UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reinventing disability inclusion : representations of disabled bodies in Spring Awakening (2015) and Oklahoma! (2019) through casting, physical movement, and music performance Davidson, Echo


Actors with disabilities have rarely appeared in musical theater and when they have, they have been limited to playing characters with disabilities. Two recent musical productions, however, have cast actors with disabilities for characters that were originally written as non- disabled. In Chapter Two, I demonstrate that Deaf West Theatre Company’s 2015 adaptation of Spring Awakening cast a mixture of Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing actors to perform together. This production also featured Ali Stroker, the first woman in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway. Stroker was later cast for the role of Ado Annie in Daniel Fish’s 2019 revival of Oklahoma!, the subject of Chapter Three of this thesis. This study explores how these contemporary musical productions address issues of disability inclusion and representation within the United States. I place these productions within the history of the disability rights movements and d/Deaf rights movements, revealing how these performers in the shows have advocated for disability visibility. Each chapter presents an analysis of how these productions challenge ableism. Through music, staging, choreography, and performance, these productions expose the blind spots in ableist history. Furthermore, scholars on American musicals have yet to explore how music functions in creating visibility for disability. This study, however, offers musical analyses of several songs from each musical. Conducting close readings of these songs, I examine lyrics and music, including such elements as vocal delivery, rhythm, texture, and dynamics. My analytical readings show visibility for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and wheelchair-using bodies. By placing these songs within the context of disability, and through an analysis of musical and dance elements, this study shows how disabled performers have challenged audiences to hear what they have to say about disability and the particular stories that they choose to tell. The thesis reveals the significance of these actors’ performances in efforts of erasing disability stigma and allows the audience member to reflect on current injustices to do with casting and representation in the United States.

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