Queer Exceptions

Something of a rarity in academic publishing, this book leaves us with a queer, radical optimism, a present full of possibility” – Lazlo Pearlman, Contemporary Theatre Review

“Rising to the promise that the title holds out, this excellent book will be of value to all scholars with an interest in contemporary performance practices” – Alison Jeffers, New Theatre Quarterly

Cover photo: Holly Revell

Queer exceptions: solo performance in neoliberal times is a groundbreaking study of the contentious relationships between performance, individuality and the demands of neoliberalism.

Featuring practitioners as varied as La Ribot, David Hoyle, Neil Bartlett, Bridget Christie, Oreet Ashery and Tanja Ostojic, it provides an essential account of the diverse practices which characterise the field of contemporary solo performance, and their significance to debates concerning equality, inclusion and social progress.

What’s in the book?

Drawing together works from the overlapping fields of theatre, performance, cabaret, live art and stand- up comedy, this book traces the cultural significance of ‘threshold’ subjects who occupy a suspended relation to the social and political sphere. Each chapter is structured by a different figure – the entrepreneur, martyr, the pariah, the misfit, the stranger, the killjoy and the optimist  which offers a different way of thinking about who is included, and on what terms.

Informed by the work of scholars including Sara Ahmed, Zygmunt Bauman and Giorgio Agamben, this interdisciplinary text offers an incisive analysis of the cultural significance of solo performance for students and scholars across the fields of theatre and performance studies, sociology, gender studies and political philosophy.

This opening chapter locates solo performance in relation to contemporary debates concerning individuality, neoliberalism and the politics of exceptionality. How do we make sense of the demand for autobiographical solutions to social crises? What does it mean for an individual to be considered ‘exceptional’?  What is neoliberalism, anyway?


In the opening moments of Our Carnal Hearts (2016) – a show about envy, competition and ‘the ugly bits of ourselves we would never usually admit’ – theatre-maker Rachel Mars offers up a ritual invocation to ‘millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street’ before leading the audience in collective rendition of Spandau Ballet’s pop hit Gold (1983). […] With the audience positioned to confront itself across the four sides of the stage, Our Carnal Hearts invites recognition of envy as a communal affect which turns us against our neighbour. 

In one narrative thread, Mars tells the parable of a fairy who knocks on your door and offers to grant any wish with the catch that “Your best friend, your colleague, your associate, your team mate, your rival, that person you know who is like you, but better, they get double of what you wish for. And you say [pause] cut out one of my eyes” (Mars 2016).


Since the late 1990s, the figure of the creative entrepreneur has played an increasingly significant role in the working life of performers and theatre-makers across the UK and Europe. Focusing on the burgeoning economy and ecology of contemporary arts festivals, this chapter explores the increasing demand for self-employed artists to pursue individualised risk and reward, and to self-exploit.

In this context, ‘free’ fringe festivals – and the work of artist-led groups like Forest Fringe and BUZZCUT – suggest alternative modes of practice in resistance of neoliberal economies.

Moving between live art practices of self-injury and autobiographical stagings of confession, this chapter examines the narratives of sacrifice and redemption which surround martyrdom – and the contemporary works which challenge that logic.

Featured practitioners: Ron Athey, Kira O’Reilly, Franko B, Eddie Ladd, Adrian Howells, Scottee.

This chapter explores performances of singular individuality in which the state of being neither wholly included nor fully excluded invites us to reconsider liberal narratives of historical progress.

While mainstream LGBT activism emphasises assimilation as a means of recovery from past exclusions, the pariah offers a new way of thinking about marginal and politicized identity’s attachment to its own history of injury.

Featured practitioners: Neil Bartlett, Marc Rees, Seiriol Davies, Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford, David Hoyle.

Framed by an examination of neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual agency – and claims that feminism is no longer needed or relevant – this chapter animates the figure of the killjoy and the work of Sara Ahmed to explore solo works in which public displays of unhappiness, dysphoria and ingratitude force a re-examination of the relationship between gender, individual responsibility, and the social.

Featured practitioners: Bridget Christie, Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott, La Ribot, Cristian Ceresoli and Silvia Gallerano, Gary Owen.

Building on scholarship concerning migration and exile, this chapter deploys the figure of the stranger to read solo works in and around the border regimes of the UK and EU. If stranger recognition involves (often unmarked) assumptions about which bodies belong and which are out of place, performance interventions in and around border regimes bring such beliefs to light while demonstrating how misrecognition and uncertainty are preserved as technologies of control.

Featured practitioners: Kay Adshead, Zodwa Nyoni, Oreet Ashery, Nassim Soleimanpour, Tanja Ostojić.

Drawing on queer-crip theories alongside Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s theorisation of ‘misfitting’, this chapter examines a range of solo works concerning illness, impairment and disability to examine the relationship between bodily propriety and neoliberalism’s preference for self-sufficient, ‘immune’ citizens.

Featured practitioners: Brian Lobel, Robert Softley, Katherine Araniello, Bobby Baker, the vacuum cleaner, Martin O’Brien.

Reading against futural accounts of utopia in the work of Jill Dolan and Jose Esteban Muñoz, this chapter examines the significance of solo works which emphasise the ‘here and now’ as a space of personal, social and political intervention.

Understood as a focused attentiveness to the present that is not straightforwardly affirmative – and which may paradoxically involve feelings of doubt and vulnerability – optimism in performance describes how opportunities for resistance and change already exist. 

Featured practitioners: Deborah Pearson, Ivana Müller, Duncan Macmillan, FK Alexander, Rosana Cade, Nando Messias.

Drawing together the key features of post-millennial solo works preoccupied with identity, individuality and subjectivity, this closing chapter theorises the potential of queer exceptionality as characterised by the generative powers of complicity, misrecognition, uncertainty and vulnerability.

Featured practitioner: Chris Goode.