Theater Hora’s Disabled Theater challenges artistic norms
In Owen Chapman’s estimation, disability has been swept under the rug and hidden away in closets for too long.
“Our society has ignored disability in so many ways. We have shunted the disabled into inappropriate institutions and often deny the disabled basic human rights. There has to be another way of looking at this,” says the Communication Studies associate professor and graduate director for the department’s diploma program.
Indeed, there is.
Theater Hora is a Swiss theatre troupe composed of people with cognitive disabilities, and thanks to an initiative by Concordia’s Critical Disability Studies Working Group, they are bringing their Disabled Theater production to the university.
Choreographed by Jérôme Bel, Theater Hora’s production of Disabled Theater sheds light on the common practice of marginalizing those considered unable to creatively contribute to society. How? By putting them centre stage.
“We tend to deal with disability by thinking about it as a diminishment from some form of normal. Hora explores what we call disability as a capacity, as potential,” Chapman says.
In a 2013 interview with Time Out (New York), Bel explained how he wanted Disabled Theater to liberate its disabled performers from the conventions imposed on them by society, “I thought theatre shouldn’t alienate them again. Theater, performance, the stage should be a place of freedom, a place where they could be themselves.”
As the current chair of the Critical Disability Studies Working Group, Chapman has noted how presenting the struggles of disabled people within a critical context can open up new and important conversations across the university.
So when Theater Hora got in touch last fall to ask whether Concordia would be interested in hosting the troupe and holding a pair of performances, he jumped at the chance — even if it meant a scramble to find a venue on short notice.
Chapman quickly involved the collective energy of the Critical Disability Studies Working Group including one of his research assistants, Michelle Macklem, a graduate student in Media Studies with previous experience in event planning, to help make it happen.
In the throes of creating her own Master’s research-creation project — an audio series on adaptive design and technology for disabled people — Macklem says she was happy to assist in the coordination of the event since Theater Hora challenges artistic norms through the lens of disability, a concept she is examining in her own research.
“I’m really excited to be a part of it and very fortunate to be asked to do this,” she says.
Arseli Dokumaci, also a founding member of the working group, as well as a postdoctoral fellow at McGill and research associate at the Mobile Media Lab, first saw Theater Hora perform Mars Attacks! in Switzerland. The production was a collaboration with Das Helmi, a puppet theatre group.
She says the troupe’s work challenges the very foundations of theatre, particularly by asking who gets to perform and represent others, or who gets to be represented.
“I believe that one of the major achievements of Theater Hora lies in their extremely skillful and innovative way of making us think about these questions.”
Tickets to the March 30–31 performances of Disabled Theater, taking place at the 120-capacity Black Box Theatre in Concordia’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, were snapped up within days of being announced – a testament to the growing interest in Theater Hora’s extraordinary work.