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 nrn@str.org.uk 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)

Have you been nervous of teaching practice? Come to Teaching Practice: An Interactive Employability Skills Workshop

Date: Saturday 12 December 2015, 10:00-18:00
Venue: Royal Holloway, University of London, Caryl Churchill Theatre
Cost: £25 per person, which includes a catered lunch

The STR New Researchers Network is thrilled announce that registration is now open for Teaching Theatre Practice, a one-day interactive workshop event designed to help build practical drama teaching skills.

Drama departments frequently request practical, studio-based teaching experience from applicants for lectureships and teaching fellowships, but many drama postgraduates never have the opportunity to train or test their skills in teaching theatre practice. Some of us have very little exposure to the practicalities of the theatre industry or of making practical work; others have a wealth of practical experience but may never have translated this into a classroom setting, especially at university level.

Teaching Theatre Practice will feature a full day of workshops from Jaq Bessell (Guildford School of Acting), Simon Ruding (TiPP), and Melissa Blanco-Borrelli (RHUL), all academic-practitioners working to bridge the gaps between theory and practice. With the aim of arming participants to tackle studio-based drama teaching, this one-day workshop event will provide:

  • practical skills that will translate directly to a classroom setting;
  • sense of the unique challenges associated with teaching theatre practice within a university setting;
  • approaches to planning and assessment;
  • personal testimonies from working academic-practitioners;
  • a safe space to test ideas and build skills.

To register, please visit the STR website. (Because the STR site is a little ‘retro’, we can’t hyperlink you directly to the event post. Instead it will take you the the “Latest News” page where you will need to scroll down and click on the Teaching Theatre Practice link. We promise, it is there – honest. …we can also confirm the STR site will be redeveloped soon.) Head straight for the “Book Now” button at the bottom of the page and register (using PayPal).

The registration deadline is Friday 20 November. Places are extremely limited, so register now to avoid disappointment!

A limited number of RHUL postgraduate students can attend the workshop at no cost thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Department of Drama and Theatre. Please do not register online, but instead email nrn@str.org.uk for more details.

Would you like to write for the NRN? Of course you do!

We are looking for contributors to our NRN blog! We want the NRN blog to be an interesting and useful space for our members and would love for you to be part of it.

We’re looking for PhD students, early career researchers, established academics, theatre practitioners, theatre archivists… the list goes on! This is your chance to spotlight your work or to provide new researchers with the things you wish you’d known before you started.

We are open to any ideas, but if you want to write for us and are stuck for topics, we might suggest one of the following…

  • Practice-based research
  • Working with theatre archives
  • Teaching practice
  • Balancing theatre work with research
  • Stories about that moment that shifted your perspective on your research
  • Upcoming projects of interest
  • How-to guides (teaching, applying for postgraduate/postdoctoral funding, etc)
  • Generally, any aspect of your research or work that may be useful to others or of interest!

We are only looking for a short blog post, informal and conversational in tone, and only a few hundred words in length.

If you’re interested in writing for us, contact Emer and Kate at nrn@str.org.uk to discuss your ideas. We’re excited to hear from you!

NRN Archives Symposium Online!

Thanks to the University of Warwick, delegates, and those unable to attend, can now view those panels they missed online. Please click on the titles of the panels below (you may have to search through to find the start of your desired talk or panel – the times are included here after the links).

These links may only be online for a limited time – we’ll update you on this when we know.

10:00-11:00 – Keynote Address, East Lecture Theatre (00:17:50)

Chair: Claire Read

Professor Matthew Reason (York St. John University)

Archive, Place, Memory: The Resurrection of Joyce Reason

11:05-12:20 – Panels 1

a) Methodology: Beyond the Archive (East Lecture Theatre) (01:23:50)

Chair: Hannah Manktelow

Joanna Bucknall (University of Portsmouth)

Raising the ruins: (re)enactment and ‘remembering’ as a mode of documentation

Naomi Paxton (University of Manchester)

Standing where she stood: is it possible to glimpse the past in the present?

Emma Meehan (Coventry University)

Revisiting Lunar Parables: The Archives of Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre

b) Performing the Archive (South Lecture Theatre) (00:14:40)

Chair: Cath Badham

Steven Paige (Plymouth University)

The Ties That Bind: Reusing Online Archival as an Interdisciplinary Artist

Jindeok Park (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama)

‘Archival Choreography’: exploring the transformative impact of the past on the present improvisation

12:20-1:10: Lunch, East Lecture Theatre

12.40-1.30: Special Exhibitions

East Lecture Theatre: Susan Croft (Rose Bruford College), ‘Unfinished Histories‘ 

Syndicate Rooms: Janine Cowell (University of Bristol/University of Exeter), ‘Someday just began’: Meeting, making and mounting memories in the field — an interactive exhibition

1:30-2:15 – Panels 2

a) The Distorted Archive (East Lecture Theatre) (00:00:00)

Chair: Madeleine Irwin

Conor Clarke (Plymouth University)


Nikolas Wakefield (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The Secret: or how throwing it away makes it appear

b) Practising Documentation (South Lecture Theatre) (00:01:35)

Chair: Janine Cowell

Allan Taylor (Falmouth University)

From presence to performativity: how the still image ‘does’

Rosanna Traina (University of Reading)

Transparency: Liberating the past, empowering the researcher

2:15-2:30 – Break

2.35-3:50- Panels 3

a) Digital Archives (East Lecture Theatre) (00:09:30)

Chair: Naomi Paxton

Claire Swyzen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Tim Etchells’ A Broadcast/Looping Pieces: of memory and making sense of data

Leah Dungay (Plymouth University)

‘That B**** Ruined My Walk’: Exploring Protest through an Online Media Archive

Becca Savory (University of Exeter/NIAS)

Popular performance online: the archive is the medium is the message

b) Archiving Companies (South Lecture Theatre) (00:07:55)

Chair: Helen Gush

Catherine Trenchfield (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The Kneehigh Archive & The Asylum – archive and ‘repertoire’

Ella Hawkins (University of Warwick)

From physical to digital: curating an archive for Dash Arts

Sally Barnden (King’s College, London)

Liveness, photography and the RSC’s Dreams, 1954-77

3.50-4.05: Break

4:10-4:55 – Panels 4

a) Documenting Cities (East Lecture Theatre) (00:01:28)

Chair: Adelina Ong

Nela Milic (Goldsmiths, University of London/Middlesex University London)

Materialising Site

Beatrice Jarvis (Goldsmiths, University of London/University of Ulster/Kingston University)

(fragments) Das Duett des Leibes und der Stadt Verschieben Stadt

b) Recordings & Notations (South Lecture Theatre) (00:00:50)

Chair: Emer McHugh

Rebecca Stancliffe (Coventry University)

The ontological status of the score in live performance and in the documentation and dissemination of choreographic practice

Poppy Corbett (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Archiving the voice: Alecky Blythe and the Recorded Delivery technique.

5:00-5.45 – Roundtable, East Lecture Theatre (00:55:50)

Chairs: Chris Dingwall-Jones and Sarah Penny

Hannah Manktelow (University of Nottingham/The British Library)

Reclaiming Regional Theatre History with the British Library Playbill Collection

Helen Gush (Queen Mary, University of London/Victoria & Albert Museum)

‘Active things, speaking’: Reimagining archival material for a Theatre and Performance context

Barbara Roland (ULB)

Speaking for the reality: How to make present the absence

The NRN wants new committee members!

The Society for Theatre Research’s (STR) New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is seeking enthusiastic theatre researchers to join its committee on a voluntary basis. The candidates will have the opportunity to assist with organising an exciting series of events, including study days, visits to sites of theatre-related significance and informal dinners to accompany the STR’s lecture series. The candidates will also have the opportunity to assist with the organisation of the NRN’s annual symposium and to the many other activities of the STR itself. The candidates may assist in promoting STR events, developing the STR’s website, running the LiveStreaming of lectures and utilising social media. This will be an excellent opportunity for any postgraduate student or early career academic looking to engage with a wide community of theatre scholars, practitioners and new researchers.

As current NRN committee  members are spread across the UK and Ireland, working as a committee member will not be confined by geographical distance. However, we will need at least one applicant to be based in London. In any case, we seek applicants who are passionate about creating a proactive and supportive group for new researchers in drama, theatre, and performance studies.
If you are interested in this position, please email nrn@str.org.uk stating your interest and suitability for a committee member position, as well as attaching a CV. We look forward to hearing from you all!
Very best wishes,
David, Chris, Madeleine, Emer, Claire, and Nora
The STR NRN Committee