Loaded pistols: The interplay of social intervention and anti-aesthetic tradition in learning disabled performance

Dave Calvert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This article considers the aesthetics of applied performance with people with learning disabilities. Focusing on the integrated punk band Heavy Load, it explores how the aesthetic structure reconstructs notions of learning disability and intervenes in its social experience. It argues that this is facilitated through the punk form which positions itself as an anti-aesthetic, and therefore assumes an oppositional stance to conformity, including intellectual elitism. For the learning disabled performers, the form necessitates a juxtaposition of the familiar and the strange that validates their status as artists and permits a level of autonomy that is constrained in other areas of their lives. Furthermore, at a representational level, learning disabled identity had already been placed inside punk's antiaesthetic by The Sex Pistols, both for theatrical purposes and as part of an anarchic practice of detournment. In reclaiming this learning disabled persona, Heavy Load is able to negotiate associations of moral transgressor and cultural outsider, and enact a refusal to be positioned as such: paradoxically, it is through the appropriation of an oppositional aesthetic that a case can be made for assimilation. The article concludes that applied performance acquires impact through the interplay between context, constituency and the lateral and historical associations of aesthetic form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-528
Number of pages16
JournalResearch in Drama Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


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