Postdoc project proposal

Because I’m pretty proud of it, and I have a secret fantasy about someone awesome who hires people accidentally stumbling upon my blog, I’ve decided to post a portion of my recently-submitted postdoc application. My supervisor keeps telling me to be more confident in my work, so sharing this work publicly is part of that journey as well.  Feedback welcome, as I’d like to keep refining my ideas for future applications.

My doctoral research has focused on a re-reading of the English Renaissance playwright Thomas Middleton through the lens of his 1622 collaboration with William Rowley, The Changeling. This work is at the forefront of a resurgence of interest in Thomas Middleton and other non-Shakespearean early modern playwrights, which has its roots in post-war educational reforms and has particularly gained steam in the past ten years. More specifically, scholarly and practical interest in Middleton has grown in recent years, evidenced by the publication of the Oxford Middleton series and the RSC’s upcoming tour (with English Touring Theatre) of A Mad World My Masters—one of very few national tours of a non-Shakespearean play by that company. My research contributes to this resurgence by bringing together the fields of print and performance, and considering collisions of scholarship and production. A consideration of Middleton’s plays in performance, and particularly in modern revivals, is one of the most obvious gaps in the Oxford Middleton, which focuses primarily on the texts’ original circumstances. My dissertation makes an important contribution towards filling that gap. In addition, my work builds on the content of the Oxford Middleton by considering texts specifically in relation to performance, rather than as separate entities. This has resulted in work which questions the ways in which Middleton’s plays are edited for students, for example. By bringing together cultural performance histories and textual histories, my work bridges the disciplines of English and Drama, putting a new historicist study of particular cultural moments in the life of the play into conversation with traditional textual criticism and performance studies. This will change the field of early modern studies by providing a model with which to think simultaneously about a given play in print and in performance, broadening interpretive possibilities whilst grounding each case study production in its particular cultural moment.

In so doing, my work examines the complicated nexus of printed texts and performances in all of their incarnations. How does an early modern play progress from author’s pen to scribal sides, to performance, to printing press, to revival, to commonplace entry, and eventually to scholarly edition, university revival, and modern professional production? What happens when that production is backwards-engineered into print in the form of reviews and scholarly commentary? What is the role of the theatrical prompt-book, both as a record of performance and as a textual witness? And how can the influence of performance be traced onto scholarship and scholarly editions of the plays, and vice-versa? The answers to these questions are evidently different in different sets of cultural circumstances, and the web of influence grows as the print and performance histories of any given play expand.

As Middleton’s most popular collaboration with William Rowley and one of his most-performed plays outside of his collaborations with and revisions of Shakespeare, The Changeling is an ideal focus for this kind of study. It offers a rich and diverse post-war performance history in Britain along with a wealth of scholarly attention, especially since the nineteenth century. The trajectory of The Changeling on stage and in print over the past four hundred years mirrors the trajectory of Middleton’s own renaissance, which began in print with the Romantics and in performance with educational reforms following the second World War and continues in the present. Concurrently, general interest in Jacobean tragedies and city comedies, with all their corruption, gore, and dark humour, is also at a peak, as evidenced by the re-launch of the Swan Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company as a space for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the triumphant opening of the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse at the Globe, the arrival of the Arden Early Modern Drama series, and, of course, the publication of the Oxford Middleton collection. As we approach the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, more and more scholars and practitioners are calling for a broader appreciation of the rich theatrical culture within which he lived and worked. This work on The Changeling and Thomas Middleton is therefore timely and important.

As a [insert position here], I would anticipate working to publish my dissertation as a monograph. In addition, I propose a project which broadens and builds upon the work of my doctorate. Titled ‘Playwrights and Place’, this work would result in a second monograph-length study, this time considering the influence of place on early modern drama written by people other than Shakespeare. More specifically, the project will look at productions of early modern plays which take place outside of London and the RSC, including locally-produced work and regional tours. Whilst most of the current work on productions of non-Shakespearean early modern plays has been focused on major producing companies and venues in London and Stratford—including the Globe and the RSC—very little work has been done so far which gives specific attention to the regions. Producing companies such as Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, as well as touring houses and theatres which both produce and receive tours, are an integral part of the theatrical culture of Britain and have been largely ignored with regard to the ways in which they produce, promote, receive, and archive early modern plays. In addition, whilst projects such as Claire Cochrane’s history of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (2003) provide in-depth studies of particular theatres, there is still work to do in terms of trends across the country. Casting back to consider how early modern touring and performance patterns outside of London map onto twentieth and twenty-first century models, the project will be structured around three key research questions: 1) how and why are particular plays produced in or toured to the regions? 2) how are they received by a given community? and 3) how are they archived and remembered?

Primary research involving newspapers, prompt-books, programmes, oral history, and other ephemera of performance will be my main research method, using collections held both in London and across the UK. Details about funding from the Arts Council and other sources, educational outreach, and broader cultural programmes will also be relevant. I am primarily interested in thinking about the ways in which non-Shakespearean early modern drama functions culturally for a community: how is a touring production of, for example, The Changeling, received differently in London, in Bath, in Glasgow, in Cardiff? How does a tour differ culturally from a local production? How does a place’s history of early modern performance impact upon and shape its present and future?

The relationships between print and performance explored in my doctoral research will also be important here, as many of the productions I will examine exist only as fragments of print, rather than as ephemeral performances. Even where it is possible to see a production in person, printed materials such as reviews, prompt-books, programmes and even scholarly writings are crucial to any academic consideration of a given production. In this way, I will continue to investigate and question the ways in which the disparate forms of print and performance intersect and interact.

Such a project would make an original contribution to the field of early modern studies by considering both long trends and specific moments in the cultural life of plays performed outside of London and Stratford. It contributes to a significant gap within the study of early modern drama’s place in present-day theatres, which largely ignores regional theatres besides the RSC and does not adequately consider the special circumstances of a touring production. It builds upon my doctoral research whilst broadening its intellectual scope, continuing the work of connecting performance and print whilst questioning the long-standing focus on London and Stratford as the dominant producers and consumers of early modern drama.

And finally,  (I hate that I have to say this, but…) this is my intellectual property. No stealing, or I  will send Liam Neeson after you.