Professor Frances Babbage

School of English

Professor of Theatre and Performance

Image of Frances Babbage
f.babbage@sheffield.ac.uk
+44 114 222 8479

Full contact details

Professor Frances Babbage
School of English
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
Sheffield
S3 7RA
Profile

I have always been curious about the diversity of ways in which theatrical performance can be generated, an interest I have pursued in various forms for more than 20 years. I trained with numerous companies including Forced Entertainment, Welfare State International, the Polish physical theatre company Song of the Goat, Station House Opera and Told by an Idiot: these methods have informed my teaching and creative practice, past and ongoing collaborative projects with artists and companies, and my research and writing.

A current example of such collaboration is Beware the Cat, a project combining academic research in adaptation, early modern literature and animal studies with creative dramaturgy and visual artwork, described here by journalist Arifa Akbar

I have an academic and creative research interest in practices of theatrical adaptation and rewriting, a subject I pursued at doctoral level: my PhD (at the University of Warwick) addressed the treatment of gender themes in theatrical reworking of myth and fairytale, research that resulted in a monograph, Re-visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women (Manchester University Press, 2011).

More recently, my attention turned to issues of form in adaptation, examining mediations and transformations of prose literature in performance. This research interest led to my 2018 monograph, Adaptation in Contemporary Theatre: Performing Literature (Bloomsbury Methuen), which explored prose-to-performance translations not only on the dramatic stage but beyond this in contexts such as site-specific and immersive performance, in galleries, libraries, houses and city streets.

I have long been inspired by the work of the radical Brazilian practitioner Augusto Boal, who sadly died in 2009. After training with Boal, I applied his techniques of participatory practice in a range of community contexts. My monograph Augusto Boal, a study of Boal´s theatre theory and practice, was published by Routledge in 2004 and reissued in a revised edition in 2018.

I also edited a special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review looking at the ways these kinds of techniques are being used, titled Working Without Boal: Digressions and Developments in the Theatre of the Oppressed (1995), and have published chapters on Boal’s practice elsewhere, including in Kelly Howe et. al. eds. The Routledge Companion to the Theatre of the Oppressed (Routledge 2019) and Alison Hodge ed. Actor Training (Routledge, 2009).

Research interests

At the moment, my research and writing is principally concentrated in the area of theatre and adaptation studies. Having published several articles and chapters on the subject, I examined this at greater length in my most recent monograph, Adaptation in Contemporary Theatre: Performing Literature (Bloomsbury Methuen, 2018), which includes examples of adaptation practice as diverse as a 24-hour immersive staging of David Foster Wallace’s enormous, famously ‘difficult’ novel Infinite Jest, and an actor-less, introspective experience shaped for micro-audiences in the library.

This interest in unusual and provocative juxtapositions of text and performance will also be pursued in 2020 through a dramaturgical collaboration with theatre-maker Michael Pinchbeck, leading to a trilogy of performances based on books co-authored by critic John Berger with photographer Jean Mohr.

I recently collaborated with colleagues in Early Modern Literature, Animal Studies, and Linguistics to write and perform in a stage adaptation of William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat (1553), a book regarded by many scholars as the first English novel. Our version of Beware the Cat, which combines the archaic language of the original with new visual artwork and performed ‘marginalia’, was directed by Terry O'Connor of Forced Entertainment and first presented at Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind (2018).

Beware the Cat was subsequently awarded funding to tour, and 2019 has to date seen performances at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton; at The Other Place (RSC), Stratford-Upon-Avon; and at the University of Leeds, as part of the British Animal Studies Network symposium.  Details of this ongoing project can be found here.

My research also engages with the ways in which dramatic content and form, and the experience of performance, may be used to enable audiences beyond the theatre to access hidden knowledge and retain a degree of participatory agency. With colleagues in the School of English and the Department of Computer Science, I am working at present on a project with Chatsworth House and Burn the Curtain theatre company that explores how promenade performance and digital technologies may be combined to make more visible to visitors the complex social history of this estate.

Publications

Books

  • Babbage F (2018) Adaptation in Contemporary Theatre Performing Literature. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH (2011) Re-Visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women. Manchester: Manchester University Press. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH (2004) Augusto Boal. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles

Chapters

  • Babbage F (2019) Un nuevo 'espect-actor'? Público y agencia en el performance contemporáneo [A new 'spectactor'? Audience and Agency in Contemporary Performance] In Joffre-Eichhorn HJ (Ed.), Ensayando el Despertar: Miradas movilizadoras desde el pluriverso del Teatro del Oprimido [Rehearsing our Awakening – Mobilizing perspectives from the pluriverse of the Theatre of the Oppressed] (pp. 245-257). Hamburg: Europrint. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH (2018) Staging Angela Carter In Poore B, Jones K & Dean R (Ed.), Contemporary Gothic Drama: Attraction, Consummation and Consumption on the Modern British Stage Palgrave Macmillan View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage F (2018) Staging Angela Carter, Contemporary Gothic Drama (pp. 77-98). Palgrave Macmillan UK RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage F (2004) Augusto Boal Psychology Press RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH () Alan Ayckbourn, Modern British Playwriting: the 1960s Methuen RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH () Heavy Bodies, Fragile Texts: Stage Adaptation and the Problem of Presence, Adaptation in Contemporary Culture Continuum RIS download Bibtex download
  • Babbage FH () Adapting Wilde for the Performance Classroom: 'No Small Parts', Re-Defining Adaptation Studies Scarecrow Press RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

I welcome PhD applicants who wish to undertake research in fields that include contemporary theatre practice; devising; performance documentation and archive studies; theatrical adaptation and rewriting; and applied theatres. The university supports practice-based PhDs and I am very happy to discuss practice-led applications from potential research students.

Doctoral projects I currently supervise include: contemporary theatre-making and company longevity; aerial performance as critical practice; paratext and contemporary theatre; Minimalism in the work of Richard Maxwell and the New York City Players.