7 March 2019 / Blogs

The Society and Innovation

David Coates, member, award recipient, and one of the founders of the New Researchers’ Network, writes about the STR’s consistent engagement with innovation in the world of theatre research. This article is based on an earlier one written for the NRN and much updated.

When the STR was founded seventy-one years ago in 1948 the individuals who formed its first committee were innovative in applying academic rigour to the new field of 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.

On the STR History page 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 and subsequently transferred to the V&A’s Theatre Collections. The STR were involved too 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 STR’s Vice-Presidents, was at that meeting where IFTR was founded.

Some scholars would argue that the STR’s days of being 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!

Every year a new book is published under the STR imprint (sometimes in collaboration). These have covered an extraordinarily wide range of subjects: marionettes (this year’s publication), theatres, actors, scenography, facsimiles of early books such as The Theatric Tourist or Pinacotheca Bettertoniana, and even including a DVD of early film (Bandits!). Theatre Notebook is still going strong – Volume 73 is now complete and Volume 74 in preparation, giving a platform for researchers to publish in a peer-reviewed journal.

The STR’s annual Theatre Book Prize celebrates scholarship in British Theatre. Previous winners have included Sir Nicholas Hytner’s, Balancing Acts, Steve Nicholson’s The Censorship of British Drama 1900-1968 (University of Exeter Press), Michael Billington’s State of the Nation (Faber & Faber), 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 Emily Garside, the V&A’s Helen Gush, Exeter University’s Jerri Daboo, the University of Bristol’s Dr. Catherine Hindson and independent scholars Alison Young and Robert Whelan.  You can still apply for one of this year’s Research Awards – the closing date for this year’s applications is March 22nd.

If that 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 Workshops? In recent years, this event has gone from strength to strength, with workshops being led by Jeannette Nelson (Head of Voice, National Theatre), Greg Doran, Sir Ian McKellen, and the late great Cicely Berry of the RSC.

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 next NRN event is in Birmingham, on April 6th 2019 – there’s still time to book your place for Getting the Word Out: Public Engagement and Impact in Theatre and Performance Research.

Finally, the new website gives the STR and its members a new and exciting opportunity for bringing our research into the public eye. Practical, theoretical, historical, contemporary, traditional and cutting-edge, the STR is engaged on all fronts, embarking confidently on the next seventy curiosity-filled years.