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History and Theatre

History and Theatre

Tuesday 12th December, Thursday 14th December and Friday 15th December 2017

Theatre Royal Stratford East


The event is designed for PhD candidates from the disciplines of History, Literature, and Drama/Film Studies and offers training in:

a) how to translate and disseminate scholarly findings (in this case, historical research) through theatre/plays/screenplays and to identify the problems and opportunities intrinsic to this;
b) how fiction (especially plays) can be utilised as historical sources;
c) how the historical framing of fictions (especially plays) and their writers can be used to illuminate the creative process, and the complex ways in which playwrights/screenwriters relate to the histories their plays evoke.

The method of training will entail a mix of lectures by specialists, break-out seminar sessions focused on historical documents and excerpts from plays, readings of scenes from plays by professional actors, discussions with professionals involved in a particular historical play, and the charting of the process of historical research to play development, including a full production of such a play at the Bloomsbury Theatre.

Day One (led by Dr. Jeremy Krikler, historian and playwright) Theme: History, Theatre and Imagination

This focuses on the nature of the dramatic imagination of the historian and the historical imagination of the dramatist. It explores the complex ways in which historians, in effect, construct dramas of their material, imaginatively inferring motives and thought processes despite gaps in evidence, and how they construe villains and heroes, this last evidenced particularly through classic narratives of the French and Russian Revolutions. The day will also offer detailed explorations of the relationship to history of three plays – Miller’s The Crucible, Bennett’s The Madness of King George III, and Frayn’s Copenhagen. All the works will be analysed in terms of the writers’ need to depart from certain historical facts in order to make their plays possible but there will be a concerted attempt to identify those departures that can be countenanced as not interfering with historical understanding and those that cannot be so countenanced.

Day Two (led by Mona Becker, dramaturg and playwright from Leipzig) Theme: community, drama and a tortured history

This day focuses on a particular play – about a forced labour camp in the town of Altenburg in Nazi Germany. The play has emerged out of the playwright’s research into the primary sources and refracts the great questions that have haunted modern German society – regarding complicity in/knowledge of Nazi atrocity – through the experience of a particular German community, both in the past and the present. The training on this day explicitly deals with the creative process of making a play that draws upon and yet transforms historical detail, and also with the ethical questions involved in dramatizing events that confront contemporaries with a disturbing past which belongs to them.

Day Three (led by Dr. Christoph Hogsberg, literary scholar, and by Dr. Jeremy Krikler, historian and playwright) Theme:  making plays out of history, and the play as historical document

The training on this day will be conducted by both Jeremy Krikler (see below) and Dr. Christoph Hogsberg, pioneer scholar of the dramatic work of C. L. R. James and discoverer of the script of probably the most significant inter-war British play relating to black history, Toussaint Louverture – performed in the 1930s, with Paul Robeson in the title role. The workshop will explore the historical and theatrical significance of this play, its history and reception, offering a guide as to how scholars might locate a play in its complex contexts and elaborate its meanings. A primary focus will be not merely how the play relates to James’ research for his later, famous historical work about the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins, but how it relates to the inter-war politics of the Caribbean, Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism in Britain and the British Empire at this time. 

Jeremy Kriker will  offer the PhD candidates a detailed excavation of the making of a particular historical play, ‘A Peril of the Sea’. This portion of the training event will reveal in detail the link between historical research regarding the slave trade and its rendering in dramatic form. It will also offer a guide through the process by which this play was created, developed and shepherded to production by a practising historian. It will include discussions with professionals involved in the production. The training event will end with a viewing of a production of the play in ‘The Bloomsbury Theatre’.

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