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“Cast-off Casts: Overcoming Disability and Outgrowing Anxiety in Dear Evan Hansen”

Matthew Tomkinson

Abstract

This paper will put Theatre for Young Audiences in conversation with disability studies by analyzing the Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen (2015). My research will draw on theories of “compulsory able-bodiedness” and the “cripping of adolescence” as described by scholars such as Robert McRuer and Julie Passanante Elman. The former term, McRuer’s, describes the notion that disabled persons should want to overcome their disabilities. The latter term, Elman’s, describes how youth is so often associated with an impairment of some kind that to be a teenager is equated with having a disability. Accordingly, I will argue that the play follows what Elman calls “rehabilitative logic” in how it depicts the title character’s development. In other words, Evan Hansen confronts ableist ideologies that equate being cured with growing up. As such, his maturation is shown to be a function of overcoming his temporary disability (i.e., the cast he wears on his arm). Moreover, the removal of Evan’s cast signals a transition out of anxious youth and disability and into able-bodied adulthood. Following Elman, I show how Evan’s coming-of-age process involves rehabilitating him so that he can fit the state template for good citizenship. The plaster cast, I argue, functions as a material metaphor in David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder’s sense – a symbolic device linked to disability that signifies an abstract character trait. As with other material metaphors (the villain’s eyepatch, for example), Evan’s cast is linked to notions of immorality and my paper will trouble this convention.

Session:

Disabling Dramaturgies: Rehabilitative Logic, Able-bodiedness, Normate Audiences

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