Performing the fractured puppet self : employing auto-ethnopuppetry to portray and challenge cultural and personal constructions of the disabled body
Fisher, Emma C.
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This research project examines personal and cultural constructs of the disabled body, with the creation of the puppet play Pupa as its practical culmination. The testimonials of six participants (including my own), all from artists with a disability or deaf artists, are the inspiration for Pupa. The qualitative research methodology used within this research combines ethnographic methods, auto-ethnography, practice-based research and narrative enquiry. I have adapted auto-ethnography by combining it with puppetry to coin new methodologies; ‘ethnopuppetry’ and ‘auto-ethnopuppetry’. Inspired by fairytales, Pupa creates a fantastical world where the narratives of the participants find expression through a range of puppet characters. These testimonies examine what it is to identify with a disabled identity, and to ‘come out’ as disabled. It looks at how we perceive ourselves as disabled, and how we feel others perceive us. Creating a piece of theatre based around disabled identity led me to investigate the history of disabled performers, and historical depictions of disabled characters within theatre, fairytales and freak-shows, in order to see how they influence societal beliefs around disability today. Within the practice element of this research, I experimented with unconventionally constructed puppets, as well as puppeteering my own disabled limb with an exo-skeleton, in order to question how I view disability in my own body. This research tracks my changing perceptions of my body. It charts my journey from viewing my disabled arm as an object, to seeing the exo-skeleton as an additional arm by incorporating it into my body schema, to then accepting my disabled arm as part of my body again. The research participants become the composer, actor, songwriter, and choreographers of Pupa, and their stories are at the forefront of this research. I situate my practice-based research among other contemporary puppet theatre performances which centre around the disabled voice. The research reveals that disabled artists have only begun to puppeteer their own stories in the last few years, and that this area remains largely under-researched. By tracing the journey of my disability within this piece of theatre; from able-bodied, to ‘abelist’, to claiming my identities, and finally ‘coming out’ as disabled, I aspire to bring to light and through so doing, to subvert ableist perceptions of the disabled body.