Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Oliver W. Gerland

Second Advisor

Beth Osnes

Third Advisor

Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin

Fourth Advisor

Therese Jones

Fifth Advisor

Amanda Giguere


This dissertation provides the first systematic study of representations of diabetes in U.S. theater from 1949 to 2018. According to the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 National Diabetes Statistics report, 30.3 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes. The World Health Organization identifies diabetes as a chronic disease, which manifests in four different ways: type 1, type 2, gestational, and pre-diabetes. For a disease impacting 9.4% of the U.S. population, diabetes is surrounded by an alarming amount of stigmatizing rhetoric and misinformation. Focusing primarily on dramatic literature and solo performance work that depicts diabetes, this study identifies two stigmatizing narratives rooted in the medical model of disability that commonly occur in dramatic literature. The case studies of these narratives included plays such as Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake, and Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias. This study then examines Robbie McCauley’s Sugar and Irma Mayorga & Virginia Grise’s The Panza Monologues through the social model of disability as these performances draw attention to systemic factors that produce and impact diabetic bodies. Drawing on theories of complex embodiment, the last case studies include the representation of diabetes in Marina Tsaplina’s The Invisible Elephant Project and G. William Zorn’s Lucille. Ultimately this project identifies a new framework, a diabetic aesthetic, to understand representations of diabetes on the stage that depict the lived experience of people who have diabetes. Diabetic aesthetic brings together an awareness of the role of social forces combined with the emotional and physical ebb and flow of the diabetic body. It draws on the benefits of the medical model for people with chronic illness, the recognition of social barriers presented by the social model of disability and utilizes theories of embodied disability identity to imagine a new way of viewing and expressing this non-visible chronic illness in performance.