks describe mad and disabled performing bodies through the language of pathology, my analysis argues that such embodiment functions as a valuable repository for collective knowledge, recording and transmitting memories of violence—and resistance to that violence—to mad and disabled communities across time. By bringing its chosen fields into closer methodological conversation, Mad Memory’s use of performance research methods opens new avenues for historians grappling with the limits of mad and disability archives, all while uncovering minoritarian performance cultures underrepresented in theatre, dance, and performance studies.
Research for Mad Memory was conducted through generous support from The American Theatre and Drama Society and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation/Institute for Citizens and Scholars.
Madness (often termed “mental illness”) is typically described as a condition of the mind. My recent publications merge performance theory with mad and disability studies research to position madness as a physical phenomenon, one experienced and identified through bodies in motion. Attention to such embodiment, I argue, underscores the political dimensions of mad life, offering scholars, artists, and (most importantly) mad communities a range of creative-critical strategies for dismantling ableism.
Staging the Mad Past: Performance, Criticism, and Historiography in
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Book Chapter in Identity, Culture, and the Science Performance Vol. 2: From the Curious to the Quantum, edited by Vivian Appler and Meredith Conti. Bloomsbury, 2023 (in press).
Contesting the Clinic:
Shifting Performatives on the
Peer-Reviewed Article in The International Review of Qualitative Research 12.2 (2019): 132-46.
Tending to the
Graduate Student Body
Essay co-authored with Michael Love, siri gurudev, Kristin Perkins, and Mason Rosenthal for Theatre Topics 29.2 (2019): 169-76.
Recent and Upcoming
Disability/Performance: Beyond Catastrophic Embodiment, a working session for the American Society for Theatre Research’s 2022 annual meeting. Co-convened with Lindsey Barr and Caitlin Marshall, this working session brings together scholars who approach disability performance as a site for creative worldmaking. In addition to offering participants time and resources in support of their projects, Disability/Performance is also interested in querying who we understand to be within the reach of disability politics–and to what end. Responding to feminist-of-color disability studies calls to reimagine our scholarly genealogies, we aim to trace a more capacious lineage for disability performance scholarship, one that merges disability studies with Black studies, Indigenous studies, Latinx studies, Asian studies, postcolonial theory, queer and trans theory, and feminist theory, among others, to consider manifestations of physical and mental precarity in a range of settings.
In addition to co-convening the working session, I’ll also share “Mad Embodiment, Mad Memory: Performance Interventions in Psychiatric Archives,” a paper that uses performance research methods to unearth mad and disability ancestors from the material remains of state hospitals.
[Performed Anatopias]: Ecological + Archaeological Im/possibilities in Contemporary Performance, a panel for the Mid-America Theatre Conference Theatre History Symposium, with Angenette Spalink and kt shorb. I’ll present “Recovery in Ruins: Unearthing Mad-Crip Ancestors from the Archives of State Hospital Performance,” a paper that explores the way people held in state hospitals in the postwar era used performance to resist medical incarceration. I developed my argument for this presentation through my work on access/embodiment, a Practice as Research project developed in partnership with Molly Roy.