James S. Leve F'19

James S. Leve
Professor
Music
Northern Arizona University

ACLS Fellowship Program 2019
Professor
Music
Northern Arizona University
Disability Musical Theater: Dramaturgy, Performance, Accommodation, and Access

This study brings the practices and aesthetics of disability musical theater to bear on mainstream commercial musical theater, which has only recently and superficially considered the ethics of accommodation. Broadway musical theater reinforces an ableist ideology about bodily difference by exploiting disability as metaphor, relying on cliché narratives about overcoming disability and adopting exclusionary casting practices; away from the spotlights of Broadway, performers who are typically excluded due to physical, vocal, or mental impairments appear in musicals at non-commercial theater organizations committed to accommodation onstage, backstage, and in the audience. “Disability Musical Theater” stems from the recognition that these two realms of musical theater operate in total isolation from each other. By proposing a new musical theater aesthetic, this study aims to remove negative connotations of difference by emphasizing disability as a positive and omnipresent dimension of the human condition.