Freaks and not freaks: theatre and the making of crip identity

Conroy, Colette ORCID logo ORCID: (2022) Freaks and not freaks: theatre and the making of crip identity. In: J. Paul, Halferty and Cathy, Leeney, (eds.) Analysing Gender in Performance. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 89-103. Full text not available from this repository.

(Contact the author)
Official URL:


On some level it seems obvious that some disabled actors will want to explore the history of freak show performances. To replicate a performance form that neither performer nor audience has experienced has the frisson of a historical re-enactment. Somewhere, people who looked like you were stared at as freaks by the audience. What would that have been like? For the freaks? For the spectator? This essay is an attempt to engage with the multiple possibilities of engagement and identity that are bound up in the idea of freak shows, acting and spectatorship. From their earliest days, UK based Graeae Theatre Company, artistically led by disabled people, have explored and used freak show images: their first piece, Sideshow, played wittily and angrily with the ways in which disabled people are enfreaked in their everyday lives. A later piece, The Last Freak Show engages with disability as a performance tradition. Disability theatre has developed a relationship with the freak show, and this has been explored in many performances in the UK and the USA. The freak show has also been used theatrically outside the boundaries of disability theatre, and the essay looks at Tennessee Williams’s atmospheric freak show play The Mutilated (1965) to explore the possibilities of the connections between theatre, stigma, and the proto-crip identity. The freak show is cited and quoted in the work of disabled performers, and this essay considers the uses of the cultural trope of the freak show in disability theatre. It considers the ways in which disability and freaks mutually alter each other. The essay claims that the notion of the freak show has implications for a performative elaboration of disabled bodies and also speculates about the possibility that disability theatre formalises the relationship between performer and spectator, overwriting more difficult, problematic, contingent relationships in favour of a performative construction of the disabled person and the disabling society.

Item Type: Book Section
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 9783030855741
Departments: Institute of Arts > Performing Arts
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2023 10:47
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 14:17
Edit Item