Playing the cancer card: illness, performance and spectatorship
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Playing the Cancer Card: Illness, Performance and Spectatorship investigates the experience of spectatorship in relation to illness, an area that has received comparatively little attention in Performance Studies. The thesis interrogates these concerns through original interviews, archival research, close textual readings of performances and performance documentation and draws on critical frameworks, primarily from performance, literary and cultural studies concerning spectatorship, illness, disability, documentation and narrative. The project analyses both my performances that exemplify being an object of spectatorship and my experiences as a spectator to the performance of illness. ! Playing the Cancer Card argues that performance, through the experiences of spectatorship that it invites, works to broker the chasm between embodied experience of illness and discourses of that experience. The Introduction reviews academic literature and examines relationships between illness and models of disability. In Chapter 1, readings of work by Sontag, Spence and Baker demonstrate how individuals may strategically reject public production of, and spectatorship to, their work. Chapter 2 analyses interviews with Baker and Marcalo, demonstrating how performance can generate tensions between artists and advocacy groups when modes of spectatorship — regarding propriety and community politics — are policed. In Chapter 3, an analysis of cancer blogs elucidates how they may redress limitations imposed by traditional narrative structures around illness, forging new relationships between the ill and their spectators. Here I also consider my performances that respond to the pervasiveness of traditional narratives. Chapter 4 examines Fun with Cancer Patients, my practice-based research project, and argues that by addressing constructions of cancer, one may create work that productively addresses spectators who both have and have not experienced cancer. In the Conclusion, I evaluate two of my projects that address illness tangentially, arguing that understanding ourselves as spectators and objects of spectatorship can expand discourses surrounding embodied experience, especially of illness.
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