Blog from QMUL's School of English and Drama (SED)
Author: All Things SED Editor
I am the Web and Marketing Administrator in the School of English and Drama. Amongst my various roles, I run the School's website (www.sed.qmul.ac.uk) and its Twitter feed (@QMULsed). I also manage the running of the School's Open Days and draft promotional materials.
On the eve of the Olympics, Shakespeare’s mix of sex, politics and intrigue plays out in Rio. 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, his plays have come to Brazil and are being played to packed houses in front of enthralled audiences who respond instinctively to their passionate mix of political corruption, violence, sex, death and the supernatural.
This summer, a unique collaboration between international directors, academics and Brazilian actors has brought one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, The Tempest – in which he writes about the ‘brave new world’ of the Americas – to Rio de Janeiro.
This programme hears from Suellen Carvalho, who will play Miranda in The Tempest. High in the hills overlooking Copacabana she explains how she turned her back on the drug gangs to take up Shakespearean acting. Her brother was killed in gang warfare and so her family has suffered from the violence that plagues the city of Rio. It was Shakespeare that helped her escape. “I thought the language of Shakespeare was very difficult at first”, she says, “But when I heard Shakespeare being spoken by black actors from the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio then it’s another language. I thought, I can do that too.”
For Suellen it has been an extraordinary journey. As a black actress she had no hope of playing the part that she saw as exclusively for white performers. “When I was told I would play Miranda I was amazed! Black actors in Brazil are normally given the roles of the house servant, prostitute or drug dealer.”
I am constantly surprised at how old-fashioned some newspaper reviewers are. I’ve done a few cuts of Shakespeare texts, as a dramaturg, and with Hamlet it’s great because there are different versions of it printed in Shakespeare’s time, so you can use 400 year old editions of the play to help you cut it. One of Hamlet’s soliloquies is only there in one text, and because the director I was working with wanted a shorter version, that was one of the easy ones to cut. The Daily Telegraph reviewer was outraged! But given one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought it was all right one soliloquy down, I thought we could cut it if we liked! (And Shakespeare’s dead, so he won’t know…)
Quite a lot of reviewers have a strictly realist idea of what theatre should be like. The idea that you can’t have in early modern performances people of different racial backgrounds, different ages, different sexes, seems daft to me. If you want to be really literal, you’d have to have to cast Measure for Measure with Viennese actors only. Those plays were made for an all male company, and no one cried: “What’s that young man doing playing that young woman?”. The actors told the story; women weren’t allowed on stage, so you told the story using men. Each casting is going to produce different meanings, and that’s fascinating.
The only claim for authenticity that I would make for cross-casting is that the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were created for what we might now think of as highly meta-theatrical spaces. They weren’t made for theatres in which you sat in the dark and shut up apart from the odd laugh, and peered into a space that was pretending to be real. These were spaces where everyone could see each other, whether by daylight or candlelight, and the actor could just turn around and talk to the audience. So the idea that somehow the actor would erase his presence as an actor is quite silly; at the Globe reconstruction today, too, if an actor were to talk to him or herself for too long, it would seem odd and dull – , because the audience are palpably there.
Humans of the SED (HotSED) is our new series of interviews with the School’s students, alums, and staff. Here’s part two of our interview with BA Drama finalist, Martha. Click here to read part one.
Best in Bow
It’s really clichéd, but having the wealth of stuff and people and culture at my fingertips has been really valuable. But also I honestly feel like I’ve grown up so much since coming to uni, thanks to being in London.
Roman Road is my all-time favourite place in the world. I don’t think I’ll ever leave Bow. I think I’ve found my place to live now. I actually love it. It’s at the start of its regeneration process, but it’s still really, really rough and ready.
There’s a lot of locals, and a lot of OAPs, which is actually really refreshing to see, and they’re just going about their daily lives. But then you can be sitting in a nice coffee shop eating non-gluten cake on your Mac, and you look outside and there’s local people going about their daily life, which is really nice. I don’t think you get that in London any more. I feel I live in a real place. And whenever I walk down Roman Road, there’s a real sense of community, because people have lived there all their lives.
I don’t want to move from there, but it’s only going to get more expensive.
I think Bow could have a more village-y vibe than Dalston. There’s a lot of cafes popping up, and funny little gift shops. Which I’m a little bit opposed to, but I also shop in them, so I can’t be that opposed to them.
I’m definitely going to do a Masters. It was last year, I just realised – as soon as we had a break, like Christmas or Summer – I realised that I feel a bit lost without academia. I just quite like learning.
I don’t know if I’d do a Masters in Drama; I’m thinking I might do a Masters in Anthropology, like Social Anthropology. Because I think people are really interesting.
I’d love to do work in the theatrical environment, but with communities that are underprivileged. I want to make theatre a little more accessible, which sounds like a really huge aim, but I think by taking theatre out into communities and not branding it so much as ‘theatre’, we can do a lot. And by doing a Social Anthropology Masters I feel like I’d be more well-rounded to do that.
If I do a Masters or a PhD, I’d be interested in going to Goldsmiths, or maybe a different uni, to get a different identity. Because I think if you stay at the same university forever, you become a Queen Mary person, or you become a wherever person.
I do love it here; I’d either do my Masters here, then do a PhD somewhere else, or do a Masters somewhere else then come back here.
I have a real issue with the gender pay gap, which actually started in a module at uni, with Julia Bardsley – I did research into the pay gaps in lots of different industries, and also in university environments, especially the University of London, which was very eye-opening.
I think the main thing for me, as I’m on the cusp of going into the real world: the thought of not being paid as much because I’m a woman when I’m doing the same job as someone else makes me really, really angry. I think that’s such an injustice, and one that’s incredibly current.
Of course, women’s rights have really improved, but it’s one thing letting women have careers, but it’s another thing not paying them enough to support their families and to be able to live the same life as a man. I don’t understand how it’s okay.
In theory, I wouldn’t work for an employer who paid women less than men. But in practice, how do you find that out? Because wages are confidential. But if I did find out, I’d certainly have something to say about it.
Humans of the SED (HotSED) is our new series of interviews with the School’s students, alums, and staff. First up BA Drama finalist, Martha.
First memories of QM
Probably arriving into Albert Stern, which is where I lived in first year, and it was a massive house. It’s really different from every other hall, and just the sheer amount of people that would say hi to you.
You’d get the same three questions every time: “Hi, what’s your name?, what do you study?, and where do you come from?” it was really boring. And by the end of it, do you know what, I was making things up.
I loved Albert Stern. All my best friends are from there now, loved it.
Dogs of War Theatre Company
I founded – with David Loumgair – the Dogs of War Theatre Company. It’s going really well. We did an Othello adaptation called Not What I Am: Iago was a woman. Then we did a community thing in Stanley Halls in Croydon, where we got verbatim bits from the community.
We set it up so we could have more vocational skills that we developed ourselves, and because I’m interested in providing opportunities for young people.
It is a massive challenge. Because we do all the logistical stuff ourselves, which you don’t learn at uni.
Now we’ve been R&D-ing our new show, pencilled in with VAULT in November. We recently applied to Arts Council England, but unfortunately didn’t get the money; but we’ve given ourselves enough time to reapply. We’ve had some fantastic advice from the Arts Council: we’ve found them so, so helpful.
We had a rehearsed reading two nights ago, and one of the girls who was reading for a part met a very famous scientologist who’s friends with Tom Cruise. And he said “Do you want a sponsor?” ‘Cos their billionaires. So we’re like “Yes”.
We may be converted to scientology. Is it worth it for my craft?
I always wear sunglasses on my head, and people always say it’s really stupid. It also helps push my hair back, but I argue it’s only just September, and everyone’s saying we’re going to have an Indian Summer, so basically, I’m being prepared. For life.
I’m not a fashionista. Definitely not. Absolutely no. I’ve been asked this recently by someone. I’m not anything. I’m definitely not a hipster. I think I’m just…I don’t know. Does one have to put a label on oneself?
On April 29th 2015, Professor Jonathan Hope (Strathclyde) delivered our Annual Digital Humanities Lecture on ‘Books in space: hyper-dimensional reading’. The lecture can be watched in full below:
Digital tools allow us to ‘read’ vastly more text than any human could manage in a lifetime. They also allow us to make comparisons between texts, genres, and periods based on projections of those books into multi-dimensional spaces. Some have hailed the advent of ‘culturomics’ – but what kind of ‘reading’ is this, and how can we ‘read’ spaces which are beyond the imaginative capacity of human minds? I’ll consider the promise, and the opportunities, of digital methods applied to large collections of texts – and I’ll also consider how these tools and methods might change the nature of our object of study. Most of my examples will be drawn from Shakespeare and the Early Modern period.
Jonathan Hope is Professor of Literary Linguistics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. His research has consistently attempted to bring insights and techniques from linguistics to bear on literature. He has published Shakespeare’s Grammar, a systematic descriptive grammar of Shakespeare’s language, aimed at editors and literary scholars, and Shakespeare and Language, which represents the next step in this process, as it attempts to historicise concepts of language (now and in Shakespeare’s time).
In the Digital Humanities, he has been working since 2003 collaboratively with Michael Witmore and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in experimenting with the use of a computerised text analysis program, Docuscope, on Shakespeare’s texts. In 2012, he was invited by the Folger Shakespeare Library to direct a Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, funded by the NEH. The Institute brought together 20 Renaissance scholars, at varying stages of their careers, and with varying amounts of digital humanities experience, to the Folger for three weeks, to work with an outstanding group of visiting faculty on the practicalities and, most importantly, the theorisation of digital humanities in research into the Renaissance. The second iteration of this Institute will take place summer 2015.
His project, Visualising English Print brings together computer scientists and literary scholars as partners. It will break new ground in computational science, developing new techniques that better support humanist thinking. They aim to innovate in the literary sphere, showing how the introduction of computational thinking and the new tools they develop for applying it can be used to lead to new understandings of literature, language, and their development.
We are delighted to announce that three of our academics have recently been recognised in the QMSU’s Teaching Awards. Dr Natalie Pollard won the Postgraduate Teaching Award (for her teaching on the MA module ‘Forms of Modernism’); Professor Julia Boffey won the Postgraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award; and Dr Sam McBean won the Assessment and Feedback Champion Award.
Here, the three prize winners give their top tips for success:
Dr Natalie Pollard (on what makes for an effective MA class)
Interpretation, critique and dialogue as live interaction – not lonely brow-scratching! Complex ideas are read together as part of everyday life, and the social stakes of what we say and do.
A space of intellectual and creative risk-taking – of ‘serious play!’ – where learning is mutual and surprising.
Most important of all is the good – the really good – conversation.
Dr Sam McBean (on what makes good feedback)
Point to the strengths
I always try to start my feedback by summarizing for the student what I got from their piece – what the argument was, what points were made. I think it is important to let students know what stands out about their work and what they’ve managed to most clearly convey to their reader. Sometimes we might think of feedback as constructive criticism but it is just as important to outline what a piece of writing has achieved. From my experience, students respond to reading what it is that was successful about their writing and this helps them to model their future assignments on what has worked in the past.
There’s always room for improvement
No assignment is perfect! And it shouldn’t be. Students who score a 2:2 should get clear feedback on what they need to do to reach that 2:1; students who score a 2:1 should be able to understand what they need to do to get that 1st; and students who get a 1st should get feedback on how to edge their work into MA level or even towards publication. In my feedback I always try to give clear pointers on how a piece’s strengths might be brought out. For example, while I try to explain what might not have worked as well, I also often tell students where certain parts of their writing edged into a higher grade point. This gives them clear direction on not only what was less successful but also examples from their own work of what could be developed into stronger future work.
The feedback is in the detail
Students are always told to “evidence” their claims in their work – close reading, close reading, close reading! I think the same applies to lecturers when it comes to feedback. I always try to evidence my feedback by pointing to particular examples in students’ work, being clear about what I think works or where improvements could be made. Just like I tell my students to avoid vague language in their work, I try to aim for clarity in my feedback. It is through attention to detail that I think students can really achieve an understanding of their grade and the ability to work towards improving their critical writing skills.
Professor Julia Boffey (on what makes an effective PGR Supervisor)
Work *with* students to find and shape a worthwhile topic that will interest both them and you, and will enable them to play to their strengths
Keep in touch with them, even (perhaps especially?) during periods when they may not be producing written work for discussion
Keep them thinking about life beyond the PhD, as well as about completing it (what will they want to do next? how best can they be preparing for this during the PhD? what kinds of contacts/activities/training will help them prepare for what comes next?)
You can read more about the QMSU Teaching awards on their website.
The English Postgraduate Research Seminar is a series of research seminars run by PhD students in the Department of English, Queen Mary University London. The English PGRS welcomes speakers from a number of academic institutions, who come to discuss their current research-in-progress with staff and postgraduate students in the English Department. The papers are followed by a question and answer session, a drinks reception in the Lock-keeper’s Common Room, and dinner in a local restaurant.
Seminars typically take place on Thursdays at 5:15pm in the Lock-Keeper’s Cottage on Queen Mary’s Mile End campus.
The schedule for Semester 2 below is correct at time of publishing, but check the English PGRS website and their Twitter feed for updates.
Week 1 – 15. January 2015: Alexandra da Costa (Cambridge), ‘Marketing Forbidden Books and Training Illicit Readers: Evangelical Printing in the 1530s’
Week 2 – 22. January 2015: Bonnie Greer
Week 3 – 29. January 2015: David Attwell (York)
Week 4 – 05. February 2015: Chris Holmes (Ithaca College)
Week 5 – 12. February 2015: Rosanna Cox (University of Kent)
Week 6– 19. February 2015: Garrett Stewart (University of Iowa)
Week 7 – 26. February 2015: READING WEEK
Week 8– 05. March 2015: Mary Talbot
Week 9– 12. March 2015: David Herman (Durham), ‘Storytelling beyond the Human: Modelling Animal Experiences in Narrative Worlds’
Week 10– 19. March 2015: Susan Wolfson (Princeton)
Special EventWeek 11 – 25. March 2015: D.A. Miller (UC Berkeley), time & venue tbc
Week 11 – 26. March 2015: Graduate Panel tbc
Week 12– 02. April 2015: Stefan Collini (Cambridge)
QUORUM is a series of research seminars run by PhD students in the Department of Drama, Queen Mary University London. QUORUM welcomes academics, artists, professionals, and practitioners working in performance and related fields to share and discuss their recent and on-going research.
Seminars take place on Wednesdays in the ArtsOne Building, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London. All are welcome, and wine and snacks are provided.
The schedule for Semester 2 below is correct at time of publishing, but check the QUORUM website and their Twitter feed for updates and for venue information.
14 January Dr. Matthew Shlomowitz
University of Southampton ‘The Theatre of Music Making’ with performances of Matthew Shlomowitz’s work by dancer Nefili Skarmea & percussionist Serge Vuille
28 January Clark Baim
Birmingham Institute for Psychodrama Applied Theatre and Personal Narrative: Ethical and aesthetic considerations when people’s personal stories are used in performance
11 February Dr. Katie Beswick
Queen Mary, University of London The Council Estate as Hood: Grass-roots arts practice as cultural politics
4 March Dr. Jaquline Bolton, Dr. James Hudson & Dr. Agnes Woolley
University of Lincoln / Royal Holloway, University of London Joint Research Project Presentation, title tbc
11 March Dr. Michael Shane Boyle
Queen Mary, University of London Container Aesthetics, Blockade Logistics: The Logics of Innovation in Shunt’s The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face
25 March Professor Peter Boenisch
University of Kent Title tbc
Welcome to All Things SED, the new blogging platform for the School of English and Drama (SED) at Queen Mary University of London.
The School brings together two of Queen Mary’s outstanding departments: the Department of English and the Department of Drama. The School has an international reputation for its high-quality research and its excellence in teaching. The latest REF (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), ranked Drama as first in the country and English as fifth in the country (and first in London) for the quality of their research. The latest National Student Survey revealed high levels of student satisfaction: 100% of Drama students and 94% of English students were satisfied with their programmes.
All Things SED is a platform for our students and academics to blog on cultural developments and reflect on their work and practice. The site will host regular bloggers and one-off writers. We will also host SEDcasts: video and audio interviews with members of the School.
If you are interested in contributing on a regular or one-off basis, please get in touch with the All Things SED Webmaster.