The Practicalities of Publishing

On Sunday 4th February NRN invited people from as many different publishing backgrounds as we could muster to talk to our new researchers about ways to share their work with the world. We covered the traditional- journals and monographs- to aspects of non traditional- journalism and creative practice.

For those who couldn’t join us here are some key take-aways from the event.

Panel 1: Journal Publication

Panelists:  Trevor Griffiths-Theatre Notebook editor (STR)

                    Pascale Aebischer-Outgoing editor of Shakespeare Bulletin

                    Kate Dorney-Editor of Studies in Costume and Performance

Each panelist offered their own personal experience of editing- and managed to reassure us all that Journal publishing isn’t as terrifying as you might have heard. Hearing from three experienced editors who clearly had the interests of writers in mind as well as the quality of their publication was a reassuring experience.

There were some useful pointers on the steps to publication which go something along these lines:

1) The editor reads essay or abstract really quickly & tries to find the right readers for you. Ideally on the editorial board, but the goal is to find the best person.

2) Readers send back a report of scholarly rigor, significance, interest, and fit for the journal.

3) Editor decides based on reports whether to ask for revisions or reject. (You will basically never not be asked for some revisions.)

4) The author gets the reader reports. They can be harsh. “You have to just sit back, take it, and think. Then respond.”

5) Revise, send it back, and explain what changed. It gets another read… and then is published!

Naturally much of the conversation turned to peer review and they assured that it’s okay to push back about notes from your reviewers, but make sure you have well-reasoned arguments for doing so. Remember you are the expert on your subject and if there’s valid reason for questioning what a reviewer has said an editor will appreciate that. But first take time to reflect on the feedback. Don’t just respond because you feel hurt and angry. The panel also added that- in layman’s terms- some peer reviewers are just jerks. It’s not good, it’s not good practice and don’t be a jerk if you’re a peer reviewer, and try not to take it personally if you get one who is a jerk.

Finally, remember that Journal staff are all volunteers. Respect their time- and them.

Panel 2: Publication Strategies

Panelists: Charlotte Mathieson, Lecturer at the University of Surrey

                   Victoria Cooper:Founder of Cooper Digital Publishing

                 Camilla Nelson: Founder of Singing Apple Press

All of our panelists here had very different approaches to the publishing process- and had been involved in the ‘traditional’ process as well as striking out on their own. A nice element to see was that a balance between the two was possible, and that a more ‘creative’ approach to publishing is also feasible.

In the more ‘traditional’ end Charlotte Mathieson talked through the process of turning your PhD into a book. As a starting point looking through the works you used in writing the PhD and seeing who published them is a starting point. Following this, looking around more widely in the field at the new and popular works and who publishes those. Once you find a publisher you may not get a contract if it’s your first book- which can be good and bad- no deadlines to be held to but can add to a feeling of precariousness.  In practical terms turning it into a book and be prepared to take some time over re-writing it.

Our panelists on other means of publication were very different in output styles- Victoria Cooper’s work focuses on new media and digital outputs for publishing while Camilla Nelson’s publications bridge artisan work and publishing. Having such diverse approaches proves how diverse a field publishing your research work can be. And how you can in the creative sector particularly bridge practice and research with your publishing.

Both speakers were keen to stress that firstly think of creating a recognisable ‘brand’ that you display on all your social media output/ website etc- even if you are going down the artisan route. For both as well thinking about the audience for your publications should be at the heart of the work. Finally some great advice that if you feel like the integrity of your project will be compromised by the traditional book format or traditional publishing process, don’t be afraid to experiment. 


There are lots of different publication avenues available to you. Also, if your work doesn’t fit into an established avenue, invent your own!

Non-academic publishing

Panelists: Rosemary Waugh and Alice Saville: Editors of Exeunt Magazine

                Emma Whipday:  Playwright and Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at UCL

               Stephanie Boland: Head of Digital at Prospect Magazine


This panel showed that there is a place for academics to publish work outside academia- whether that’s because you choose to focus your work there or just as a nice add on to the ‘traditional’ academic publishing market.

One great starting point to keep in mind is that unlike with academic journals, it’s sometimes okay to email an editor without a super concrete idea, especially if you are just interested in reviewing things for them. But remember that most outlets already have a drama critic, so make sure you’re only pitching work that they actually have freelancers do– essays, profiles- as with academic journals, spending time looking at the work they make first will help you pitch. 

Unlike in academic publishing however you can be persistent! Especially in non-academic media, you’ll often get a lot of “no”s because the work is so time-based. Just keep trying, and eventually you’ll hit on the right idea at the right time. Unless they tell you that your style/ideas just fundamentally aren’t a good fit– then try somewhere else. 

For those just wanting to try out another style of writing Student newspaper/blogs show editors that you are interested in what you’re writing about- and aren’t just there for undergrads! 

When pitching non-academic publications know how to condense your ideas into a quick easy to read email:

In the subject line put the idea, the in the body of the email flesh this out in 1-2 sentences, add in  date it can be completed by, who you are and what you’ve worked on before.

And finally a couple of tricks and ‘hacks’: always address the person by the correct name, prefix- don’t risk annoying them before you start. But if you’re pitching somewhere and can’t find an email – try a sneaky to try and get your work to the right people. 


General Q&A 

Following the panels we hosted a general Q&A the results of which and much more from the day can be found via our Twitter and on #NRNPub




Work-Life Balance and Our PhDs: Decision, Dilemma, and Determination

Mrunal ChavdaBecoming a Post-Doc is one route into an academic career, but how do you secure one? Mrunal Chavda shares his academic journey and what he felt helped get him the position. Mrunal is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Sociolinguistics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). The project ‘Sociocultural Documentation of Gujarati in South Africa’ is funded by National Research Foundation (South Africa) and is supervised by Prof Rajend Mesthrie. Mrunal holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Exeter (England). His ‘home’ India and research interests are theatre and performance studies, the Natyashastra, and Indian diaspora in Africa, the UK (so far), Gujarati language, literature, and Bollywood film studies. Mrunal volunteers as a Language Champion with Oxford Gujarati Living Dictionary and writes for their Blog in Gujarati.

Kabil Bano! Kaamyaabi Jakh Marke Piche Ayegi! (Pursue Excellence! Success will chase you!) – Three Idiots

Once upon a time in India, I worked as a lecturer in the General Department, Government Polytechnic, Himmatnagar (Gujarat). My appointment was permanent with two years’ probation. Before finishing the probationary period, I resigned despite family members’ pressure, financial instability, and insecurity! There are strong reasons. Let me recall my first day of the job. My Head of the Department specialised in Chemistry and welcomed me to the department. As usual, he inquired out of curiosity what I ‘now’ plan to do. I suggested that I wish to pursue a PhD. He laughed and implied that why do I need a PhD once I have got a government job. His idea for me was to ‘relax and enjoy life’ and forget about a PhD! He provided me with an example: he told me he possessed a ‘Gold Medal in Chemistry’ and could make more than a hundred chemicals before getting a job in government! Erasure of knowledge in these times might lead to nowhere! Therefore, I decided to quit my job. This decision was not easy as my wife was registered as a PhD in Linguistics at the Gujarat University and my 5-year old daughter needed schooling. Sooner I was to realise that this was the best decision I have ever taken! It was a calculated, well-thought and conscious risk. As a result, I was to invest four years in academia. My advice to students, especially mature ones in such circumstances, would be to examine the pros and cons of the decision to start a PhD and then evaluate both sides before joining any doctoral programme.

PhD or no PhD?

Being aware of the time, money and our family stakes, my PhD story is an exciting journey of tremendous learning. It seemed like climbing the Himalayan peak as I chose to study theatre instead of English literature. We (I mean my wife too) performed on the stage (one-act and mime) but never studied theatre academically. There was already a PhD scholar in the family: did we really want another one? This was a real dilemma. It meant both of us having to sacrifice time for the family, invest money into academia (sacrificing all the savings) and putting our child’s future at stake. We would be leaving our home for ‘the undiscovered country’, as Hamlet famously put it. I discussed this issue with my immediate family, my possible supervisor, and colleagues. I was fortunate that all gave me a balanced and honest advice. I – or, rather we –  decided to overcome this dilemma by treading this path.

PhD se Bada Koi dharma Nahi Hota! (No religion is bigger than a PhD)

Starting a PhD at the University of Exeter brought hundreds of challenges as an international student, be it social, cultural, or economic. However, I believe that if you wish for something so passionately, the whole universe conspires to make it happen! My property owner, my supervisory team (Prof Graham Ley, Prof Jerri Daboo, and Prof Cathy Turner) and the Exeter Hindu community all helped me in one or the other way to achieve what I commenced. Studying the Natyashastra, an Indian treatise on performing arts written in Sanskrit, on my own, learning academic writing, and then writing a thesis required true devotion. Four years’ hard work finished just like that! I could not imagine that my PhD viva would last less than an hour discussing and clarifying a concept or two from the project. February 2015 flew like a kite in a gust of wind and childlike curiosity made a wonderful flight landing back home in Gujarat in March 2016. I was aware of the long to-do lists along with my wife’s PhD viva in India. I realised that PhD toh trailer tha, Film Abhi Baki hay mere Dost (the PhD was just a trailer, the film is yet to start). As soon as this realisation happens, it is good. Engaging in academic activities such as Learning and Teaching in Higher Education-LTHE, University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges and Academic training modules during these four years not only prepared me to complete my PhD in four years but also exposed me to disciplines other than mine. These academic activities, I must say, were not immediately relevant but in the end, they should be attended to seriously! They help you listen to voices outside your discipline.  Meeting the PhD fraternity allows you to realise that everyone faces the same problems, but that each one of them solves them differently, and such gathering follows only one religion: Doctor of Philosophy.

Jo Dar Gaya Woh Mara Gaya (he who is afraid is dead)

Publish or Perish might sound like a death threat to young scholars, but for me, it is like Jo Dar Gaya Woh Mara Gaya (he who is afraid is dead). Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of stagnation will never work for you. Soon after the PhD, I applied to British Academy, Leverhulme and Wellcome Trust (the UK) and Fulbright-Nehru (the USA) and DRS Post Doctoral Fellowship (Germany) with ‘an interesting’ project but somehow I could not get into the last round of interviews! However, I continued to attend conferences and symposiums selling ‘our’ research. Though I was tired of applying, I was patient as well. I knew that I have a list of projects with substantial feedback from scholars working in the field. I knew that I would receive a reply to these conversations eventually. So, do not be afraid of rejections and keep a diary (I keep a One Note) with the list of projects and wait for the opportunity. In the meantime I write, write and write.

Hamara Post Doc Ayega! (Our Post Doc will come!)

As I mentioned, I am married to a research scholar and we have a child. My wife submitted her PhD and she joined me in Exeter in January 2014, simply waiting for her viva. I finished and extended my stay in Exeter for a year in order to get some opportunities. During this time, I only wrote an article, a chapter and project proposals for various post-doctoral positions. On my return to India, I worked as a volunteer actor, director and Gujarati language champion on weekends and worked for a school on their content development program for disadvantaged children. This provided me with an opportunity to work with all ages including young children and seniors. This social and creative engagement was the result of my training in Grand Challenges and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Exeter where I explored enthusiastically what possibilities existed beyond my PhD. I never thought that my working on this Gujarati language project with lots of public engagement activities would result in a post-doctoral research fellowship in linguistics! My next advice is to seek out volunteering opportunities because an opportunity might knock on the door.

Meanwhile, my wife passed her viva without any corrections! She did it! We were on the top of the world! We were now Dr Vinu Chavda and Dr Mrunal Chavda. Now, we needed fool-proof research projects for both of us – if possible in the same country and in the same university. For this, I was ready for three things: 1) being open to broad fields such as South Asian studies, 2) being open to interdisciplinary fields such as cultural studies and literature, but I hadn’t thought of linguistics, and 3) being ready to dig into people’s lives, organisations and public institutions. These three approaches were quite different from my own approach to my doctorate. This taught me the value of niche and broader research interests.

‘Kehte hain ki agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to puri kayanat usey tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai’ – Om Shanti Om

 “When you really desire something from the heart and soul, all the universe conspires you to achieve it”- Paulo Coelho, the Alchemist

Attending conferences is one of the ways you can market your research and somehow, I did attract some attention. I thought one of the main reason was my approach toward the Natayshastra (an Indian treatise on performing arts), which developed an apparatus to examine theatre productions highlighting limitations of semiotics models. I approached Mahesh Dattani, a contemporary Indian playwright who knows the Natyashastra inside and out, during his dramatic reading of Dance Like a Man at the Kings College. I was one of the participants in this conference focusing on South Asia from multi geopolitical perspectives. During the tea break, Prof Rajend Mesthrie, Professor in Linguistics at the University of Cape Town, and I conversed on the current research project that my wife and I were working on. I had never thought that within a year, we would receive offers of post-doctoral research fellowships.

BRICS Initiative funds South-South connection node research especially in the field of science technology, administration and public policy with some funding for cultural studies. My wife was part of this funding application in September 2016 and fortunately, she got funding from this important initiative between South Africa and India. My project, ‘Sociocultural Documentation of Gujarati in South Africa’ was then sponsored by National Research Foundation, South Africa as a part of South African Research Chairs Initiative for Migration, Language, and Social Change. Although our funding is only for a year, the erasure of Asian languages (especially Indian languages and its documentation) has provided us with a good platform for multidisciplinary learning. This was a perfect blend of work/life balance we always sought! Currently, I am writing a monograph from my PhD thesis and my second monograph proposal has been accepted!

So for PhD and Post Doc aspirants, I would provide three points of advice:

  1. Write. Write. Forget about rejections and write.
  2. Find your niche, but do have a broader research horizon.
  3. Be ready for change and embrace it.

Have you secured a Post-Doc? Do you have any tips on what you felt helped you get there? If so, why not write for our blog…

Before Shakespeare PhD scholarship

Before Shakespeare is a very exciting and very important project (we recommend perusing the website and reading some of the excellent blog posts up there). They’re currently advertising for a PhD student to join their ranks (based at Roehampton): if you’re interested in early modern London theatrical culture 1565-95, consider applying.

Before Shakespeare

We are delighted to announce a fully-funded PhD scholarship on London theatrical culture and its context, 1565-95. Full details can be found here, and all current Roehampton PhD scholarships are posted here.

This PhD will be supervised by Dr Andy Kesson and Professor Clare McManus and run alongside much of the work of our project. This will provide multiple opportunities to develop networks for future career plans and develop the impact of the candidate’s own research. Candidates are being asked to propose their own topic within the remit of the project, in the hope of adding new ideas to our own for everyone’s mutual benefit. Any questions, contact Andy on

Andy Kesson

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STR New Scholars Essay Prize Competition 2016

Following the success of the first three New Scholars Prize competitions, the Society for Theatre Research invites submissions for the 2016 competition. The competition is open to postgraduate students, academics with an institutional affiliation, and independent scholars, but not undergraduates. Entrance is restricted to scholars who have not had more than one article published in a refereed journal.

Entrants do not need to be members of the STR or to reside in the UK for an essay to be eligible for the competition, it must be aligned with the aims of the Society for Theatre Research and be concerned with the history and techniques of the British Theatre. The word ‘theatre’ may be interpreted widely to cover, for example, activities that go on in theatre buildings, theatrical activities outside theatres, professional and amateur theatre, the business of theatre, stage design, the history of theatre buildings, acting techniques, or theatre outside the British Isles that relates directly to the history and techniques of the British theatre.

Essays must not exceed 4000 words and must use the current version of the MLA guidelines on scholarly presentation.

The closing date for the submission of entries is 03 October 2016. Entrants must take great care to ensure that their essay does not allow them to be identified by their readers. Essays should be sent as an attachment to In their covering email entrants should include a brief biography and a confirmation that they are eligible to submit an entry for the prize. Essays should not be offered to other journals while they are under consideration for the prize.

The essays will be judged by a panel of distinguished judges chaired by Professor Trevor R Griffiths. In order to facilitate the double-blind peer review process, the names of the other judges will not be released until the prizes have been awarded.

The prizes include a cash element, a subscription to the STR, a selection of STR books and the guarantee that the essay will be considered for inclusion by Theatre Notebook under its normal guidelines.

BritGrad registration now open!

We’ll cut right to the chase with the most exciting news: registration for BritGrad 2016 is officially open! Now the long-form version: we’ve added two brand new pages to our website today – first, the 2016 Registration page and, second, a Dates and Deadlines page. Hopefully the latter will help answer any deadline-related questions you may have, […]

via The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For… — BritGrad. June 2nd – 4th 2016.

Our friends at BritGrad, the annual graduate conference at the Shakespeare Institute (and chaired by our very own Ella Hawkins this year!) has opened registration for this year’s event. If you’ve already sent in your abstract, or if you plan to audit, check it out! It’s a very friendly, fun conference, and always worth going to. (Two of our committee members are already veterans at this stage…)

Symposium CFP: Innovation in Performance History & Practice


Call for Papers:

Third Annual Symposium:

Innovation in Performance History and Practice

Wednesday 6th July, 10.00am-6.00pm, University of Bristol

The STR New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is pleased to announce their third annual symposium, which will centre on the theme of Innovation in Performance History and Practice. The symposium will also feature a keynote address from Catherine Hindson (University of Bristol).

Innovation is what drives our work as researchers in the academy, and generating original contributions to knowledge is at the core of our development as scholars. As practitioners and performers, too, our work depends upon creativity and originality. For this reason the NRN symposium 2016 is devoted to ‘innovation’ and what it means to the field of performance. Now that the symposium is in its third year – and in the midst of the Decade of Centenaries as well as the marking of Shakespeare 400 – it is more important than ever to reflect on what innovation and change means in relation to theatrical and cultural institutions, or outside of them.

Performance innovates to be popular and relevant to its time, and this year’s symposium is interested in innovation in 21st century performance as well as in the past. The definition of live performance has changed in the last 15 years: innovative live art practices, cinematic presentations of theatrical works, and 3D projections now fall under this umbrella. What is perceived as innovative is also up for debate, with immersive practices, for example, seen either as ‘new’ or as part of a longer history that includes the Happenings in the 1960s. How have innovations shaped the way we think about performance and performance history/historiography today? How is innovative thinking about history important, especially in terms of minority/marginalised groups telling their stories? How can we credibly break with convention when teaching performance history by choosing not to teach the canon of white male practitioners such as Shakespeare and Stanislavski whilst retaining a credible curriculum? What innovative methodologies can we employ when researching performance? Moreover, how has theatre and performance studies as a field overall adapted to change?

With these contexts in mind, we invite proposals that may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Changing definitions of performances and audiences;
  • Challenges to established canons or definitions of performance innovation;
  • The digital age and the future of the performance;
  • The historian or scholar as innovator;
  • Interdisciplinary creativity and industry collaborations;
  • Creative responses to issues such as budget cuts, casualisation, REF/TEF, EBacc, etc;
  • Applications of innovative performance practices in educational, social and community contexts.

The NRN Committee welcomes proposals from new scholars, postgraduates, and early career researchers, on any aspect of the conference theme, broadly interpreted. This year we will be accepting proposals for traditional, 15-minute papers as well as three-paper panels, performed and performative responses, and PechaKucha presentations. Abstracts of up to 300 words should be submitted to by FRIDAY 22nd APRIL.

Applicants will still be contacted by Friday 6th May. Please feel free to contact us at the email address above with queries at any time.

Please note that this symposium will be free for all STR members (you can receive the special discounted membership rate of £10 by attending the Symposium). There will be up to 5 bursaries available for University of Bristol students who volunteer as conference assistants. Email us on for more details.

This symposium is part of a series of events devoted to innovation run by the New Researchers’ Network this academic year. These include the Teaching Practice event, which encouraged innovation in performance pedagogy, and the V&A Study Day, where Senior Curator Simon Sladen explored how archives might respond to change.

NRN Blog: The Power of Networks – Supporting Collaborative Students

Acatia FinbowAcatia Finbow reflects on the benefits she has found from engaging with a range of networks, including us!  Acatia is an AHRC funded collaborative doctoral award student, at the University of Exeter and Tate, based in London. Her research looks into the value of performance and performative art documentation for contemporary art museums, and is focusing on the collections and programmes at Tate since the 1970s. She is also attached to the AHRC funded research project, ‘Performance at Tate: Collecting, Archiving and Sharing Performance and the Performative’.

I must admit that, before I applied for one in 2014, I had never heard of a Collaborative Doctoral Award; I barely understood what I was letting myself in for with a PhD really! As it turns out, a collaborative doctoral award allows a doctoral researcher the opportunity to work within the boundaries of a cultural institution whilst being supported as a student at a higher education institute. They are usually working as part of a larger research project, contributing to an exhibition or research publication within that cultural institution, or generating materials around an underexplored archive or aspect of the organisation’s collections, while also working on their related thesis. In my case, I am a student at the University of Exeter and am attached to Tate’s research department in London as a member of the research team for ‘Performance at Tate’, a two year AHRC-funded project looking into the history of performance and performative art at Tate, while completing my own research into the value of documentation for contemporary art museums.

For me, the CDA has been a wonderful opportunity. I had been thinking vaguely about doing a PhD at some point in the future, but when this specific project came up, it seemed to be the perfect topic for me and I jumped at it. The chance to work with Tate was also something I’d been hoping to do, and it was a great chance to extend the work I had done for my MA dissertation. I’ve had amazing access to Tate’s archival materials and gallery records, have had the opportunity to participate in practical research work, generating a documentation archive around a live dance event, and to work on a variety of written materials for the research project. I have also been wonderfully supported by members of Tate’s Research Department, other members of the research project team, and the wider staff at Tate.

However, there has been one particular challenge which I have, at times, found it difficult to overcome. It’s probably one you’ve been warned about, or have experienced for yourself: the loneliness of the PhD. For CDA students, I have found, this can be particularly heightened by the lack of a strong community of other students around you. Living in London, in order to make the most of the opportunities working with Tate offers me, I am 200 miles away from my university and my department. I have my majority of supervisions on Skype, and probably only travel to Exeter once every two months, usually for no more than a two day stay. Tate has a small group of CDA students, there are seven from my intake year, but we are attached to different departments, sometimes different branches of the Tate, and without a centralised working space, it can be difficult to generate the same feel of community amongst students which you find at a University.

This is why research networks have been such a great thing for me! They offer the opportunity to discuss my own research, ask questions about doing a PhD as well as mores specific questions around my field of interest, and to generally meet people working in a similar area. I have had the chance to meet other students from Exeter, other CDA students, and other PhD students from across the world. While I was slightly terrified attending my first network – last year’s STR NRN Symposium at the Shard – not knowing anyone, and not being sure how my research would fit with other people’s interests, I have come to realise how valuable these opportunities to spend time with other students can be, to avoid feeling like you’re the only person in the world struggling through certain aspects of doing independent research.

There are a number of forms these networks can take. I found Twitter a great place to start; hashtags like #phdlife and accounts such as @phdforum offer the opportunity to participate in discussions, ask general questions and connect with other students. Getting to know about specific PGR and ECR Networks, like our very own STR NRN, and working groups, such as Theatre and Performance Research Association’s Documenting Performance working group, offered the opportunity to make more specific connections with other researchers working in a similar field. I am also a member of the postgraduate CoCARe network – the Conservation of Contemporary Art Research network – which is part of a larger multi-disciplinary research network, the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art, which also includes researchers from practical as well as academic backgrounds. Through this I have connected with other PhD and Post Doc researchers across Europe, who keep me informed about developments in their fields of research, and opportunities which are opening up. Each network offers something different in terms of the field of study and the way that they meet and interact, but each provides the chance for researchers at various points in their careers to meet, discuss their work, offering opportunities for support, collaboration and discussion.

Whether you’re a CDA student, a distance student, or even a traditional on-campus PhD student, research networks offer fantastic opportunities for connecting with other students outside of your University environment, and can throw open new collaborative opportunities. It can be a daunting process to jump straight into talking about your research and having to meet a lot of new people all at once, particularly if you’re attending a networking meeting where you don’t know anyone, but I can assure you that the rewards are great and all sorts of exciting opportunities can come out of it! And for those of us already embedded in networks, I think it is really important to remember what it can be like to make those first few connections during your PhD and be as welcoming and as supportive as we can.


Teaching Theatre Practice

Poppy Corbett reflects on our teaching practice event in December. Poppy is a playwright and Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway University of London. She co-wrote (with educationalist Pie Corbett) The Enormous Book of Talk for Writing Games for KS2 teachers – a book that can be used to help children improve their written work through speech and drama games. In 2014 she won a College Teaching Excellence prize.

Until very recently Poppy was also a member of the NRN Committee, and we’d just like to thank Poppy for all her hard work with us!

In December 2015 the STR NRN held a practical workshop day ‘Teaching Theatre Practice’ designed to build practical drama teaching skills. As a committee member I was lucky enough to take part in two out of the three sessions. It’s always inspiring to witness the teaching of more senior academics and hear their top tips. I came away with new ideas about teaching practice:

1. Use simple language.


image credit: Claire Read

This was great advice from Melissa Blanco Borelli, Senior Lecturer at RHUL who led the first session. During her session (in which she taught us as though we were first year students) she highlighted the importance of using simple, non-threatening language to describe complex exercises. As an example, the first thing she asked us to do was to ‘draw your name using your body and then teach it to a partner’. This sounded much more fun and achievable than what she was actually asking us to do, something along the lines of ‘create a repeatable dance movement sequence and then teach your partner that somatic notation’. This was an excellent reminder in the importance of adapting your language to frame practical exercises so that students feel what is being asked of them is within the realms of possibility. Sneak difficult work in under simple instruction.

2. Act neutral.


image credit: Claire Read

During a discussion concerning the way to respond to students’ work Borelli emphasised the usefulness of remaining neutral at times. For example, if tension is high or students are nervous, sometimes it is more useful to ask them neutral questions about the work rather than offering them a judgemental opinion. So beginning a response with the words ‘I didn’t quite understand what you were doing in that section…’ is more helpful than ‘what you were doing there looked weird and awful’. As teachers we are programmed to make value judgements on students work, but sometimes, in order for them to feel valued and to really learn something, it may be more useful to neutrally ask them for clarification.

3. If in doubt: describe.


image credit: Claire Read

To follow from the previous point, Borelli indicated the value of improving your own language of performance analysis. Sometimes students can make work that may appear relatively confusing if you were not involved in the process. What can be useful here is simply describing back to them what you, in the position of an audience member, saw and heard whilst watching their performance. Even if you are lost for critical words at the durational mushroom-eating dance piece from your experimental third years you will still be able to offer an objective description of what you viewed. Often, this can prove to be the most useful feedback if the performance that you say you witnessed does not corroborate with their own dramatic intentions.

4. It’s all in the shoes.


image credit: Claire Read

The final session of the day was led by Simon Ruding, director of The Theatre in Prisons and Probation Research and Development Centre, based at the University of Manchester. Simon led us in a simple exercise that I’ll now always use when working with new groups. Very simply, we each had to tell the story of our shoes (where we bought them from, how old they are etc). This generated lots of laughs – it turns out own several participants had stolen their shoes from other people! It proved to be a fantastic exercise to use with a new group for several reasons. Firstly, everyone’s shoe story revealed something unique about their personality and circumstance – a quick way to understand what type of group you are working with. Secondly, it was a simple enough task that can be used with diverse groups of students – no one has to be a brainy scientist to join in with this exercise. Thirdly, as pointed out by one of the participants, it took the focus away from having to look in people’s eyes, to being able to talk whilst looking down at your feet – perfect for more reticent participants! A fun and fruitful exercise that I’m already thinking about transposing to creative writing classes: “Tell us the story of your pen, how did you come to enquire it…?”

5. Get political.


image credit: Claire Read

The final idea that I took from Ruding’s session was not to be shy in sharing my own politics with a seminar group. Ruding made it clear that if he was going to be working in prisons with students, he wanted them to know his own political and social theories regarding the work they were doing, to allow them to form a deeper understanding of the potential importance and impact of their work. This is problematic advice. In my teacher training we were told to remain neutral: you never know the background, politics or personal circumstance of the students you teach. It can be very easy to offend someone! I therefore try to keep my teaching about the work, not about my own feelings or opinions. However, Ruding’s attitude made me rethink my own stance. Particularly, because I teach playwriting and when you write a play you are engaging with the way you feel about the world. Politics is central to the Humanities and perhaps I should share some of my own views about certain plays, or how the theatre industry operates. Perhaps I should stand up at the start of the seminar and advocate the Act For Change movement and admonish West End ticket prices. Who knows, like Ruding’s session itself, it could even be a little bit inspiring…

Did you attend the event? If you did, please let us know what you took away from the sessions by commenting on this post.

Join our Committee & Contribute to our Network!

The NRN is seeking a new committee member to assist with our livestreaming programme.

A sub-committee of the Society for Theatre Research (STR), the New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is a supportive group of postgraduates, new scholars, practitioners, artists and early career academics with shared interests in theatre and performance, theatre history, and theatre historiography. The NRN is comprised of individuals from a variety of academic disciplines including Theatre, Drama, and Performance Studies, History, Art History, English Literature, and Modern Foreign Languages as well as theatre and performance professionals.

The NRN meets throughout the year for a series of study days, lectures, archive visits, theatre tours, and social dinners. The calendar of events is designed to encourage members to share knowledge and ideas, provoke discussion and debate, and develop a network of helpful and supportive contacts. Members of the NRN are also members of the STR, and as such are encouraged to participate in STR activities, including the lecture series, the Poel Workshops, the Research Awards, and theatre-related outings. Finally, the NRN provides opportunities for new researchers to present their current research in a more formal setting at the annual symposium.

The NRN is currently recruiting a new committee member specifically to assist with the livestreaming of the STR lecture series. The role would therefore suit a postgraduate, early career researcher, or young professional with interests in digital media, livestreaming, and/or audience development. As a full member of the NRN Committee, you will also be involved in planning the annual symposium and other events, keeping up the NRN’s online presence, and thinking ahead to the 2016/17 academic year.

This role will require the new committee member to undertake NRN activities in central London approximately once per month, and so we are expressly seeking someone London-based or with easy access to London.

To apply, please send a CV and a brief letter of application to the NRN Committee at by 5:00pm on Friday 5 February. We will inform candidates of our decision by Friday 12 February.

If you have any questions or would like more information about the role, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at the email address above.

Study Day at the V&A: Navigating Archival Research Materials

Date: Tuesday 19th January, 10am-4pm
Venue: Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, London W14 02X
Cost: Free
Register: Eventbrite by Tuesday 22 December

Join us on Tuesday 19th January for an exciting study day at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Theatre and Performance Collections. The event will provide postgraduate students and new researchers with a valuable opportunity to discover more about the V&A’s collections, work with items relevant to their own research, and improve their archival research skills.

The V&A’s Theatre and Performance Collections consist of a vast range of materials related to all areas of the performing arts. Items held in the collection document the history of the performing arts in the UK (post-19th-Century) in addition to current practice. Designs, posters, manuscripts, and audio-visual recordings sit alongside ceramics, puppets, costumes, and stage machinery; the Collections provide a fascinating and invaluable resource for researchers interested in any aspect of modern performance. For further details about the Collections, please visit the V&A website.

The study day will begin with a session that offers participants an insight into the workings of the Theatre and Performance Collections. Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance at the museum, will give a talk on the history of the department before taking participants on a tour behind the scenes to where the Collections are housed.

The following session will take the form of a group discussion and will provide an initial opportunity for participants to work with material remains. Using a range of items held in the Theatre and Performance Collections, the group will consider the opportunities and limitations posed by different forms of archival evidence. This discussion will explore the provenance, reliability, and subjectivity of such evidence, and will raise important issues surrounding the practice of archival research.

Much of the afternoon will then be dedicated to individual research. Informed by the findings of the group discussion, participants will work with specific items of their choice (requested in advance of the study day) in Blythe House’s Reading Room. The day will end with a group session in which participants will discuss the materials they’ve been working with and consider how the issues raised during the course of the day may impact upon their own research.

A full schedule can be found below. To sign up for the study day, please visit our event page on EventBrite.

All participants are invited to an informal dinner on the evening of the study day. We’ll confirm the time and venue closer to the time of the event.

Further information about requesting items and getting to Blythe House will be sent to participants in advance of the study day.

Schedule for the Day:

10am: History and Tour of the Collection – Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance
11:30am: Navigating Archival Research Materials – Group Discussion
1pm: Lunch Break
2pm: Independent Research
3:30pm: Concluding Group Discussion
4pm: Close

Evening: Social Dinner with the New Researchers’ Network (Time and Venue TBC)