Professor Frances Babbage

Contact

Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
Sheffield
S3 7RA


Overview

I joined the School of English at Sheffield University in 2007, having previously taught at Leeds University and the University of Northampton.

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

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.


Teaching 

I teach on the undergraduate English & Theatre programme as well as the MA in Theatre & Performance Studies. My undergraduate modules include LIT241 Adaptation: Theory and Practice; EGH223 Radical Texts: Transforming Performance, 1920s to the Present; LIT3048 Women Playwrights on the International Stage, 1880s-1930s. At Masters level, I regularly teach or co-teach LIT6017 Theatre Practice 1, LIT6015 Theatre Practice 2 and LIT6036 Issues in Contemporary Performance.


Supervision

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.

Publications

Books
  • Babbage, Frances. Adaptation in Contemporary Theatre: Performing Literature. London & New York: Bloomsbury Methuen. 2018.
  • Babbage, Frances. Re-Visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press. 2011.
  • Babbage, Frances. Augusto Boal. London & New York: Routledge. 2004.
Edited journal issues
  • Babbage, Frances, Dubow, Jessica & Steadman-Jones, Richard eds. 2013. An Archive of Exile.  Parallax special issue: An Archive of Exile. 19: 4.
  • Babbage, Frances. Working Without Boal: Digressions and Developments in the Theatre of the Oppressed. Special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review, 3:1. 1995.
Articles and chapters
  • Babbage, Frances. 2019. ‘New York and After: Gassner, Realism and "the Method".’ Eds. Kelly Howe, Julian Boal, José Soeiro. The Routledge Companion to Theatre of the Oppressed.  London & New York: Routledge.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2018. ‘Staging Angela Carter.’ Eds. Kelly Jones, Benjamin Poore & Robert Dean. Contemporary Gothic Drama. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2018. ‘A new “Spect-Actor”? Audience and Agency in Contemporary Performance.’ Eds. Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn et.al., The Theatre of the Oppressed: Bolivia and Beyond.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2017. ‘How Books Matter: Theatre, Adaptation and the Life of Texts.’ Ed. Tomasz Wisniewski, Between Page and Stage: Between. Pomiędzy. Gdansk: The University of Gdansk Press.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2017.‘Remediating the book to the stage.’ Ed. Kara Reilly, Contemporary Approaches to Adaptation in Theatre. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. August 2017.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2016. ‘Active Audiences: spectatorship as research practice.’ Studies in Performance 36: 1, 48-51.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2015. ‘Adaptation and Storytelling in the Theatre.’ Critical Stages/Scène Critiques 12, Dec 2015. 
  • Babbage, Frances. 2013. ‘The Animate Cabinet: Engaging (with) Archives in the Gallery.’ Parallax special issue: An Archive of Exile. 19:4 
  • Babbage, Frances. 2012. ‘Alan Ayckbourn.’ Steve Nicholson ed. Decades of British Playwriting: the 1960s. London & New York: Methuen.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2010. ‘Adapting Wilde for the Performance Classroom: No Small Parts.’ Babbage, Frances with Robert Neumark Jones and Lauren Williams. Lawrence Raw & Dennis Cutchins eds. Re-defining Adaptation Studies. Maryland: Scarecrow Press. 1-16.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2010. ‘Augusto Boal: an appreciation.’ Short essay to mark the death of practitioner Augusto Boal. Contemporary Theatre Review 20: 1. 129-31.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2010. ‘Say the Word: “Non”’. Parallax 16: 3, 118-128. Co-authored with Steve Nicholson, Bill McDonnell and Terry O’Connor.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2009. ‘Augusto Boal’. Alison Hodge ed. Actor Training. London & New York: Routledge. 305-23.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2009. ‘Points and Practices: Augusto Boal.’ Co-authored essay with James Thompson, Jan Cohen-Cruz, David Diamond, Tim Wheeler & Paul Dwyer. RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. 423-48.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2009. ‘Heavy Bodies, Fragile Texts: Stage Adaptation and the Problem of Presence.’ Rachel Carroll ed. Adaptation in Contemporary Culture: Textual Infidelities. London & New York: Continuum. 11-22.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2007. ‘Making the Net Work: Connecting Theatre for Development Practices in India.’ Seagull Theatre Quarterly (the national quarterly for theatre in India), No. 39. 11-18.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2005. ‘The play of surface: theatre and The Turn of the Screw.’ Comparative Drama 39: 2. 131-56.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2005. ‘Putting your self on the line: ethical choices in research and writing.’ Paper given at PALATINE/University of Sheffield conference Whose Theatre (History) is it Anyway? A forum on the ethics of radical theatre practice, 25th February 2005. 
  • Babbage, Frances. 2002. ‘Performing Love: a week’s discourse with Forced Entertainment’, in Practice as Research: Contemporary Theatre Review 12:4. 63-76.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2002. ‘The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella: concerning a Narrative containing much that is Dramatic, and in which an Audience is expected to be extremely interested (and in which the Footnotes are not the least Part).’ Studies in Theatre and Performance 21:3. 150-161.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2000. ‘The Past in the Present: a response to Stan's Cafe's staging of The Carrier Frequency’New Theatre Quarterly 16:1. 97-99.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2009. ‘Heavy Bodies, Fragile Texts: Stage Adaptation and the Problem of Presence.’ Rachel Carroll ed. Adaptation in Contemporary Culture: Textual Infidelities. London & New York: Continuum. 11-22.
  • Babbage, Frances. 2000. ‘Leaving the labyrinth: Hella Haasse's A Thread in the Dark’. Modern Drama 153:1. 120-129.
  • Babbage, Frances. 1999. ‘The rusalka reborn: Zinaida Gippius' Sacred Blood.’ New Comparison 27/28. 150-159.