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Theses Doctoral

Theatre of Operations / Operating Theatre: Medical Dramaturgies in Anti-War Plays, 1919-2019

Kluber, Warren

This dissertation is about the ways in which modern war, modern medicine, and modern theatre have reciprocally shaped attitudes towards bodies. I argue that the rise of theatrical realism, taking models and metaphors from newly technologized war and medicine, gives viewers the power to see into others, and envisions this force as a mark of superior humanity. I show how this gaze is engaged in performance events that dramatize war-as-medicine: from WWI theatre-for-the-troops depicting enemy soldiers as microbes, to the 2003 televised medical exam of Saddam Hussein. I argue that the tools and rhetoric of realism are instrumental in imagining distanced killing as a medicinal and sanitizing act, thus naturalizing violence-as-care.

Over the same period, I study the work of military veteran theatre makers who have practiced theatre as an alternative medicine: healing not by distance and separation, but through a visceral connection between performers and spectators. Starting with Antonin Artaud’s theatrical “surgery,” I progress through chapters on Edward Bond, David Rabe, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, the Riot Group, and Sylvia Khoury. Taking theoretical frameworks from medical humanities and disability studies, and integrating methods from cognitive science and phenomenology, I explore how their theatre opens up corporeal space for resonance, receptivity, and transformation. I conclude by looking at current applied theatre projects bringing together groups of military service members and civilians, and healthcare providers and receivers. I argue that theatre is uniquely able to heal the selective numbing involved in military and medical training, by resensitizing bodies and relearning ways of caring for oneself and others.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, W.B.
Howard, Jean E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 24, 2020