Macquarie University
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(Not) the 'right kind' of dementia story : re/presenting identities in reality theatre and performance

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posted on 2022-03-28, 18:19 authored by Janet Louise Gibson
This thesis examines a select group of verbatim and autobiographical theatre productions and applied performance practices which use words and stories about, with and by people living with a dementia diagnosis (older adults in the main). It highlights the many ethical, political and aesthetic issues arising from the paradox of theatres that rely on narratives from 'real' people being coupled with people not generally deemed to be 'real' (or even 'people'). In so doing, this thesis makes a critical contribution to theatre and performance studies scholarship by uncovering the scarcely explored relationship between narrative and the construction of 'reality' as 'normalcy' that determines 'reality theatre' practise and scholarship. It also investigates and challenges the regnant function of the story itself in dementia cultures (with implications for applied theatre scholarship) as well as in 'reality theatre'. In the progress of one of the diseases in the dementia group, memory, cognitive and linguistic capacities, and narrative fitness will be compromised, at some stages, quite severely. Almost from the moment of diagnosis, people become enmeshed in socio-cultural discourses casting them as 'strangers' or the 'living dead' and not as 'real people', often losing their claim to personhood as a consequence. Using a distinctive set of case studies from Australia and the United States of America, this thesis considers how people diagnosed with dementia are represented to publics, as well as the emergng ways in which people represent themselves, assessing to what extent the 'right kind' of dementia story, one of tragedy, loss of personhood and socio-economic crisis is told. This thesis further proposes that Richard Schechner's concept of 'performance consciousness' can re-cast people living with dementia in terms of possibility, not just in terms of tragedy and loss, reframing particular bahviours and actions as creative adaptations rather than just as deficit exemplars of insidious diseases.


Table of Contents

Introduction. My mother's story, my story -- Chapter 1. Reality effects : mapping issues in reality theatre -- Chapter 2. Missing the bus to David Jones, Theatre Kantanka -- Chapter 3. Sundowner, KAGE -- Chapter 4. Charting applied performance in dementia cultures -- Chapter 5. Narrative spaces : re-storying older adults living with a diagnosis of dementia -- Chapter 6. "I don't want to disappear": dementia and public autobiographical performance -- Conclusion. Revisiting my mother's story, my story.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 260-281

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Yuji Sone

Additional Supervisor 1

Nicole Matthews


Copyright Janet Louise Gibson 2015. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xii, 281 pages) colour illustrations, colour portraits

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