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RESEARCH

PaR

Practice-as-Research (PaR) is an emerging discipline in the humanities and social sciences. It covers a wide range of qualitative research methodologies that explore by doing. In the field of early modern drama, Shakespeare's Globe in Southwark is at the cutting edge of this research. The Globe's two reconstructed playhouses offer unparalleled insights into the interactions between Renaissance texts and their performance contexts.

 

In his 2017 article 'Whose Experiment is it Anyway?' Stephen Purcell presents four models of PaR the Globe: 'the expert and the craftsperson'; 'the witness and the source'; 'the coinvestigators'; and the 'academic-practitioner' (19-29). My research aligns with the final category, and brings my background in history, performance, and textual studies together with practical experience staging site-specific productions in Shoreditch, to offer interdisciplinary insights into the manner of a text's development (contextual; collaborative; repertory) and the mode its of performance (adaptive; interactive; site-specific) at the Curtain. 

 

If you are a scholar or practitioner interested in my work and would like to discuss future early modern PaR collaborations, please feel free to contact me here

Site-Specificity

The term ''site-specificity' rose to prominence in performance studies during the 1990s, but has since undergone sustained reevaluations of both its focus and scope. Following the 'spatial turn' of critics such as de Certeau, Bachelard, Foucault, and Lefebvre; influential scholars like Farah Karim-Cooper, Tiffany Stern, Bridget Escolme, and Sarah Dustagheer have brought site-specific thinking to field of early modern drama, to conceive of the 'spaces' of Renaissance performance as: 'social, cultural, and mental constructs whose uses reveal insights into a particular society at any given time' (Dustagheer, 3-4). Thinking about early modern playhouses in this way offers productive critical territory for further studies into the relationship between a dramatic text and its performance contexts.

 

In the Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Memory (2017), Sarah Dustagheer categorized my practical work as “site-specific” (243). The italics were used to emphasize the peculiar resonances Dustagheer had noticed in a number of my productions staged at sites with a special connection to early modern performance. By staging productions in the exhibition space at the Rose Playhouse on Bankside, or in a Shoreditch roof-terrace above the site of the Curtain Playhouse, for example, my work looked to reach back and place modern sites into discourse with their early modern pasts. While the spaces themselves bore little resemblance to Tudor playhouses, Dustagheer recognized that the act of congregating for a performance at these significant places helped to remove layers of aggregated writings, and provide a diachronic connection that linked a dramatic text to the spaces of early modern performance.

 

With the recent archaeological digs at the Curtain (2016) and the Red Bull (2020) offering new insights into the wide variety of early modern performance contexts, this is a particularly exciting moment for site-specific Shakespeare studies. My research engages with this field through practical explorations with dramatic texts in both early modern and contemporary performance conditions, with a particular focus on textual adaptability, repertory management, and inn-yard playing. 

Dramatic Style

In their instructive new book Early Shakespeare 1588-1594, Rory Loughnane and Andrew Power identify a commonly held bias that Shakespeare's early plays are somehow inferior to this 'mature' or 'late' works. They argue that while ‘it is tempting to assume that with maturity in terms of age comes maturity in terms of style and content’, under these conditions, ‘earliness also carries an evaluative valance that is hard to dismiss’ (12). By contrast, Early Shakespeare ‘sets out to reassess the value of the early canon on its own merits rather than by genre clusters (e.g. first or second tetralogies of histories), style clusters (e.g. the lyric phase), or canonical clusters (e.g. the great tragedies)’ (12). I was fortunate to review the collection recently for the journal Early Theatre, and the work left me enthused with a number of questions about the relationship between 'earliness', style, and place. 

The volume contains a fascinating section on style, which looks to bridge the gap between studies of Shakespeare's early text and performance. MacDonald P. Jackson's chapter speaks to the relationship between literary style and textual attribution; and Goran Stanivukovic makes a powerful case for returning to features of 'style' as the foundation for any future reappraisal of Shakespeare’s early plays. While Stanivukovic's chapter focusses primarily on features of  'literary aesthetics' (76), I found it particularly effective when he also considered the 'rhetorical resources' (92) of actors in performance. If we are to understand style as a foundation from which to reappraise features of a distinctive early Shakespeare, it follows that performance should be considered as part of that process.

This led me back to thinking about John Russell Brown's 1970 book Shakespeare's Dramatic Style. While the book turns fifty this year, Russell Brown’s thesis anticipates a number of divergent movements in contemporary Shakespeare scholarship. For example, he presents 'dramatic style' as a concept that reaches across scholarly and practical approaches to Shakespeare’s texts, and conceives of 'style' as a composite of both the manner of a dramatic text’s development, and the mode of its performance. By applying dramatic style as a term that reaches across features of word and action, I hope to encourage a wider appreciation for features of dramatic style upon the development and performance of a play's text.

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING

Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Style, Heinemann, 1970. 

 

Carson, Christie and Farah Karim-Cooper, editors. Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment, Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

 

Dustagheer, Sarah. Shakespeare’s Two Playhouses, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

 

Dustagheer, Sarah, Oliver Jones, and Eleanor Rycroft. “(Re)constructed Spaces for Early Modern Drama: Research in Practice.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 35, no. 2, 2017, pp. 173-86. 

Escolme, Bridget. ‘Shakespeare, Rehearsal, and the Site-Specific’. Shakespeare Bulletin, Volume 30, Number 4, 2012, 505-522.

 

Loughnane, Rory and Andrew Power, editors. Early Shakespeare 1588-1594. Cambridge University Press, 2020. 

Karim-Cooper, Farah and Tiffany Stern, editors. Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, Bloomsbury, 2013.

 

Purcell, Stephen. “Practice-as-Research and Original Practices.” Shakespeare Bulletin, Volume 35, Issue 3, 2017, 425-443.

...,  “Whose Experiment is it Anyway?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies.” Stage Matters: Props, Bodies and Space in Shakespearean Performance, edited by Annalisa Castaldo and Rhonda Knight, Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2017.

Tosh, Will. “Introducing Research in Action.” Shakespeare’s Globe, 2016, blog.shakespearesglobe.com/post/144097844228/introducing-research-in-action-globe- research.

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Working lunch in Shoreditch with BAFTA-nominee John McEnery during King Lear (2015)

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John McEnery's King Lear transferred tthe Rose Playhouse, Bankside (2015)

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Jude Owusu as Othello in St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch (2014)

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Paula Brett as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rockwell House Rooftop, Shoreditch  (2015). The venue was demolished in 2016 to make way for  "The Stage" redevelopment.

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