Dr Henry Bell (Senior Lecturer in Perfomance) wins The Stephen Joseph Award
A huge amount! Stephen Joseph is widely regarded as the man who kick-started the theatre-in-the-round movement in the UK in the mid-20th century, so to get an award in his name is an honour. I’ve spent my working life as a theatre director working in the round (including 3 years as Associate Director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre), so I like how this award seems to bridge my experience in the industry with my work in academia. Also, even if the monetary sum is quite small, it’s great to get some external recognition for research – it can be quite a lonely experience and sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re not barking up the wrong tree!
Could you tell us a little bit more about your new book?
It is the first long study into the whole theatre-in-the-round movement since Stephen Joseph’s book in the 1960s. I’m approaching the subject from two angles – a contextual/historical approach, where I’m interviewing practitioners from around the world in how they work and, secondly, a practical approach where I am devising exercises and practice to help future theatre makers. I’m also filming some video appendices to make this even clearer. One important factor is that I’m not focussing my explorations simply on buildings – any performance in which the audience surround the action is the focus of the study, so I’m really enjoying exploring street theatre and work in ‘found spaces’ or temporary performance locations like school halls.
I was lucky enough to spend the best part of a decade directing theatre-in-the-round in a variety of contexts at the Orange Tree Theatre in London and the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. I’ve seen, first hand, the impact it has on audiences in mainstream theatre settings, community work and educational contexts. Over this period, theatre makers and teachers often asked me for resources in relation to this theatre form, but, aside from out of print books and biographies of people like Alan Ayckbourn, Stephen Joseph and Margo Jones, there is very little out there. There is also a heavy bias towards English-speaking practitioners – despite the great work that has happened, for example, in Brazil, Japan and continental Europe. I’m aiming to plug this gap!
What did you find most enjoyable/challenging about the project?
Being a theatre maker and talking to other theatre makers. People work in different ways and, as an interviewer, I have to make sure my own methods and enthusiasm don’t get in the way of building up a body of original work that documents the diversity of ways to make theatre-in-the-round. I’m learning a lot about positioning myself as an embedded researcher and acknowledging my conscious and unconscious bias.
Is there any advice you would give to a colleague about to undertake their own research project?
To get as much feedback from your colleagues within and outside of the institution. I like working at such a large and well-resourced place like Hallam: with my application for this award, for example, three colleagues from the University provided me with feedback on the draft. Also, speak to people who have been successful previously – my referee on this award was someone I knew from another institution who had been funded by the Society for Theatre Research the previous year. The advice he offered me was excellent!