Title

The 19 Percent: Disability and Actor Training in Higher Education

Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Oliver Gerland

Second Advisor

Beth Osnes

Third Advisor

Cecilia J. Pang

Fourth Advisor

Beth McGee

Fifth Advisor

Tamara Meneghini

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to study training methods for students with disabilities in college acting courses. Although more than 19% of Americans live with some form of documented disability, this is a minority that is virtually non-­existent on stage and screen. Able-­bodied actors play nearly all of the available roles, a practice that some consider a modern form of minstrelsy. As written, the few characters seen often reflect outdated disability models, perpetuating stereotypes that can be reductive and harmful. There is a troublesome lack of authenticity in writing and casting. One of the many reasons for this lack of visibility may be related to a disproportionately low number of trained actors with disabilities in the professional market. This research addresses the barriers that students with disabilities face when they seek actor training in higher education.

An extensive survey of existing literature addresses primary and secondary questions. A series of interviews reveals many positive practices that can contribute to a more welcoming and inclusive actor training program. Well-­known instructors of acting, voice, and movement share wisdom earned from decades of experience. Actors with disabilities that have worked professionally and completed an actor training program provide valuable insight by sharing class experiences and personal challenges, information which may prove useful for future instructors and students. These interviews gather some valuable perspectives on a largely unexplored topic.

Some strategies that have been uncovered include ways to adapt popular acting, voice, speech, and movement pedagogies for the greatest variety of students, ways to effectively communicate with college students with disabilities, and responsible strategies for portraying disability identity during in class scene work. Some of these findings reflect the principles of Universal Design for Learning, which can be useful in practice-­‐based theatre courses.

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