I am a Senior Lecturer in Theatre & Performance in the Drama Department in Manchester. I describe myself as a cultural historian to reflect my interest in a range of practices and reflections on performing, directing, designing and writing for, and about, theatre in the 20th and 21st centuries and on arts funding, museology, curating and archiving. I am interested in many things from Shakespeare inspired performances in prisoner-of-war camps to Keith Moon’s exploding drum kit and Vivien Leigh’s wigs; from close textual analysis to close analysis of regional theatre budgets and detailed analysis of theatre costumes (see publications for more details). I can summarise my approach to, and interest in, all these areas through five questions: What is it? What is it doing? How is it doing it? Why is it doing it? What effect does it have? These questions have guided my research, my collaborations with artists and researchers and with the students I teach on Theatre & Performance 1: Texts; Varieties of Shakespeare; Gender & Sexuality on the British Stage and Director’s Project.
I attribute this broad base of interests to my career pre-University of Manchester. After completing my PhD at the University of Sheffield, I spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at the British Library learning to work with modern theatrical archives, writing about actor Ralph Richardson and interviewing theatregoers and practitioners. I then became a researcher/interviewer on a project documenting the history of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre which piqued my interest in regional theatre and arts funding. Then I joined the Victoria & Albert Museum as the curator, then senior curator of modern and contemporary performance with a remit to acquire material for, and interpret, the largest collection of theatrical material in the UK. Among the projects I worked on there was leading the curatorial team in the development of a new permanent display of the collection in the museum; the AHRC funded 'Giving Voice to a Nation' project exploring the history and practice of theatre subsidy through the Arts Council of Great Britain archive; the writing and curation of the iPad app and book Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 Plays which explored the history of post-war British Theatre; the acquisition of key contemporary performance archives including those of director Peter Brook, the Young Vic theatre, feminist theatre company Monstrous Regiment and new writing specialists Paines Plough and Moon, ceramic artist Keith Harrison’s project to recreate Keith Moon’s exploding drumkit. You can see the results of the performance here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/keith-harrison/ , and read about the process here: https://tinyurl.com/yb3t8kkg