NRN Blog: Innovation in Research, Innovation in the STR

2014-09-13 12.36.04-1To tie in with the recent opening of registration for our symposium (what are you waiting for? Get going!), we asked our previous Chair, David Coates, to write about innovation in his research and in the STR at large — and we’re glad he did! David is a part-time doctoral candidate at the University of Warwick writing a thesis on Private and Amateur Theatricals in Britain, 1830-1914. He completed his MA by Research in 2010 with a thesis that interrogated the social, cultural, political and theatrical significance of the Chatsworth House Theatre and the Duchess of Devonshire’s Private Theatricals, 1880-1914.

David has been a member of STR since 2011 and sat on the Executive Committee after founding the NRN, from February 2012 until September 2015. He’s also a member of TaPRA, and was fortunate enough to sit on the Executive Committee as a Postgraduate Representative until Summer 2015. He continues to attend the Historiography working group at both TaPRA and at IFTR, and for the latter organisation acted as Administrator for the Warwick World Congress in 2014.

Innovation In My Research

The Call for Papers for the NRN’s annual symposium draws attention to the importance of innovation in academia and states that innovation is ‘at the core of our development as scholars’. Though undoubtedly true, our determination to find innovation in our work has occasioned a proliferation of micro histories that – as fascinating as they may be – ultimately fail to acknowledge the bigger picture. Equally, it has resulted in skewed theatre histories and has left some areas of our discipline heavily under-researched and underappreciated. Amateur theatre pre-1914 is but one of these areas.

Amateur theatricals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been investigated by a handful of scholars, including Sybil Rosenfeld, Gillian Russell, Kate Newey and Mary Isbell. More often than not, these histories have categorised and compartmentalised amateur performance into distinct types, such as Private Theatricals, Shipboard Theatricals, Garrison Theatricals and University Theatricals. These microhistories have their place – they’ve been enlightening and have contributed hugely to my research – but I think they’ve missed something crucial. They’ve lacked the scope to allow for understanding the relation these forms have to one another.

Way back in 2010 I started my PhD with an emphasis on Private Theatricals in country houses, but that focus very quickly expanded. You could say that I got distracted. I was convinced that so little had survived to tell the story of amateur theatre in the period, that any material to have made it through the last two centuries relating to amateurs in any form would help to contextualise my rather niche field. The truth was that there was more evidence surviving than I could have imagined and seeing as much of it as possible hasn’t been light on my pockets or my time. I’ve taken over 24,000 images of materials relating to nineteenth century amateur theatricals in Britain, and have created a database of the thousands of performances that I now know to have taken place. This database continues to grow!

It’s safe to say that some colleagues were concerned by the increasing scope of my project and I was encouraged to narrow my focus. Others thought I was mad to have gathered so much material and yet not put pen to paper to start writing my thesis. I too was beginning to question it! But, luckily I knew that there was method to my madness. In doing all of this research, the innovation came from the good fortune of being able to take a holistic approach. By looking very broadly at the field, at the various forms of amateur theatre previously studied, and at many lesser know examples of amateur performance, I was able to fully explore their interconnections for the first time.

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Figure 1: Lady Monckton became famous as an ‘amateur’ society actress. She was the member of many of the leading amateur dramatic societies and was frequently invited to perform as part of amateur theatricals across the country. Lady Monckton is the perfect example of the ‘professional amateur’ I have uncovered during my research. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

The research has revealed a group of what I term ‘professional amateurs’, who were invited to country house parties, were performing in charity theatricals in the West End, and were connected to the Canterbury Old Stagers and Windsor Strollers – two of the country’s most elite amateur societies.[Figure 1] Many of the male ‘professional amateurs’ had performed at Eton, Harrow, Cambridge or Oxford together, had mingled together at the Garrick Club, and had been involved in theatricals onboard ships and at garrisons. The well-documented literary theatricals of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, which otherwise had been assigned to a literary culture, could very firmly be connected to this world of ‘professional amateurs’.[Figure 2] Thus, my research reveals a network of aristocratic and middle class men and women who formed what could be perceived as a national amateur theatre network, well before any formal organisations, such as the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (1899), had been founded in Britain.

This holistic view has done much more than revealing the interconnections between amateur theatrical forms in the period. It’s also exposed interconnections with amateur sports and amateur music making, consequently documenting the changing attitudes to labour and leisure time through the century. I’ve uncovered the macro – at least in Britain! – but this work could undoubtedly be extended to look at the profusion of materials across Europe, North America and the Empire.

Figure 2: The theatricals of Charles Dickens have thus been viewed in isolation as part of a literary culture. Instead, this research reveals the amateur theatricals of Dickens and his company to be part of the emergence of amateur dramatics more broadly. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Figure 2: The theatricals of Charles Dickens have thus been viewed in isolation as part of a literary culture. Instead, this research reveals the amateur theatricals of Dickens and his company to be part of the emergence of amateur dramatics more broadly. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Finally, by taking a step back I’ve also uncovered a distinct repertoire for amateur theatre in the period. This repertoire may be used to challenge our current understanding of the nineteenth century theatrical canon – a canon which presently upholds the notion that only professional theatre is worthy of study. Expelling the hierarches and binaries associated with ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ theatre when looking at the canon, and beyond, could provide fresh perspectives.

Through this research I’ve become acutely aware that our discipline is skewed to focus almost entirely on professional theatre. This skew may well have derived from our desire to unearth innovations in theatre history. We know far more about the innovative amateurs from the turn of the twentieth century – such as the Elizabethan Stage Society, the Independent Theatre Society and the latter’s continental forerunners – than we do of the everyday amateur.[Figure 3]  I feel proud to be part of a group of scholars, including Claire Cochrane, Helen Nicholson and her colleagues on the AHRC Funded Project Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Place, who are taking an innovative approach by setting out to redress that imbalance!

Innovation and the Society for Theatre Research

When the STR was founded in 1948 the individuals who formed its first committee were innovative in applying academic rigor to a new field – Theatre Studies. Many of the same individuals had started to produce the journal Theatre Notebook in 1945 and saw the value in bringing those interested in theatre research together in a society. It was only in the previous year that Glynne Wickham had established the first university department to focus on theatre research in Britain, at the University of Bristol. The STR was undoubtedly at the forefront of this new and emerging field.

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Figure 3: A programme for the Elizabethan Stage Society’s production of Doctor Faustus produced by William Poel. The event took place at St. George’s Hall, a venue which was available to hire for amateurs and became a hub of upper-middle class amateur activity. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

On the STR’s website we can read of some of the organisation’s success stories. The STR played a crucial role in the twelve-year campaign for a dedicated Theatre Museum, which opened in Covent Garden in 1987 but sadly closed in 2007, with materials being transferred to the V&A’s Theatre Collections. The STR were also involved in the debates over the abolishment of the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, and fought for a clause to be written into the act which stated that the British Library would continue to be the repository for the script of every play given for public performance in Britain. The STR were also the driving force behind the establishment of an umbrella organisation for our discipline in 1957– the International Federation for Theatre Research.  In fact Eileen Cottis, one of the current Honorary Members of the STR’s Executive Committee, was at that meeting where IFTR was founded.

Some scholars would argue that the STR’s days as innovative are long gone. But perhaps the Society just doesn’t shout loud enough about its success stories anymore? Arguably, the STR’s continued commitment to support innovative writing and research is one of its greatest assets!

The STR’s annual Theatre Book Prize celebrates scholarship in British Theatre. Previous winners have included Michael Billington’s State of the Nation (Faber & Faber), Jim Davis and Victor Emeljanow’s Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840-1880 (Iowa University Press/ University of Hertfordshire Press) and Patrick Lonergan’s Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era (Palgrave Macmillan). The Society is also a firm believer in funding new and original research. Thousands of pounds are given away each year to support scholars, with past awardees including the NRN’s Kate Holmes, the V&A’s Simon Sladen, the University of Glasgow’s Prof. Dee Heddon, the University of Bristol’s Dr. Catherine Hindson, and the University of Manchester’s Dr Kate Dorney.

If this isn’t its greatest asset, then it’s surely the STR’s pledge to support new talent for the professional stage through the annual Poel Event? In recent years, this event has gone from strength to strength, with workshops being led by Jeannette Nelson (Head of Voice, National Theatre), Cicely Berry (former Voice Director for the RSC), and Sir Ian McKellen.

Alternatively, it would be the STR’s investment in new and emerging scholars through the New Researchers’ Network. The NRN has built up a regular membership since it was formed in February 2012, with new and returning members coming together for study days, workshops and symposiums to share expertise, skills, approaches and knowledge. The Teaching Theatre Practice workshop was a particular success story, as it provided valuable training for researchers with very little experience of teaching practice, who may need to adapt their teaching style as our discipline becomes more and more practice-centric.

From its inception the STR has been committed to innovation in our field. While it may not have had influence over an act of parliament in recent years, today it shows that commitment through funding and supporting innovative new writing, practice and research. It therefore seems fitting that the New Researchers’ Network is asking its membership to consider their relationship with innovation – essentially that dreaded Viva question – ‘What is your contribution to the field?’. I look forward to hearing everyone’s answer to that question at the NRN’s Annual Symposium in Bristol!

How do YOU consider your relationship with innovation and your research? What new discoveries have you made in your work? Write about it for our blog: contact Emer and Kate at nrn@str.org.uk to talk about your ideas! And once more, here’s another reminder to register for: the symposium on 6 July AND for the study day at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection on 5 July. The symposium hashtag is officially #NRN16. 

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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 newscholarsprize@str.org.uk. 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.

STR Lecture Series 2016: ‘Re-evaluating the Actresses’ Franchise League: Suffrage Theatre, Networks and Activism’

You are warmly invited to the next talk of the 2015-16 Society for Theatre Research annual lecture series, which takes place on Wednesday 13 April 2016 at 7.30pm at the Swedenborg Hall, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH.

DR NAOMI PAXTON will present ‘Re-evaluating the Actresses’ Franchise League: Suffrage Theatre, Networks and Activism’

The Actresses’ Franchise League was formed in 1908 by a group of theatre professionals keen to support the work of the suffrage societies. Neutral in regard to tactics, the variety of their work and contributions to the performative propaganda of the suffrage movement shows an organisation embracing new forms, new spaces, new ideas and new audiences. This lecture will explore the work of the Actresses’ Franchise League, the networks created by and through the League and the organisation after 1918, drawing on both suffrage and theatre histories to tell the story of suffragist actresses and actors and their political activism.

Dr Naomi Paxton is an actress, performer and researcher and has appeared in the West End and on tour in the UK and internationally. She has shared her passion for the work of the Actresses’ Franchise League at many events, including the National Theatre, Hay Festival and Latitude Festival and was one of the AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers for 2014-15. From 2015-16 she was Research Associate for the AHRC funded project Poor Theatres at the University of Manchester. Naomi edited The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays (Bloomsbury, 2013), is an Associate Artist of the feminist production hub Scary Little Girls and is currently Cultural Engagement Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

The talk will be livestreamed here: https://livestream.com/accounts/6741029/events/5156919

These events are free and open to everyone. For further information about the STR and events see the society’s website: http://www.str.org.uk/.

STR Lecture Series: ‘The Development of Professional Stage Management’

The next talk of the 2015-16 Society for Theatre Research annual lecture series takes place on Thursday 10 March 2016 at 7.30pm at the Swedenborg Hall, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH.

DR TRACY CATTELL will present ‘THE DEVELOPMENT OF PROFESSIONAL STAGE MANAGEMENT’

Primary evidence from the earliest theatre-based companies in Britain indicates that ever since there have been professional theatres, there has been professionalstage management.  This lecture will explore the development of professional stage management in this country by considering primary sources that demonstrate its progression since the late sixteenth century, drawing on the earliest surviving prompt copies to reveal how the first theatre-based companies were supported in their performances by an infrastructure that is recognisabletoday as stage management.

Dr Tracy Cattell is a professional Deputy Stage Manager whose experience ranges from subsidised repertory and theatre-in-education to opera and daily repertoire, in which genre she continues to practise on a freelance basis.  She undertook her doctorate at the University of Warwick and has a particular research interest in the development of cued performance.  She lectures on the practical staging of Shakespeare, contemporary and historical stage management practice, and the interpretation of promptbook annotations, and enjoys sharing her research and professional heritage with professionals in training.  She is a member of the Theatre History & Historiography Working Group of the Theatre and Performance Research Association, and the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researchers’ Network.

If you are unable to attend in person, the lecture will be live streamed and can be accessed at: https://livestream.com/accounts/6741029/events/4906757

Forthcoming talk for your diary:

• Wednesday 13 April: Dr Naomi Paxton, ‘Re-evaluating the Actresses’ Franchise League: Suffrage Theatre, Networks and Activism’

These events are free and open to everyone. They commence at 7.30pm in the Swedenborg Hall, Holborn. For further details see the STR’s website: http://www.str.org.uk/.

STR Lecture Series: ‘Screening Sarah Bernhardt: Reinterpreting Acting on Silent Film’

The next talk of the 2015-16 Society for Theatre Research annual lecture series takes place on Tuesday 19 January 2016 at 7.30pm at the Swedenborg Hall, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH.

DR VICTORIA DUCKETT will present Screening Sarah Bernhardt: Reinterpreting Acting on Silent Film’

Sarah Bernhardt, the great nineteenth-century theatrical actress, was also the first major international film star. Appearing cross-dressed in a short Hamlet film before international audiences at the Paris Exposition of 1900, this 56-year-old French actress most famously went on to make Camille (La Dame aux Camélias, 1911) and Queen Elizabeth (Les Amours de la Reine Elisabeth, 1912).  Later appearing in one of the first celebrity home movies (Sarah Bernhardt at Home, 1915), she also made a WWI propaganda film, Mothers of France (Mères Françaises, 1917). This presentation explores these films as evidence of a productive exchange between the stage and the nascent film industry. Rather than see Bernhardt’s acting as evidence of the theatre’s incommensurability with film, it will demonstrate the legacy of her stage acting as she adapted it to early film. The talk will include screenings of the films accompanied by live music.

Dr Victoria Duckett is a lecturer in Media and Communications in the School of Communications and Creative Arts at Deakin University, Melbourne. She is author of Seeing Sarah Bernhardt: Performance and Silent Film (2015) and co-editor of Researching Women in Silent Cinema: New Findings and Perspectives (2013). Victoria is on the editorial boards of Feminisms, Medias, Histories and Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film and is a member of the steering committee of Women and Film History International.

The talk will be livestreamed: http://livestream.com/accounts/6741029/events/4679420

 

Forthcoming talks for your diary:

  • Thursday 11 February, Dr Kate Dorney, ‘Excavating Enthoven: the Life and Times of a Theatre Collector’

 

  • Thursday 10 March, Dr Tracy Cattell, ‘The Development of Professional Stage Management

 

  • Wednesday 13 April, Dr Naomi Paxton, ‘Re-evaluating the Actresses’ Franchise League: Suffrage Theatre, Networks and Activism’

These events are free and open to all. They commence at 7.30pm in the Swedenborg Hall, Holborn. For further details see the STR’s website: http://www.str.org.uk/.

 

STR Wickham Lecture 2015: Professor Gay McAuley, ‘Observing the creative process: directors and actors in rehearsal’

You are warmly invited to join us for the 2015 Wickham Lecture, co-presented by the University of Bristol Theatre Department and the Society for Theatre Research.

‘Observing the creative process:
directors and actors in rehearsal’

Professor Gay McAuley

Honorary Professor, University of Sydney

Rehearsal is popularly assumed to have been part of theatre practice for as long as the theatre has existed. But in fact rehearsal, as we now know it, is substantially an invention of the 20th century, inextricably bound up with the emergence of the role of the director. Traditionally closed to outsiders, relatively little has so far been written about the rehearsal process by theatre studies scholars.

How does one gain access to this closed world? How does one begin to analyse rehearsal? What does the creative process reveal about the work of art that is created? What can contemporary rehearsal practice reveal about group creativity? Drawing on many years of research and collaboration between academics and practitioners at the University of Sydney, Professor McAuley will discuss practical, methodological, ethical and conceptual issues involved in this developing field of study.

5.30pm Wednesday 13th May

The Wickham Theatre

Vandyck Building, Cantocks Close, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UP

Gay McAuley is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Performance Studies (University of Sydney). She has a BA in Drama, French and German, and a Ph.D in French from the University of Bristol. She taught theatre and film in the French Department at the University of Sydney before establishing Performance Studies as an interdisciplinary centre in 1989. Through the 70s and 80s she established collaboration between academics and practising artists for teaching and research purposes, and in the 90s she pioneered the application of ethnographic methodologies to the study of rehearsal process. Her book Space in Performance (1999) examines the many functions of space in the theatre experience. She then extended her exploration of spatial semiotics to site-based performance practices, with particular reference to the relation between place and memory (Unstable Ground: Performance and the Politics of Place 2006). Her most recent book is an ethnographic study of rehearsal process (Not Magic But Work 2012).

This annual lecture is presented to recognize Professor Glynne Wickham’s service to the Society for Theatre Research and his contribution to Theatre Studies in Bristol and world-wide.

STR Research Awards 2015

Need a research grant? For something THEATRE-RELATED? Well aren’t you in luck, because there is still time to apply for a research award from the STR! See below for details…

The Society’s research fund includes bequests from the estates of Stephen Joseph, Anthony Denning and Kathleen Barker. Awards may be made annually of sums ranging from £200 to £1,000, as contributions to the cost of research which is substantially concerned with the history and practice of the British theatre.

Private scholars, theatre professionals, academic staff, and students, of any nationality, are welcome to apply: qualifying projects can include completion of work in progress, professional training in research techniques to assist established projects, and subventions towards the publication of completed work in which a publisher is already seriously interested.

Please read the application notes carefully – we cannot give grants for applications for course fees unless for specific professional training in research techniques, nor wholly or principally for general subsistence.

The applications deadline is March 6th this year. For lots more information and to download an application form, please go to http://www.str.org.uk/research/awards/index.html