Monday, March 16, 2009

Ephemeral and archival Material Texts: research in FTT

Material Text research in FTT

Interest in the Material Text in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television develops from our research on detailed analysis of plays, performances, films and television programmes. Texts like these are material (concrete, physical) though sometimes ephemeral and not preserved. Some of these texts do have preserved material forms, like written versions, videotapes or rolls of film. There are many kinds of material record in written form, such as documents detailing how films or TV programmes were devised and made. So our research includes archival work on the written records of theatre, film and television, or translation of drama scripts. Colleagues also document theatre performance as a research method for exploring how performance (often ephemeral) works as communication (creating a material relationship between audience and performance). I have pasted an annotated list of some publications and performances dealing with these issues below, and underneath is a list of some recent research grants based on Material Text resources.

A few recent publications/performances addressing material aspects of film, theatre or television

Bignell, J., ‘Beckett at the BBC: The production and reception of Samuel Beckett’s plays for television’. In L. Ben-Zvi (ed.), Drawing on Beckett: Portraits, Performances, and Cultural Contexts (Tel Aviv: University of Tel Aviv Press, 2003), pp.165-182. Archival study of how BBC courted Samuel Beckett and produced his plays for television.

Bull, J., “Serjeant Musgrave dances to a different tune: John McGrath and John Arden”, in D. Bradby and S. Capon (eds), Freedom’s Pioneer: John McGrath’s Work in Theatre, Film and Television (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005), pp.39-54. Consideration of the relationship between the two texts, relying heavily on unpublished manuscript material.

Butler, A., ‘Feminist film in the gallery: If 6 Was 9’, Camera Obscura 58 (2005), 1-31.
Analysis of a three-screen work by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, analysing multiple projection as the material form of film exhibition of art film.

Gibbs J. and D. Pye (eds), Close Up 1: Filmmakers’ Choices, The Pop Song in Narrative Film, Reading Buffy (London: Wallflower, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006). Publication on the close analysis of film and television including Gibbs’s essay 'Filmmakers’ Choices', exploring the consequences of directors' decision-making through analyses of seven films.

Knox, S., ‘Five’s Finest: The import of CSI to British television’‚,in M. Allen (ed.), Reading CSI: Crime Television Under the Microscope (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp.183-97. Discusses the circulation of TV programming through trade fairs, and the buying practices of television channels in Europe.

Murjas, T., The Morality of Mrs Dulska (Exeter: Intellect, 2007). The first English critical edition of a Polish play, locating the playwright within histories of European modernism and performance history, with documentation of processes of translating and directing the play.

Taylor, L., Research performance: Eden Cinema by Marguerite Duras, directed by L. Taylor, performed at the University of Reading (2005). A rarely performed French Modernist drama whose staging problems and critical issues of post-colonialism, family and gender were foregrounded in this multimedia production.

Thorpe, A., ‘Only joking? The relationship between the clown and percussion in Jingju’, Asian Theatre Journal, 22:2 (2005) 269-92. Documentation of musical techniques utilised by the clown actor in Beijing opera.

Thorpe, A., The Role of the Clown in Traditional Chinese Drama (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007). Study on a specific role type from traditional Chinese theatre, combining discussions of theatre historiography, translation, ethnomusicology, anthropology and acting techniques.

Grants held by FTT colleagues, using Material Text research resources

Jonathan Bignell, with Jonathan Dronsfield, Martin Andrews (RA Bill Prosser) Leverhulme Trust, ‘Beckett and the Phenemomenology of Doodles’, 2006- 9. Value £147k. Research and artistic practice based on Beckett’s manuscripts held at Reading.

Derek Paget, with Jonathan Bignell, Lib Taylor (RA Heather Sutherland) AHRC, ‘Acting with Facts’, 2007-10. Value £300k. Uses interviews and archival documents to study modes of performance in fact-based TV and theatre productions.

Graham Saunders, with John Bull and colleagues from V&A Museum. ‘Giving Voice to the Nation’, AHRC, 2009-13. Value £800k. Archival research into Arts Council documents about the funding of theatre in the UK.

Jonathan Bignell

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old texts and new readers

Adam's posting on traces made me think about how texts are reused but still carry traces of previous forms and contexts. This image is of a page from a small book I found in a secondhand bookshop. It has no date, but was printed in London, and looks to be c1800. It is a Natural History of Birds & Fishes, and seems to have been intended for non-expert readers. Inside the front cover is the signature Fanny, in what might be a child's copper-plate handwriting; and there are pencil scribbles and outlines around several of the engravings. The book is also small - only 14cms x 9cms. 'Traces' appear in several forms. Firstly, the plates were designed for a larger book, and some are turned on their side to fit this little book. Secondly, both the illustrations and the descriptions carry traces of much older books and texts. The entry on the Torpedo has information in common with medieval Bestiaries, which borrowed it from classical authors like Pliny. Bestiaries and early-modern works on natural philosophy incorporated Pliny's view that the Torpedo is an antaphrodisiac, and that it aids in parturition when the Moon is in Libra. This has been edited out of the simplified text here - but the old information on the strength of the Torpedo's power to shock is still being presented to new readers. And the engraving, like that of the Dolphin, reuses (very) old images.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I've been looking at traces left by objects in seventeenth-century books. Here's one: the rust marks from a once-present pair of scissors, left between the pages of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I, in his First Folio (1623). I like this image for all kinds of reasons. The scissors perhaps once belonged to a binder, and so this image suggests the material production of the First Folio – the labour that is behind the book, any book, a labour that is largely effaced by that familiar myth of disembodied artistic creation. I also like the image because it vividly conveys a sense of something that is no longer there – and illustrates that, for a thing to be felt as lost, a trace needs to remain. I also like the way that the scissor marks suggest other shapes: a swinging pendulum, for example. Perhaps, more than anything, it's a compelling image because it records a potentially destructive instrument resting within early modern literature’s most valued book.