A New Way Showing: a showman recalls his recent experiences in gaining a PhD by publication, practice and Ebook

Tony LidingtonTony Lidington explains his unusual process to a PhD in Drama. Tony has been working as a showman for over 30 years and is well-known for his exploration of British popular entertainment forms. In the past, he has worked for many well-known venues and companies, combining accessibility and innovation. Each Summer, he scratches a living with “Uncle Tacko’s Flea Circus” (irritatingly fun!) and performs as The Raree Man with his peepshow (an Eighteenth Century form of itinerant storytelling ). Currently he is directing ‘Dick Whittington’ for Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. You can follow Tony’s work on www.prom-prom.com or Facebook “Promenade Promotions”.

I’ve been peddling my old nonsense for 35 years: on streets, beaches, car parks, green field festivals, field events, agricultural shows… in the open, under canvas, bus shelters, on the pier, on the bus, on the deck of boats, in quarries, on the banks of rivers and community orchards. I have run companies, venues, festivals, events, projects and stuck my oar into arts politics and the strategic development of illegitimate arts. I perform, research, teach and broadcast and in the process, I have become a specialist in the vernacular, the unusual, the bizarre and the kind of work that seldom accrues any cultural value… so if you want to know about Pierrot Troupes, Flea Circuses, Peepshows and Pantomime, then I’m your man.

But of course, people seldom ask about such topics, because they aren’t as hip as the current vogue for circus or physical theatre that almost every NPO seems to be encouraged to explore, so they sit, forlorn and almost forgotten as part of our intangible cultural heritage. Everyone knows what a Flea Circus is (or at least they imagine that they do as they shudder at the thought), most have a notion that a Pierrot is part of a kind of twee European clown tradition, and everyone knows about Punch & Judy and Pantomime, but give little thought as to why they have remained so phenomenally successful cultural influences in the British psyche.

For years, friends and colleagues have urged me to put my experiences and thoughts into some sort of structure, whereby these popular entertainment forms might start to achieve recognition and offer me a new strand of earning potential: “You should do a PhD!” they cry. But as a practising artist in the kind of work that earns relatively small amounts rather erratically, “How on earth can I afford to do that?” I’d respond. I have taught modules at Exeter University and been the lead artist on a few AHRC projects, but a PhD… everyone says it takes years and years, that it’s horribly dry and that it costs thousands a year. Given my Herculean efforts over decades to keep the household going and a young family just about clothed, through my work as a freelance artist producing my ‘weird shit’, the task seemed pretty huge.

However, dear reader, there was a way: I had worked with Professor Jane Milling on an AHRC project on pierrots some years previously and periodically we had lunch together to gossip, ruminate about our mutual areas of interest and to hatch plans of various sorts. It was Jane who first suggested that there might be a way to do a doctorate using my current practice to demonstrate the theory behind my thesis and to use my BBC Radio 4 broadcasts and other media-related publicly-available presentations (eg videos and documentaries) as the publications by which my work was validated. This meant that I would be able to present my various recordings as publications and my current work with community pierrot troupes, the flea circus and the peepshow as the demonstration of my thesis; so rather than a large amount of written text (usually around 100,000 words), my thesis simply needed to knit together my existing frame with a theoretical methodology – a task of some 20,000 words only! Here was a potential means to present a PhD that could be achieved in a shorter space of time (cheaper) and that used my current practice (I could keep doing the stuff that paid the bills).

We decided that we would try and find a new way of presenting the materials: for years, PhD students have presented their practical work and recordings as piles of VHS tapes or DVDs. Our plan was to use an interactive Ebook that would have embedded video and sound archives which illustrated points within the text, galleries of still pictures and footnotes that would pop-out when clicked on. No-one had done this before at the University of Exeter, and yet it is a much more accessible way of presenting the ideas for any practising artist. There’s no way I had the technical or digital skill to achieve the graphic design or elegance of format that was required, but the technicians at the department (Jon Primrose & Chris Mearing) were keen to help – thank God! They also wanted to find a way of presenting work in a more accessible way for the future, so that the mechanisms for presenting their materials and the speed of the process meant that it would be increasingly attractive for practitioners to apply to become PhD students.

The process of writing the PhD was not horrible! There were times that it was a struggle and I was pushed to the limits of my capacity to absorb theory, but like many others, I suspect the worst bit was simply trying to work-out what configuration of citation and bibliographical reference was best… should that bloody comma go before or after the closing parenthesis? Aaaaarrgh! So, despite many late nights whilst the family slumbered and snatched hours when I might otherwise have taken the dog onto the beach, I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to provide more objective rigour to my former ramblings and found the overall process of research, writing and appraisal, to be both rewarding and empowering.

I am told that I am quite a driven, obsessive individual, but with the prods, pokes and cajoling of Professor Milling and the endless patience of the technicians in the department, it also only took me fourteen months to submit the final Ebook version: the next problems were to get the Ebook into a format that the University could process and getting the viva organised. Astoundingly, this took a further five months! I submitted the Ebook on a series of memory sticks, together with some explanatory notes about what programmes were necessary to ‘read’ the thesis in that format… this proved especially difficult because not all the examiners owned Macs (the best operating system with which to read Ebooks). I ended-up fielding calls from the university, my supervisors and even one of the external tutors as they tried to work-out how best to read the material. So what was intended as an accessible format, turned out to be difficult to distribute.

I passed the viva, but was required to make major corrections: these I delivered in three weeks, but a further problem ensued because I was forced to represent the corrected thesis in an ordinary Word document alongside the Ebook (but minus the video, audio & interactive elements), so that my amended work could be judged more easily. The doctorate was duly awarded, but although the Ebook resides in the University’s thesis archives, the Ebook itself is not accessible to the public because of concerns over the ownership of the copyright on my various BBC broadcasts, which were accepted as the published part of my thesis. Although I had written the material for broadcast and presented the material for broadcast, the BBC retain copyright on the broadcast programmes themselves – it’s a grey area, but the University were anxious and so have placed an embargo on the availability of the Ebook. (However, if you want me to send you a copy for private use, just let me know!)

The whole process took me twenty months from start to finish, although the thesis is really the culmination of three decades of practice. I am now a Doctor of Philosophy – which fits my performing soubriquet of Uncle rather well, for now I am DrUncle. I am hoping to find a way of continuing my academic research alongside my performance practice by applying for early career research fellowships and the occasional part-time post as a researcher/lecturer. The process was hectic, but rewarding. As much as anything, I learned how academia works – how it has its own language and protocols. I am very proud of my qualification and I am very privileged to have had such a supportive team behind me – both personally and academically. For now, I continue showing my Flea Circus, directing Pantomime and next week I give a talk about Peepshows to Cambridge University… plus ca change!

__________________________

Thanks DrUncle!

Have you taken an unusual route to a PhD or MA? If so, we’d love to hear from you…

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Top Tips: 5 PhD practices you’ll thank yourself for later

Kate Holmes gives the top 5 tips that helped her through her PhD. Her research explores the celebrity of aerial stars of the 1920s and early 1930s using approaches that range from examining spatial performance practices to female physical culture, and draws upon her experience as an amateur aerialist.

Completing a PhD requires focus, concentration and determination especially when life has a habit of getting in the way. If you’re starting a PhD or an MA, this post is most especially for you.

Here are five tips that could make your life a little easier. I am certain future-you will thank present-you for reading this post.

1. Reading Summaries

I owe my supervisor credit for this one: the day before every meeting I’d send a reading summary through to her which formed the basis of our early discussions.

It really is as simple as it sounds: write a summary of everything you read. Note down the core argument and what you agreed or disagreed with. Make clear in your summary what is their thought/argument and what is your response.

Why is this so helpful? Reading is a huge part of research, and I challenge you to remember every argument of everything you read in your first year, three years later.

So, what happens when you need to write or edit your literature review? Well, if you have a reading summary you can use rely on this and be sure you’ve incorporated everything you’ve read. Studies have also shown that reflection increases your engagement with, and recall of, materials.

You may already have heard the tip that you should write every day to increase your productivity. This is because your brain is like a muscle that needs regular exercise. The good news is that this counts towards that everyday writing. It is also a great place to practice because it is pretty low-risk writing as it is for your eyes only!

Sub-tip: Now I’ve finished my PhD I still want to draw from this material on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, it is locked up in separate word documents but I need this to be accessible and searchable. My current solution is a spreadsheet that includes column’s listing keywords and fields as well as the description. Ctrl F and filters are now my friend.

Reading summary spreadsheet

My new reading summary spreadsheet.

2. Reading Fiction

You are reading so much in the day, how can you possibly think about picking up another book for fun and how can it help? I initially felt this way but felt the urge to read for enjoyment, so I started deliberately picking up the type of fiction that was easy to consume or enjoyably escapist. For me, this was anything from urban fantasy to youth fiction or a good crime thriller. Picking something that didn’t require any kind of pressure to ‘analyse’ was key.

Academic writing is frequently dense and unwieldy. This type of commercial fiction has to engage the reader and take them on a journey or it doesn’t sell. Your examiner, or someone reading an article you write, would enjoy the experience more if your writing mimicked some of the attributes of commercial fiction. One of my examiners remarked on how readable my PhD was and emphasised that this wasn’t always the case when reading PhD theses. Some might argue the popular nature of my topic helped, but I think reading fiction helped me too.

3. Reference Management Software

Reference Management Software

Reference Management Software

I won’t be the first or the last person to recommend this one. Every time I read something I put it into the reference management software. Every time I referenced an archival source it went in. Although, you’ll notice most software doesn’t do archival sources well. It doesn’t really matter. You can normally fudge it using a generic form.

What you’re doing is giving yourself the ability to create reliable bibliographies at the click of a button. You are saving time and off-loading that particular mental labour. This means that when your thesis is one big document that every reference will be in there. So what if you need to edit some of the formatting? Hurray! You have a comprehensive list to start from.

It is a bit of an old one, but the thesiswhisperer has a great post on reference management software.

4. Invest in a Whiteboard

I love my whiteboard. I’m a planner and it helps me plan. For me, it predominantly helped me with writing and keeping track of big deadlines. (Don’t worry if you’re just starting your PhD, you shouldn’t really be expecting to generate that much writing for a few months.)

The whiteboard helped me see how writing such a big document could be reduced to manageable tasks. I worked out I could write approximately 500 words a day and would plan out when I thought I’d have a written chunk ready for my supervisor. I would always build in contingency (we all have bad days) and days for editing. As things progressed I’d put the chapter plan on the left and include a tally of words. That way it always felt like I was chipping away at the beast. It really helped me keep motivated because 200 words is always 200 words closer to the bottom threshold for a PhD thesis.

Sub-tip: for you, the beauty in a whiteboard might be in brainstorming and visualising difficult concepts. For me, a notebook did this job…

5. Harness the Power of Social Media

I completely understand if you want to keep professional life separate from all the other stuff. But, for me, social media was a way into some great resources.

For one, there are the fantastic blogs from the thesiswhisperer and Pat Thomson. I found these really helpful in picking up writing tips or even ideas that helped with teaching. These people are doing pedagogical research and offer advice on all the aspects of writing a thesis that you are going to encounter.

Social media also helped me establish a network and put me in touch with people before attending conferences. Through Twitter I found out about a new network being set up to bring together people working on circus. My field is pretty disparate, so being part of this network has been a great resource. Through the network I even got the opportunity to interview a circus performer I wouldn’t have encountered any other way.

Sub-tip: most universities offer some kind of online researcher profile that you can keep up-to-date throughout your studies. Having a link on Twitter or in your email signature that describes you and your research helps you make the most of those online connections. (And, if you keep it up to date from the start, it can help you generate an academic CV easily.)

I’m hoping this post might prompt other people to share a few of their tips, as I certainly haven’t done everything right…

 

 

Marking (Your Own) Time: Carrying On Post-PhD

4449_98983101457_7986272_nNRN friend/ex-Committee member Nora Williams reflects on a year of being an ECR and how to plan for the future. Nora is an independent scholar and theatre-maker currently based in the United States. She is working on her first monograph–Shakespeare, Social Media, and the Archive–and a large-scale practice-as-research project called Measure (Still) for Measure. More information about the latter can be found at http://measurestill.wordpress.com.

Let me start with a story:

A year ago, I was on top of the world. I had just graduated with my PhD, and I had a job offer in hand. Not just any offer: a three-year postdoc in my field with a research allowance. That’s like winning the academic lottery.

But very shortly after I accepted the position, problems began to crop up. I needed approval for a visa in order to take up the post. I know now that I should’ve been a better advocate for myself; at the time, I trusted the university’s HR department to take care of my visa application. They do it all the time, right? But problems began piling up and, four months later, I learned that I didn’t have a job after all.

Since then, I have had six different “day jobs”. But I’ve also finished my book proposal, presented at two conferences, and had an article accepted for publication. My practice-as-research project has taken off and now has interest from some major partners.

Have I been as productive, academically and creatively, as I was during my PhD? Probably not. But given the circumstances, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. So I’m sharing my story not as a pity party, but (hopefully) as an opportunity to help some of my fellow postdocs “on the market” navigate those first months out on your own.

Here are my tips for staying productive and continuing to write when you’re an independent scholar.

1. Be Strategic.

Not all jobs are created equal. If and when you can, think carefully about the kind of work that is going to allow you the time and space to meet your academic goals.

When I started working at a chippy last summer, I was also writing up the corrections on my thesis. The work was physical: I was on my feet, beating batter, slinging chips, and hauling stock up and down a flight of stairs. I was physically exhausted at the end of my shift, but I found writing and research easier than expected. My mind was still sharp, even though my body was tired.

In contrast, when I worked in an admin role this past spring, I found writing so difficult. I was sitting at a computer all day, and even though the job wasn’t intellectually taxing, I just couldn’t convince myself to sit at a computer for several more hours after work. I actually started reading on a low-speed treadmill in the evenings, just to be on my feet a little. It wasn’t a sustainable situation for me.

Everyone’s needs are different. Sometimes, you just need to take the first job that comes along. If that means taking a writing break, too, there’s absolutely no shame in that. But if you want to keep researching and writing alongside your “day job”, then think strategically about what kinds of jobs are going to make that possible for you and target them.

2. Make a plan; change the plan.

Both parts of this tip are equally important.

You’ve got to make a plan. Even if you’re not a planner. Even if you’re not really sure what your job / home / goals will be in six months. Even if you think you don’t need one. Make a plan and write it down.

If you’re applying for postdocs and grants, they’ll want a written plan of action detailing what you’ll be doing during each of the months in which you want their money. Trust me when I say that this is a lot easier to do if you’ve thought about it before you sit down to write the application.

But more importantly, a plan helps to give you a sense that you’re heading towards something, which is absolutely crucial in the first year after you’ve worn your floppy hat and insisted that everyone call you “Doctor”. You had one major goal for a long time, and no doubt you worked doggedly to achieve it. Give yourself some new goals, or you’ll want to tear your hair out.

This brings us to the second part of this tip: change the plan.

Your first plan will most likely be a pie-in-the-sky, everything-goes-right kind of plan. That’s okay—you need those, too. But every time you change the plan, you’ll make it more achievable.

Do not marry yourself to the idea that you’ll get your second article published and your book proposal finished and your giant grant application done within three months of graduation while also working another job. It’s great to be ambitious, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t complete everything at the speed you’d hoped.

Make a plan, then make another one, and another one. Never be without a plan, but always be ready for the plan to change.

3. Find your people and be nice to them.

You’ve seen how brutal the market is: you are almost certainly not the only one in this position, making these choices, or climbing these hurdles. Find the others, and embrace them.

Read their stuff and give them good feedback. Not “good” as in uncritically positive; “good” as in thoughtful, generous, and genuine (see this previous NRN Blog post for some advice on that front). Ask for their feedback on your stuff, too. Receive their critiques generously. Build a cohort of people who rely on each other for quality peer reviewing. Create lovely intellectual communities together. You’re going to need each other for the road ahead.

To put it bluntly: there’s no point in being nasty and competitive with your peers. It doesn’t help anyone, and it will make you miserable. Be kind and cultivate great relationships with them instead.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is a tip that I’m still working on myself.

I am very lucky in that I have good friends who were willing to help out in those four months of precarity between graduation and visa decision, and in the six months since. I also lived with my parents for a while, and I’m lucky that I have parents who are financially able to help in that way.

If I’m honest, I sort of resent that I needed that much help.

But I also recognise that asking for help when you need it is really important. This applies across the board: financial help, emotional support, a place to crash while you figure things out, or even just a PDF link to that article you’ve been wanting to read. Everyone needs help sometimes, even the most fiercely independent among us. There’s no shame in leaning on the people who genuinely offer assistance. Besides, the world turns ’round: you may have an opportunity to help them, someday, too.

While we’re here, there’s no shame in reaching out for professional help, either. We know that the rates of mental illness among academics are scarily high, and being in a precarious job situation certainly doesn’t help if you’re prone to depression or anxiety. Needing help is not the same as failing.

5. Investigate your local resources.

I recently checked out a book of Walter Benjamin’s essays from my local public library. A quick Google search hooked me up with the alumni library access programme at my former institution. On Twitter, #icanhazpdf can work wonders if you’re struggling to get your hands on an academic publication. Most academic libraries have some kind of access scheme for “the public” and/or their alumni available. There are resources out there to help independent scholars if you go looking for them.

Losing library access is the worst, but it isn’t a death sentence for your research. You’ll just have to hunt a little harder. Investigate what’s available locally, take advantage of your networks, and keep trucking.

Finally…

remember that choosing a different career isn’t a failure, either. If there’s something else you want to try, and you’re just plain sick of the academic market, go for it! You can always come back, and no one decent will think any less of you for it.

Good luck!

The schedule for Marking Time is here!

We are so excited to share the provisional schedule for #NRNMarkingTime! Please note that this may be subject to change.  In any case, we cannot wait to see you all on 21 June! Don’t forget that you can still register here.

NRN Marking Time: Schedule

Time Parallel Session A Parallel Session B
10:00-10:15 REGISTRATION
10:15-10:30 Welcome: Ella Hawkins and Rachael Nicholas
10:30-11:30 Plenary

 

Professor Elizabeth Schafer: ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’: Adventures in Marking Time

11:30-11:45 COFFEE BREAK
11:45-12:45 Re-telling historical stories through 21st-century practice

Chair: Ella Hawkins

  • Naomi Paxton: Making room, finding space: explorations of the work of women theatre professionals in WW1
  • Matthew Schlerf: Activating the discourse of An Adventure, 1789-2017
New methodologies

Chair: Chris Dingwall-Jones

  • Ysabel Clare: Timelines as a research tool: spatial sorting and temporal sequences
  • Rachael Nicholas: New Media, Unfamiliar Methodologies: Understanding the Online Reception of Theatre Broadcasts Through Audience Research
12:45-13:45 LUNCH
13:45-15:15 Time, experience, and performance

Chair: Rachael Nicholas

  • Alessandra Montagner: Temporality, Experience and The Event: Time marking us
  • Maiada Aboud: Title TBC
  • Nik Wakefield: Some Time-specificities of Performance
Time in literature

Chair: Robbie Hand

  • Martin Young: Stage Managing Wasted Time: As You Like It and Theatre’s Industrial Temporality
  • Jennifer Hardy: The womb of time: Untimely Birth in Shakespeare’s Richard III
  • Carlo Vareschi: The Reluctant Anarchist: wage labour, capital and time in Tom Stoppard’s Albert’s Bridge and If You’re Glad I’ll Be Frank
15:15-15:30 COFFEE BREAK
15:30-17:00 Time and identity

Chair: Claire Read

  • Chris Dingwall-Jones: Seven times a day will I praise You: Christian liturgy and the temporal performance of identity
  • Corinne Furness: ‘I knowed all Hamlet by heart’: Fracturing time and identity in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s community plays
  • Simon Bell: Retrogardism: Re-mythologising the European Traumatic Historical in the Present
Shakespeare’s time as source material

Chair: Rachael Nicholas

  • Robbie Hand: ‘Why is everybody so obsessed with text?’: Emma Rice, the Globe, and theatre history in practice
  • Ella Hawkins: Negotiating the gap of time: developments in Jacobethanism through the history of stage and costume design for Shakespeare
  • Robin Craig: AIDs, Section 28 and Queer Futurity
17:00-17:45 Closing discussion

REGISTRATION IS OPEN! And Elizabeth Schafer’s plenary title and abstract!

Happy Monday, everyone! We’re delighted to announce that registration for #NRNMarkingTime is now OPEN!

You can register here via Eventbrite.

Attendance at the symposium is free. Lunch can be provided for attendees for a fee of £4.50, payable on the day of the event. Please indicate on the registration form if you would like us to provide lunch for you, and if you have any dietary requirements!

We’re also delighted to share Professor Elizabeth Schafer’s plenary title and abstract ahead of #NRNMarkingTime. See below, and get excited!

‘Slipping Through My Fingers’: Adventures in Marking Time

In 1999 Mamma Mia repositioned ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ – Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson’s lament for the passing of time – and brought that song to new audiences. The potential layering of time in this song’s new manifestation(s) will be explored alongside the impact of Mamma Mia in enabling Phyllida Lloyd’s anachronistic, all women Shakespeares. Early modern theatre practices that attempt to mitigate against time ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ such as Caroline playwright Richard Brome scoring his play texts for readers; Ben Jonson’s invention of – ; contrast with the creative anachronism of Shakespeare’s Romans who wear doublets (or women’s prison boilersuits) and who demonstrate some of the pleasures of historically intercultural performance.

Stay tuned for more details about the symposium soon…

Elizabeth Schafer confirmed as plenary speaker for #NRNMarkingTime!

We’re absolutely delighted to confirm that Professor Elizabeth Schafer will be our plenary speaker for Marking Time next month.

Elizabeth Schafer is Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, and has published widely on ideas surrounding the impact of culture on the meaning of drama – particularly in relation to Shakespeare. You can read more about her extensive work here.

We’re thrilled that she’ll be joining us at Roehampton in June. And we also encourage you to submit an abstract sharpish — our deadline closes today!

CFP: 4th Annual NRN Symposium, ‘Marking Time’

The Society for Theatre Research

New Researchers’ Network

Fourth Annual Symposium

Marking Time

21st June 2017

University of Roehampton 

The Society for Theatre Research’s (STR) New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is delighted to announce their fourth annual symposium, which will centre on the theme of Marking Time within performance, research, and our lives.

Time is a significant factor in everything we do. We organise our lives by dividing time into measurable units (seconds, minutes, hours, days, years), and remain constantly aware of its passing as we grow older. The societal desire to mark time also results in a culture of commemoration: prominent events and figures from the past are memorialised through anniversaries, and many organisations exist to further historical legacies.

How is time represented in contemporary and/or historical performance, and how does an awareness of time’s passing impact upon research methodologies? To what extent does our real and imagined relationship with the past impact upon contemporary culture?

Areas of interest might include (but are not limited to):

  • The significance of anniversaries and commemoration culture (i.e. Shakespeare 400, the Easter Rising centenary, and the ongoing commemoration of WWI)
  • The marking of time through space, movement, and live art
  • Popular performance and construction of legacies (i.e. Hamilton)
  • Constructing the passage of time in performance
  • Issues of marking time in methodologies in theatre and performance studies
  • Histories of theatre companies, theatre buildings, and theatre collectives
  • Genealogies of performance
  • Period dress and reconstruction; the desire to replicate obsolete theatrical and cultural practices
  • Constructing (and performing) the theatre archive
  • Time as a social construct; how we perform notions of time in our everyday lives
  • Performance that responds to critical moments in national/international history and culture (i.e. Brexit, the recent US election, the Iraq War, the Leveson Inquiry)

The NRN welcomes abstracts (maximum 250 words) for 20-minute conference presentations or creative responses that relate to the symposium theme. Abstract submissions should be directed to the NRN Committee at nrn@str.org.uk; the deadline for submissions is 23:59 GMT on Monday 22nd May. Applicants will be notified of the results by Friday 26th May. For any further details, please don’t hesitate to contact the NRN via email: nrn@str.org.uk