The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Catherine Cole: Five Foot Feet – National Tour

Catherine Cole (UCSB, UCB Theater) Faculty

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I became disabled in 2001 when I lost my entire left leg to cancer. As I adjusted to my new body circumstances, I became interested in the public spectacle of disability. Going about on crutches with one leg, I became a walking performance art piece, with people stopping to stare or avoiding eye contact all together. But whether people looked or didn’t look, I was a performer, a performer in a script I didn’t write. So in creating Five Foot Feat, I was interested in working with that spectacle, the energy of people’s visual interest in my body. I felt that by giving people permission to look, and to look on my terms, we could move beyond awkwardness to something more interesting. That’s why I begin Five Foot Feat by taking off my prosthetic leg. The opening moment of the show is a way of saying, “Here’s what my body looks like. Feel however you feel about that, and now let’s move on!”

I also wanted to transcend conventional narratives of disability such as the heroism vs. victimization tropes. (To mainstream culture, we are either pathetic victims or courageous heroes.) I wanted Five Foot Feat to be funny, sexy, graceful, and light — all tones that had been banished from my life when I was diagnosed with cancer. I am interested in grace, both in the physical sense, but also in a metaphorical sense. If someone has lost an entire leg, there is, of course, a grave story behind that loss, whether it happened from an accident or sickness.  But is there a way for that gravity to be bouyant?

The central metaphor of Five Foot Feat is a pirouette. In ballet, pirouettes are about defying gravity. They are about lightness, agility, fantasy. The physics of pirouettes depend upon and harness gravity’s power. One gets energy for the turn by pushing into the earth. Likewise, in dealing with my catastrophic limb loss, I use the heavy emotional reality of loss to push off into the air, the ether, and . . . spin.” –Catherine Cole


  • Red Eye Theatre, Minneapolis, MN December 2004
  • Marjorie Luke Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, October 2004
  • Piggott Theatre, Stanford University, September 2004
  • Roundhouse Theatre, Vancouver, September 2004
  • APAP Showcase, New 42nd Street Studios, New York City, January 2003
  • World Arts and Cultures Program, UCLA, November 2002 (lecture demonstration)
  • Hatlen Theatre, University of California, Santa Barbara, October 2002
  • Durham Studio Theatre, University of California, Berkeley, September 2002
  • Center Stage Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, November 2001

Screenings and Presentations

  • Huntington Library, Women’s Studies Seminar, February 2006
  • Keynote, Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, Arts Symposium, February 2006
  • University of Panama, Dept. of Dance, September 2005
  • Performance Studies international conference, Brown University, May 2005
  • The Market Theatre Laboratory, Johannesburg, South Africa, June 2002
  • Keynote address, Univ. of California system-wide Academic Advisors’ Conference, May 2002
  • University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, Departments of Music, and Drama and Performance Studies, May 2002
  • The Amputee Coalition of America Conference, Anaheim, CA, July 2002
  • The Women and Theatre Program of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, July 2002
  • The “Feminism Confronts Disability” Conference, Center for the Study of Women, University of California, Los Angeles, February 2002

About the Artist: Ph.D., Northwestern University. Cole teaches African Performance, Field Methods, Postcolonial Studies, and Disability Studies. She is the author of Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition (2010) as well as Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre (2001), which received a 2002 Honorable Mention for The Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and was a finalist for the Herskovitz Prize in African Studies. She is editor of Theatre Survey and co-editor of Africa After Gender? (2007).  Her dance theater piece Five Foot Feat, created in collaboration with Christopher Pilafian, toured North America in 2002-2005. She has published articles in Africa, Critical Inquiry, Disability Studies Quarterly, Research in African Literatures, Theatre, Theatre Journal, and TDR, as well as numerous chapters in edited volumes. Cole’s research has received funding from the National Humanities Center, National Endowment for the Humanities, Fund for U.S. Artists, American Association of University Women, ELA Foundation, and University of California Institute for Research in the Arts.

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