Contemporary theatre-making and company longevity: technologies of creation, collaboration and remembering

The Journeys by Third Angel & SBC Photo Credit John Tomlinson

Applications are invited for a three-year, fully funded AHRC Studentship (including full fees and maintenance costs) to undertake a PhD in Theatre Studies under the joint supervision of the School of English (Theatre Workshop) at the University of Sheffield and Third Angel Theatre Company, Sheffield. The successful candidate will also be a member of the prestigious AHRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership, the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH).

For full details, please download the Collaborative Doctoral Award information pack.

General information

This Studentship provides access to the process, practice and extensive achival holdings of the renowned Sheffield-based theatre company Third Angel, together with full participation in the postgraduate life of the School of English at the University of Sheffield and vibrant research culture of the School, Faculty and University. The appointed researcher will come away from the award with: a) original research that sheds new light on the processes of making, touring and recording theatre; and b) a skill set that enables them to move fluently between universities and arts organisations, and which will also be applicable in the job market beyond an arts or academic context. Pursuing a doctorate in collaboration with Third Angel will give the appointed researcher the opportunity to contribute practically to the development of the company’s new works in theatre, performance and installation, and the touring of repertoire shows. Researchers will be able to gain experience in their own areas of interest, which might include: dramaturgy, devising and writing techniques, planning and leading workshops and education projects, production management, technical theatre, stage management, and arts administration. They will have access to Third Angel’s archive of materials from over 23 years of original performance projects, plus opportunity to interview Third Angel artists and regular collaborators. In addition, the researcher will be invited to curate post-show discussions, to help organise and contribute to an open symposium on artistic practice and company longevity (planned for 2020-21) and to write for Third Angel’s blog, meaning that they will gain invaluable experience in aspects of public engagement as well as in academic research.

The project will be jointly supervised by Professor Frances Babbage at the University of Sheffield and Dr Alexander Kelly, joint Artistic Director of Third Angel.

Time Frame and Qualifications

The Studentship will run from October 2019 for 3 years full-time, or 6 years part-time. By the time of taking up the award, the successful applicant will have achieved (or be confidently predicted imminently to achieve) a Master’s degree with distinction, and/or will be able to demonstrate equivalent excellence in work experience or other achievements.

The project

Context: The 21st century is proving a troubled context for small-scale touring theatre, with industry professionals frequently terming this system ‘broken’. A production and touring model favoured by the industry that assumes an extended period of Research & Development, work-in-progress showings, a premiere, and touring months or even years later, might help to create richer, more developed performance projects, but also makes huge financial and personal demands on artists and equally, on collectives. It has served to build a climate of (sometimes unhealthy) competition, resisted from the inside but still meaning that companies frequently lose members over time, adopt solo Artistic Director models, reduce their output, or fold. Compared to the number who set up each year, few companies last a decade, let alone two: thus those like Third Angel who have kept going (in their case, from 1995) with a stable core membership since inception are a remarkable exception and not the rule.

Research Focus: This Studentship is designed to examine what makes longevity – both creative and logistical - achievable for a small-scale theatre company in this context and to deepen understanding of the challenges, risks and values attached to this for artists and audiences. The researcher will explore what it means to ‘read’ successive phases of company creativity through a period marked not just by changing economic and cultural conditions, but by altered personal circumstances and familial priorities. Typically, critical analysis of the arts will ‘bracket out’ such factors; by contrast, the research undertaken for this Studentship will be original in interrogating the ways in which creative process and its outcomes change and age with the artists themselves. Thus a key hypothesis that the investigative process will test is that artistic practice is as much about ‘somewhere’ and ‘sometime’ as it is about ‘something’. The Studentship also proceeds from the assumption that in the practice of artists, both the archive (a formal container for ‘inscribed’ and supposedly enduring documents/artefacts) and the repertoire (a non-archival system of ‘incorporated’ knowledge transfer by means of apparently ephemeral actions, languages and behaviours) constitute valuable, interdependent sites of knowledge-making.

Research Questions that underpin the Studentship include:

  • How does longevity in collaboration impact on the preoccupations, aesthetics, processes and touring mechanisms of a small-scale theatre company? Is endurance always a virtue?
  • How far does company practice over decades reflect the changing life priorities of its members? Should ‘circumstantial’ factors be disregarded when evaluating output or is context inseparable from practice? To what extent can a devising company’s career be read as a single process with multiple outputs – and what implications does that have for audiences?
  • What different kinds of knowledge are accumulated over time and how are these manifest in projects and ways of working?
  • How have changes in funding since the 1990s affected the operations and freedoms of theatre companies? Where membership stays stable, how has this permanence been sustained?

Dependent on the interests of the candidate, further Research Questions may include:

  • Given that Third Angel has developed a loyal audience in Sheffield, and also to a certain extent Leeds and Newcastle, who have ‘grown up’ with the company, do these audiences view projects as chapters in a longer narrative? Do they see changes in the work over time?
  • How might Third Angel’s methodology of ‘collecting’ and ‘retelling’ be regarded in the light of company longevity?
  • What relationships exist between the knowledge contained in Third Angel’s archive (in scripts, recordings, applications, notes towards unrealised projects) and the knowledge held by its members (in exercises, rehearsal ‘shorthand’, the implicit dialogue between projects)?
  • How far will the research produced allow us to draw general conclusions re the implications of company longevity for artistic content and production?

The research process will begin with the primary evidence of theatre company practice and its archival record, supported by secondary and theoretical reading relevant to the field of enquiry. The supervisors are interested to hear what personal and specific resonances applicants find in this territory. Once the project is underway, there is considerable room to shape the precise research questions of the study according to individual preferences within the designated area.

Supervision and Support

The appointed researcher will be attached both to the School of English at the University of Sheffield, where Professor Babbage is based, and to Third Angel theatre company (Harland Works, Sheffield), where Dr Kelly will be responsible for the project. While it will sometimes be appropriate for the researcher to meet with just one of the co-supervisors, to ensure the critical coherence of the project there will be regular meetings of the researcher with Professor Babbage and Dr Kelly together. It is anticipated that during the period of the doctorate the researcher may choose to spend much of their time working with Third Angel, where they will be provided with desk space, access to rehearsals/meetings, access to the archive, and other such resources as are needed to conduct the study. However, it is understood that in different phases of the project’s progress the researcher may spend more time at one site than the other.

The researcher will also participate in the graduate training programmes run by the University of Sheffield, as well as that provided by the AHRC-funded White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) of which the successful candidate will also be a member. Sheffield offers a wide range of relevant research seminar series, symposia, conferences and festivals which run throughout the year. The appointed researcher will be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities these present in order to ensure that their own academic professional profile develops strongly through the course of the Studentship.

How to Apply

This Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) Studentship is open to UK nationals, or EU nationals who have resided in the UK for three years or more.

Please note that this is a two-stage application process. To be considered for this CDA, all interested candidates must first apply by email to the CDA supervisors, Professor Frances Babbage and Dr Alexander Kelly. The internal deadline for your first stage application is Monday December 3rd 2018 by 12.00. Your application should be sent by email to Professor Frances Babbage (f.babbage@sheffield.ac.uk) and should consist of:

i. a PERSONAL STATEMENT of 600-800 words clearly setting out your evolving academic interests, aspirations, specific interest in this particular doctoral project, and what particular experiences or skills you would bring to the position;

ii. details of your degree results to date, and where possible an academic transcript;

iii. one piece of your academic writing (e.g. coursework essay, dissertation, or article);

iv. names and contact details for two referees who will be able to provide a reference by the time of the interview on 10th/11th December if required.

Interviews for shortlisted candidates will be held on Monday December 10th and Tuesday 11th 2018 (you will only be called on one of those dates).

Following interviews, the selected candidate will work closely with the supervisors to prepare a formal application:

(i) for a PhD place at the University of Sheffield (necessary before being presented to WRoCAH);
(ii) for entry into the main WRoCAH 2019 Studentships Competition (which closes at 5.00pm on Wednesday 23rd January 2019).

For more information about this project, please contact:

Date of interviews
December 10th and 11th 2018

Please note that this is a two-stage application process. To be considered for this Collaborative Doctoral Award, all interested candidates must first apply by email to the CDA supervisors, Professor Frances Babbage and Dr Alexander Kelly. The internal deadline for your first stage application is Monday December 3rd 2018 by 12.00. Please also refer to the details of the award and application process as set out by WRoCAH: http://wrocah.ac.uk/new-student/2019-cda/