The program for 2016-17 addressed the themes of Capital & Imperialism.

For 2016-17 the committee were:

  • Martin Young
  • Alessandro Simari
  • Faisal Hamadah

Wednesday 5th October 2016

Dr Bridget Escolme, Queen Mary University

Brexit Dreams: Challenging Scenographic Nostalgia in Shakespeare Comedy

What kind of laughter is needed in moments of political crisis? If we ask this question of Shakespeare production now, the answers might suggest a desire for escapism and nostalgia amongst British audiences, rather than social engagement or critique. In this paper, Bridget Escolme offers examples of Much Ado About Nothing reconfigured as Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a fantasy of post-WW2 community coherence. She also considers productions of Shakespeare comedy that challenge easy, uncritical laughter and foreground the complex gender and power politics of early modern comedy for new audiences. How much critique and challenge can audiences for Shakespeare cope with in 2016 and what’s the point of pushing at the boundaries of their expectations? The paper is part of the thinking behind a soon-to-be-completed project on Shakespeare and costume, and a life-long project of analysing British culture’s obsession with 400-year-old plays. 

Bridget Escolme is Reader in Drama at Queen Mary University of London, where she researches and teaches early modern drama in performance, histories of emotion and histories of costume and dress. She is currently Head of the Department of Drama. Her publications, particularly Talking to the Audience (Routledge 2005), have explored the relationship between performer and audience in Shakespeare production and her monograph Emotional Excess on the Shakespearean Stage: Passion’s Slaves (Arden Shakespeare, 2013) considers how theatre reflects, produces, regulates and celebrates extremes of emotion. She is co-editor of two series, Shakespeare in Practice (Palgrave), for which she is currently completing a book Shakespeare and Costume in Practice, and Shakespeare in the Theatre (Bloomsbury, Arden Shakespeare). She has published work on her promenade production of Coriolanus in Shakespeare Survey and has worked as a dramaturge, a director and a Theatre in Education practitioner. Her next book’s working title is Cultures of Personality: a History of Shame and Display in the Theatre.

Wednesday 19th October 2016

Dr Philip Crispin,  University of Hull

A tempestuous translation: Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête

In my talk, I will contend that the Martinican Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête, an anti-colonialist adaptation of The Tempest, epitomises translation as interpretation and creative revision. With striking fidelity to Shakespeare’s play, Césaire engages with the racial and class conflicts intrinsic to The Tempest and gives voice to the occluded colonized and oppressed. Une tempête also stands out as a translation through time (the era of Black civil rights and African liberation movements) and space (creatively and playfully refashioning Shakespearean references into a francophone Caribbean location).
With satire, eloquence and panache, the play charts an ongoing demystification and unravelling of a monoglot, colonialist Prospero – and of a canonized, colonial Bard. The resurrection and resistance of Caliban is founded upon African cultural resonances, not imposed western ideologies. Likening himself to Malcolm X, Caliban identifies his dispossession, the fate of the enslaved African diaspora, and casts off the slough of abjection as he reclaims and re-invents his cultural identity. It is he who is the supreme verbal artificer.
I will chart Une tempête’s impact upon the francophone world before recalling the challenge of translating the translator: my translation of the play was a British première at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill in 1998. Its staging marked both the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the French colonies and the 50th anniversary of the arrival of West Indian immigrants to Britain.
I will happily broaden subsequent discussion to include consideration of La Tragédie du Roi Christophe and Une Saison au Congo, the other two plays in Césaire’s ‘triptych’ of anti-colonial dramas.

Dr Philip Crispin is a lecturer in Drama at the University of Hull. In 2013, he organised and hosted a Césaire centenary celebration at the French Institute in London. Formerly literary manager of the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, his translation of Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête is published by Oberon Books. Previous articles on Césaire include: ‘A Tempestuous Translation: Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête’, in Modernités Shakespeariennes (Harmattan, 2010); ‘Aimé Césaire’s Caribbean Crucible: La Tragédie du Roi Christophe’, in Césaire: Parole due (Présence Africaine, 2014). His reviews of research into Francophone African and Caribbean Theatres have appeared in the New West Indian Guide, edited by Professors Richard and Sally Price. In consultation with Professor Charles Forsdick, AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for Translating Cultures, Philip is currently planning a monograph on Césaire’s theatre along with further annotated translations of Césaire’s ‘triptych’ of anti-colonial plays.
His translation of Un Homme debut (A Man Standing) an autobiographical play about human rights abuses and redemption in the Belgian prison system, was staged at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe. He is currently working as a translator, dramaturg and literary advisor on an Arts Council-sponsored collaboration entitled Shakespeare Versus Molière: The Tragicomedy of Power. This puppet play explores the current refugee crisis, racism and scapegoating through English and French early modern theatre and is to tour internationally. Currently completing a monograph on fools, Philip also works on medieval, early modern, and modern theatres, both francophone and anglophone, and enjoys performing and directing.

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

Dr Namita Chakrabarty,  Ruskin College

On Love and ‘Race’: The use of creative practice to explore ‘race’ in the performance of civil defence theatre application

What has civil defence got to do with love, or, for that matter, badgers on the hills above Oxford, or council houses being sold off in the London Borough of Southwark, to make way for more millionaires, or billionaires? And has love got anything to do with the politics of performance?
Dr Namita Chakrabarty will talk about her performative ethnographic research into civil defence in the UK, her use of Critical Race Theory in theatre application, and its impact on her critical and creative practice.
Based on an ethnography produced during her work on the ESRC 2009-10 research project, ‘Preparedness Pedagogies’ and Race: An Interdisciplinary Approach’, the paper explores the racialized culture of civil defence in the UK and its theatre application in performance. The ethnography examined government disaster planning for the protection of citizens through the artefacts of interviews, photographs, videos, observations of preparedness role play around fictional character, and professionals’ live reminiscence of emergency. The results of the study reflected questions over how far citizens are protected equally under emergency in terms of class, sexuality and race.
The presentation will conclude with a reading from work in progress: ‘On the fifth anniversary of Mark Duggan’s death’ (Chakrabarty, 2016).

Dr Namita Chakrabarty uses recorded and live performance, and creative and critical writing, to explore themes of ‘race’, sexuality and culture. She was co-investigator on the 2009-2010 ESRC funded research project ‘Preparedness Pedagogies, and Race: An Interdisciplinary Approach’, and co-editor of Critical Race Theory in England (2013). Her co-written play, Blood on the Bedroom Wall (Cavallin and Chakrabarty), received a staged reading at Theatre Delicatessen, London in 2015, and her novel, If Hamlet was a Girl, was longlisted for the Bridport 2016 Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel. Dr Chakrabarty is Tutor in Creative Writing and Writing for Performance at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Wednesday 16th November 2016

Dr Aylwyn Walsh,  University of Leeds

Spectacles of punishment: The cell, the body and the state

This presentation contributes to my wider project about theorising prison cultures. I will introduce South Africa’s constitutional court art exhibit, Rideout’s replica cell in the gotojail project (2012 – present) and Laurie Anderson’s production Habeas Corpus (2015). Though I use examples from South Africa, the UK and Guantanamo Bay, I am not trying to universalise a singular or definitive prison culture. Rather, I’m offering a research methodology that attends to time, aesthetics and ethics of prison and simulated cells by drawing on Diana Taylor’s thinking in The Archive and the Repertoire (2003). In doing so, I aim to recuperate a political understanding of how prisons (current, operational institutions and prison museums, performances or exhibits) maintain, operationalise and reinforce their regimes of power through nationalistic discourses.

Aylwyn is programme leader of the MA in Applied Theatre & Intervention at University of Leeds’ School of Performance and Cultural Industries. Prior to this, she was a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln’s School of Fine and Performing Arts where she headed up the Practice as Research cross-disciplinary group. She has recently worked on projects including the Arts of Logistics about the politics and poetics of infrastructures, counter-logistics and mobility with QMUL’s Shane Boyle. Her current project relates to Prison Cultures, mapping performance, resistance and desire in women’s prisons.
Some of her publications have been on arts and migration in Performances of Crisis, Capitalism and Resistance and Theory in Action; about protest in Qualitative Inquiry; Cultural Studies ⇔ Critical Methodologies; Journal of Arts and Communities. She has also published about arts and health Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance as well as prison and performance in Crime, Media, Culture and Contemporary Theatre Review. She was co-editor of Remapping ‘Crisis’: A Guide to Athens (Zero Books, 2014).

Wednesday 30th November 2016

Dr Margherita Laera, University of Kent

A Theatre of/for Europe: Giorgio Strehler and the Dream of a United Continent

This talk examines the work of Giorgio Strehler as a director, artistic director, ideologue and politician from his theatrical beginnings in the 1940s to his untimely death in 1997, fifty years after he founded the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. My analysis will focus not so much on Strehler’s stage aesthetics, but on his ideas and political engagement through programming, organising, writing, parliamentary activities and cultural leadership. I will investigate the historical and social context in which Strehler operated, assessing his conception of theatre as political battleground and as nourishment for the (European) soul, and his efforts to put into practice his utopian dream of a unified Europe based not only on free markets and consumerism, but on a rich shared cultural heritage. Strehler’s ‘humanist’ idea of Europe and the ‘European Man’ – and theatre’s role in co-constructing it – will be dissected and re-evaluated here in all its modernist and essentialist purport. From the Piccolo Teatro’s links with the European scene, to Strehler’s direction of the Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe in Paris, to the establishment of the Union des Théâtres de l’Europe (UTE), his efforts towards ‘democratisation’, internationalisation and exchange among European theatre-makers and audiences, this chapter offers a critique of Strehler’s ideological message and legacy.
I ask what remains of Strehler’s dreams in a European and British context hit by the most profound crisis since the Second World War, where Strehler’s own pioneering efforts to manufacture what I will call a ‘theatre of/for Europe’ through dialogue and cultural exchange have ended up feeding the market-oriented machine of the European festival circuit as a new transnational establishment.

Margherita Laera is a Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent, Canterbury, where she is the Director of the European Theatre Research Network based in the School of Arts. She is the recipient of an AHRC Leadership Fellowship for the project Translation, Adaptation, Otherness: ‘Foreignisation’ in Theatre Practice (2016–18). Margherita is the author of the monograph Reaching Athens: Community, Democracy and Other Mythologies in Adaptations of Greek Tragedy (Peter Lang, 2013) and editor of Theatre and Adaptation: Return, Rewrite, Repeat (Bloomsbury, 2014). Margherita is the Senior Book Reviews Editor for CUP’s Theatre Research International. The talk she presents at Quorum is an excerpt from a chapter commissioned by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama for the series Great Stage Directors, edited by Simon Shepherd.

Wednesday 14th December 2016

Professor Joe Kelleher, University of Roehampton

We may recognise an act – the fact that an act has been performed – from its consequences. A noticeable impact on the order of things, some effective transformation of a situation in which – for instance – spectators realise that they themselves will have been performers of the act at which they thought they were, at most, witnesses. Perhaps, out of the act – and its recognition – a new subject is born, with all sorts of consequences for what comes next. It is anyway a story that has often been told in the theatre, except with the peculiar twist that the theatre can appear to render all its acts inconsequential, for any world beyond its own. It is perhaps a matter of give-and-take, as the conference prospectus suggests. I am thinking about where the ‘give’ happens, in a contemporary theatre such as Ant Hampton’s Extra People, where everything – instructions, explanations, and one’s own personal identifying number, along with something to do – is given to ‘us’. Ourselves, the high-vis jacketed, supernumerary actor-spectators, so that we can experience – and enjoy – our powerlessness in a theatre apparatus where we make everything except the rules, and where the consequence and inconsequence of what we make is entirely indeterminate. But then there are also the theatres of ‘take’, such as Back to Back’s Ganesh vs The Third Reich, where a declared action of intervention upon the symbolic order and the violence it generates – literally, an attempt to recover the signifier from the signified it has accrued – fails, predictably enough, while generating some consequential questions about the nature of an act and the understanding of the actors: how ‘they’ understand themselves, and how they are understood. The paper will consider some of the economies of the act that are established in works like these, theatre works specifically, where the ‘value’ of the act is harboured not so much in its potential – political or otherwise – but its inconsequence, where everything appears to be spent.

Joe Kelleher is Professor of Theatre and Performance at University of Roehampton, London. His books include The Illuminated Theatre: Studies on the Suffering of Images (Routledge 2015) and Theatre & Politics (Palgrave Macmillan 2009). He is co-author with Claudia and Romeo Castellucci, Chiara Giudi and Nicholas Ridout of The Theatre of Societas Raffaello Sanzio (Routledge 2007). Recent essays appear in Stedelijk Studies (2016), and Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd: Ecology, the Environment and the Greening of the Modern Stage, ed. Carl Lavery and Clare Finburgh (2015). He has been making performances with Eirini Kartsaki, including most recently How to Be a Fig (2014).

Wednesday 11th January 2017

Dr Michael McKinnie, Queen Mary University

Blocking, Industry and the Economic Geography of Theatrical Production

Whether undertaken for profit or not, modern theatre has developed highly effective ways of mobilizing resources in order to produce goods—live performances—for audiences. And it is very adept at doing this over and over again, show after show, often in multiple places. Yet there is a long-standing reticence about speaking of theatre in industrial terms. Doing so seems to value it according to a crudely economistic and managerial calculus; or miss the evanescence and creativity that ostensibly make it special; or raise the dreaded spectre of what Dan Rebellato has called “McTheatre.” Nonetheless, major preoccupations of theatrical production processes are less ephemerality and innovation than systems and replicability—finding ways to repeat a performance, in much the same way, over an extended period of time and space. Thus, the challenge is not to make a show different every night, but to make it as much the same as possible. One technique has become key to this in modern theatre: blocking. In this paper, I will explore what blocking might tell us, spatially, about the equivocal yet intimate relationship of theatre to industry. It might also call into question some common, if often unacknowledged, assumptions about the relationship between theatre and economics.

Wednesday 25th January 2017

Dr Catherine Hindson, Bristol University

Off Stage Labour: Actresses, Charity Work And The Early Twentieth-Century Theatre Profession 

Frequent charity appearances were an anticipated part of the high-profile stage performer’s offstage professional activity during the early years of the twentieth century, yet charity labour and its role in perceptions and the status of the theatre industry has been largely overlooked. This paper will consider two public charity events that took place at Harrods Department store in the pre-First World War period: The Salon of Fragrance and Fair Women (1911) and the Red Cross Shopping Day (1915). Both occasions involved a large number of well-known London actresses. Consideration of this area of high-profile public activity illustrates the complexity of the British theatre industry and the ways in which off-stage activity established and nourished off-stage social, cultural and professional networks that sustained early twentieth-century theatre. It questions how and why we might need to step outside of theatres in order to understand the status and economics of the theatre industry and the day-to-day working lives of its personnel.

Catherine Hindson is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies and Head of Theatre at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on popular stage entertainments and off-stage elements of the theatre industry between 1830 and 1920 and she has published widely in these areas, including two monographs: Female Performance Practice on the Fin-de-Siecle Popular Stage of London and Paris (Manchester University Press, 2007) and The Stand and Deliver Business: Charity, London Theatre and the Actress, 1880-1920 (University of Iowa Press, 2016). She is currently working on a new research project that explores the functions of theatre and performance in British Industrial Villages.

Wednesday 8th February 2017

Dr Louise Owen, Birkbeck University

Social bodies: The Oresteia at Shakespeare’s Globe

In summer 2015, Shakespeare’s Globe presented Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia. Directed by Adele Thomas, the piece in performance interleaved multiple temporal schemas: the classical Greek polis represented in the drama, the Globe’s imitation of early modern theatre space, and the fashions and cinematic, televisual and aural cultures of postwar Britain and Europe. For much of the piece, a cladding of rough wooden planks hid the Globe’s ornate stage, the vengeful aphorism ‘TΎΜΜΑ ΤΎΜΜΑΤΙ ΤΕIΣΑΙ’ (‘you will pay stroke for stroke’) (Shapiro and Burian 2003: 35) sprayed upon them in red – a striking scenographic allusion to the crisis in Greece. This paper analyses the production’s aesthetic strategies in terms of a commentary on austerity, focusing on two aspects most critical to the collective engagement of its audience: sound and smoke.

Louise Owen is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research examines contemporary theatre and performance in terms of economic change and modes of governance, in particular, the social and cultural effects of neoliberalization. She is co-director of Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre and co-convenor of London Theatre Seminar.

Wednesday 22nd February 2017

Screening: Sing Faster! The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle (in conjunction with the Theatre, Performance & Employment symposium)

In conjunction with the Theatre, Performance & Employment Symposium, we will be hosting a screening of Jon Else’s 1999 documentary ‘Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle’. This Sundance andEmmy-award winning film, unreleased in the UK, offers an entertaining look at backstage labour in major commercial theatrical production, setting the day to day workplace sensibilities of stage crew against the supernatural disorder of Wagnerian opera.

Wednesday 8th February 2017

Dr Lynette Goddard, Royal Holloway University

Back in Time For Trinidad: Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl on the Contemporary British Stage

Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was one of the first plays by a Caribbean writer to be produced in London when it premiered at the Royal Court on 4 December 1958, and it has since become the most revived black British play following productions at the Theatre Royal Stratford East (1986), the Almeida Theatre (1988), by Eclipse Theatre (2003) and the National Theatre/Talawa (2012/14). John’s yard play looks back to 1948, the year when SS Empire Windrush arrived in the UK, bringing in a group of almost 500 Caribbean immigrants and widely held as a defining moment in the mass-scale immigration of black people to Britain in the post-war era. As such the play arguably becomes interesting as a migration narrative that taps into important questions about the relationship between Britain and the Commonwealth during this period. At the same time, its production history marks it as central to the ways in which black playwrights emerged and are sustained within the British theatre industry.
This paper uses the original and subsequent production history of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl to examine these two interconnected concerns. I explore how the portrayal of themes of escaping backyard poverty in post-war Trinidad have a continued resonance in debates about subsequent waves of immigration that has arguably worked to secure the continued significance of John’s play within British theatre history. I will argue that analysing John’s play can be used to understand the patterns of programming black work on the contemporary British stage.

Lynette Goddard is Reader in Black Theatre and Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London. Their research focuses on representations of race, gender, and sexuality in contemporary black British playwriting. Their publications include Staging Black Feminisms: Identity, Politics, Performance (Palgrave, 2007), Contemporary Black British Playwrights: Margins to Mainstream (Palgrave, 2015) and co-editing Modern and Contemporary Black British Drama (Palgrave, 2015). They are currently completing a book about Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (Routledge, Fourth Wall, 2017) and working on projects about staging race relations in contemporary playwriting and on black historical plays by writers from the UK, USA and the British and French Caribbean.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Sita Balani, King’s College London

Staging identity-talk: ‘Albion’ and ‘Men in the Cities’

In this paper, I will offer an account of how identity shapes the political field in twenty-first-century Britain through a reading of two plays: Men in the Cities by Chris Goode performed at the Royal Court, July 2015, and Albion by Chris Thompson, performed at Bush Theatre, October 2014.
Drawing on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘culture-talk’ (1996), I use the term identity-talk to describe an understanding of politics as being enacted through identity that has come to shape public culture and political discourse in contemporary Britain. At the heart of identity-talk is a conception of the self that is predicated on sexual freedom, albeit a severely constrained version of sexual freedom that is contoured by love, choice and marriage, and in which homonormativity and homonationalism do considerable political work.
As the ‘War on Terror’ has become embedded in everyday life, the points of reference in the discourse of identity have proliferated, reorienting raciology through religion and situating Islam as the ‘other’ par excellence. In contemporary British discourse, the Far Right, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and homosexuality are configured into a matrix, which is reproduced in various guises. Homosexual desire functions as a conduit, bringing different groups into connection through the premise that sexual desire is at the core of an authentic self.
Albion and Men in the Cities engage explicitly with identity-talk, lifting their plot lines and reference points directly from the news cycle, and foregrounding sexual desire as a mode of connection. They stage many of the different iterations of masculinity (homosexual, model minority, terrorist, banker, nationalist, hipster) that that populate the collective imaginary in 21st century Britain. Through a comparative reading of their formal qualities, examining the playtexts and performances, I suggest that Albion and Men in the Cities show the ways in which different theatrical forms can be deployed to contest or reproduce the flattening, mechanistic logic of identity-talk.

Sita Balani is a PhD candidate in the English Department at King’s College London, supervised by Paul Gilroy and Mark Turner. She is also an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Birkbeck College, teaching in the Centre for Cultural Studies and Psychosocial Studies respectively. Her research explores neoliberalism and national identity in contemporary British cultural production, drawing on novels, memoirs, films and performances. Previous research includes a fresh perspective on the underwritten topic of the British Asian corner shop, which took an interdisciplinary approach, combining literary, historical and ethnographic material. She has contributed to Feminist Review, Open Democracy, Ceasefire, Photoworks, and Novara Media.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Professor David GetsySchool of the Art Institute of Chicago

Rubbish and Dreams: Stephen Varble, Anti-Commercialism, and Genderqueer Performance on the Streets of 1970s New York

Performance artist, playwright, and fashion designer Stephen Varble (1946–1984) was a fixture on the streets of SoHo in the 1970s, but his ephemeral practice has largely gone unrecognized in histories of art. His guerrilla practice aimed at disruption — of commerce, of gender roles, and of the institutions of art and celebrity. In elaborate sculptural garments made of street trash, Varble held unauthorized gallery tours through SoHo and protest performances in banks, Fifth Avenue stores, and in the street. A favourite of photographers such as Greg Day, Peter Hujar, and Jimmy DeSana, Varble’s art performed gender transformation and hybridity for both popular and art audiences in the 1970s. Over the past five years, David Getsy has been recovering the story of Varble’s work through interviews and private archives. He will discuss Varble’s work and the struggle to write the first history of this performance artist who left little behind and who was antagonistic to art’s institutions.

David Getsy is Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London (2017) and Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His books include Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (2015); Scott Burton: Collected Writings on Art and Performance, 1965-1975 (2012); Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture (2010); and, most recently, the collection of artists’ writings, Queer, for the Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Documents of Contemporary Art’ book series (2016). His current major projects focus on queer and genderqueer performance art in the 1970s.