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Performative Possibilities of Barrier-free: Re/presenting Disability in Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick (2018)

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2024, 37(1), pp.59-84
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Received : March 25, 2024
  • Accepted : April 7, 2024
  • Published : April 30, 2024

Eunha Na 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This essay examines Mike Lew’s 2018 play Teenage Dick and its barrier-free production (2022) presented by National Theater of Korea (NTOK). Barrier-free, or barrier-conscious, performances have been the focus of recent critical attention in the field of disability studies in theater. Drawing upon discourses in empathy and disability theater, I argue for the political and aesthetic possibilities of barrier-free performance for non-disabled audiences. Set in a modern-day high school where disabled youths struggle under the ideology of ability, Teenage Dick rewrites Richard III to illustrate the violence of ableism and complicate the rhetoric of empathy that often informs popular cultural images and narratives constructed around disability. Richard’s revenge upon his oppressor Eddie, a football player who embodies ableist ideals, begins by manipulating others to supplant Eddie and become a school president, but it ends up by making Eddie disabled just like Richard himself. Such radical act of a disabled protagonist suggests the play’s poignant critique of disembodied empathy and its empty rhetoric of ‘putting oneself in the shoes of the other.’ While Teenage Dick largely depends on stage realism, embedded in the play is physical presence of disabled bodies that exceed the field of vision and disrupt the audience’s easy identification with disabled characters. Teenage Dick at the NTOK showcases how the play’s concern about disability and empathy can be performatively expressed in a barrier-free environment. Compared to the previous English productions, the Korean production – regardless of their intial intention – made visible the gap between characters and actors, thus creating alienating effects and destabilizing the viewer’s aesthetic perception. I suggest that such aesthetically and emotionally discomforting experience leads to a renewed awareness of the theatrical and social environment on the spectator’s part.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.