Calvert, Dave (2009) Like the Special Olympics? The relationship of research to practice in theatre and learning disability. In: TaPRA Conference 2009, 7th - 9th September 2009, Plymouth University. (Unpublished)

Theatre has been at the vanguard of a social project of emancipation for people with learning disabilities, including the promotion of self-advocacy, unsettling of misrepresentation and dismantling of barriers to inclusion. Recently, research has taken a concerted interest in the rich practices of this branch of Applied Theatre. This paper will reflect on the implications of increased academic attention, especially in the age of Obama when an explicit pragmatism overshadows an implicit ideology, and the instinct to joke disparagingly about the Special Olympics remains.

The paper starts from the position that research is not impartially distanced from practice, but actively contributes to the emancipatory project, and will consider the implications of this for both practice and research.

Theatre companies engaging learning disabled performers (such as Mind the Gap, Heart ‘n’ Soul and The Lawnmowers) have always acknowledged their artistic differences without difficulty. At the same time, perceptions remain that such companies are united by a shared social purpose. The scrutiny of researchers, however, will uncover political differences between their positions. I would like to explore these differences and consider the implications of potentially fragmenting a seemingly cohesive (though informal) movement.

Researchers (usually practitioners themselves) often share the broad social commitment of the practice. The emancipatory project is far from complete, and the paper will reflect on the difficult balance of interrogating the practice whilst advocating for its underlying principles.

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