Each month, we offer the spotlight to one of our funded researchers to exhibit their research projects in more detail.
The Featured Researcher for December 2022 was Lori Delaney, with her PhD Project titled Performing Breast Cancer Stories: Disrupting Narratives and Constructing Selves.
HEI: University of Glasgow.
Lori’s project uses performance to explore experiences of breast cancer. Since the 1980s, standardised breast cancer narratives of ‘courage’ and ‘survivorship’ have dominated public discourse, resisting anything other than positively transformative experiences. However, disruptive stories serve a critical function in illuminating cancer experiences, with the potential to create new knowledge which could benefit the patient experience (Nielson, 2019).
Autobiographical works as inspiration for the research
Her project takes as catalyst her experience of breast cancer and situates itself within the field of autobiographical performance, inviting others with lived experience onto the stage. The participatory, applied practice research project will explore how theatre can coherently translate that experience. Using autobiographical performance methods (testimony, witnessing, verbatim and documentary), the research will develop new, collaboratively devised theatre performance(s).
First-person stories provide patients and families with models for processing their experience of breast cancer (Park-Fuller, 1995). Without these, patients can feel isolated. The dominance of ‘upbeat’ narratives renders invisible, more vulnerable accounts of what happens during and after treatment. More diverse and inclusive cancer narratives will impact how it is addressed medically, culturally and aesthetically. An intersectional approach foregrounds that cancer does not happen in isolation; different lenses inform how people’s lives are understood and experienced.
The autobiographical performance gives ‘invisible’ communities an opportunity to speak and provides a means to rewrite the narrative of self. Personal experience can act as a ‘site of narrative authority’ (Park-Fuller, 2003:169) and performance (of personal experience) ‘can be a transformative act’ (Heddon, 2008:2). Theatre offers what narrative alone cannot, through the embodied, intimate encounter between the spectator and performer, which can resonate at a more visceral level.
Underpinned by engagement and collaborative practice, Lori’s project will co-create outputs with the potential to offer those living with, through and beyond breast cancer meaningful support. Outputs will also be relevant to stakeholders, including theatre practitioners, researchers, health professionals and cancer charities.
All images provided by the researcher.