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March Newsletter

Adapting Plays for Students by Steven Dykes

On the American Theatre Arts programme Steven shapes dramaturgical material for a production to the make-up of the student cohort. This is because there are more female than male students in any given year. This presents challenges because all female American plays are not always suitable and there are a limited number of them. One year Steven decided to create his own material to expand the available repertoire of plays. That year’s students had just spent a year in Texas for their placement and were studying how European and American theatre influenced each other. With this in mind Steven wrote an American version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba entitled Homestead. The students who performed in it went on to form The Shady Dolls theatre company upon graduation and produced Homestead at the Courtyard theatre, Covent Garden.
Oberon were approached to see if they would consider publishing it but Steven had not secured the rights from the Lorca estate to adapt it at that time. He did, however, produce Homestead again in 2013 at RBC and as a professional production, and so he started to think again about getting it published. Niamh Dowling told Steven that her father had been a professional playwright and used a private company to publish his plays and encouraged him to do the same. Steven was weary of doing this because of the stigma attached to self-publishing. But by that point Steven realised that Homestead was a useful teaching tool and so it didn’t need to go beyond an experiment in adaptation based in the College. Printing twenty or so copies would be a worthwhile exercise for them to be used as ATA resources. Having the plays professionally published also gave them a degree of legitimacy and engendered respect from the students when they were studying them.

Steven has repeated this process with Strange Fruit, a play based on The Cherry Orchard. He describes adapting Chekhov into an African-American milieu in his article ‘Strange Fruit: Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in the Deep South’. Steven’s adaptation process begins by taking a dramaturgical insight into existing plays for the performers. The necessity to have an attitude to the texts is reflected in the designers’ work on the productions; Steven often integrates video projection into live performances for very specific purposes.The notion of vanity publishing is becoming an outdated idea given the popularity of authors to publish new works as e-publications. Moreover, once the novel or play exists as a physical artefact it is much more likely to be picked up by a publisher.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Editing by Professor Paul Fryer

In the first research seminar in 2015 Paul told the group that he had decided not to write any more books by himself because he prefers collaborating with other authors. Since then he has published one article, two conference papers, one book and is close to completing a second. The books concern the actress Eleanora Duse and the portrayal of film composers in cinema; the former is a co-edited venture and the latter is sole edited. Paul’s most recent experience of editing has led him to change his position once again and has decided that these two books will be his last edited collections. The decision came about due to issues concerning commitment from the commissioned authors. It is now relatively commonplace for authors to withdraw from the process at any time. One author in the Duse book disappeared for six months, despite Paul’s dogged attempts to contact him. Eventually Paul learnt the reason for the lack of contact (the author withdrew on medical grounds) but the fact remained that without the essay the book was too short for publication. Fortunately, his co-editor found a replacement in Italy, but this was down to more luck than judgement. Moreover, over the course of producing the Duse book five authors have dropped out, two of whom cannot be found. Paul is close to resolving these issues but has had to extend the deadline of the publication.

Having spoken to other authors it is clear there is an epidemic of author drop outs in the academic sector. This is a significant problem given the strict guidelines publishers impose. Most publishers commission work because they are interested in the final product an author or editor is going to deliver. Publications have to meet a minimum content requirement, which is usually in the region of 70,000 words. Once they have an idea of when a book is going to be complete a publication date will be entered into their production schedule. Another slot has to be found if any problems occur in this process. This can significantly delay the final publication, and has consequences for an institution about to submit to the REF. The relationship between an author and a publisher can also suffer. Given the economic pressures on the publishing industry it is rare for authors to receive advances, and when they do it is often for a very specific reason, such as securing the rights to use photographs. Royalties have also dropped in value; publishers generally offer five per cent on print books and ten-fifteen per cent on e-books. Some publishers expect authors to copy-edit their own text, including indexing, lay outs and even jacket design. Authors and editors tend to work on a goodwill basis and it is therefore vital for authors to demonstrate their commitment to an enterprise. As Professor Bella Merlin recently told Paul, “Books don’t write themselves, you know”.

Publishing Your First Article by Dr Joseph Dunne

Performance Research are publishing an article Joseph wrote with Anna Makrzanowska entitled ‘Poor Traces of the Room: The Live Archive at the Library’. The article discusses the installation The Live Archive they directed at last year’s symposium as part of the Kantor Is Here events. Joseph and Anka argue that knowledge contained in the physical objects libraries hold becomes live when it is accessed and applied by readers. In the article, Kantor pedagogy at Rose Bruford is framed as a methodology for transmitting knowledge about Kantor’s theatre and as an experimental process in applying his theories in new contexts.
Writing the article was something of a rite of passage for Joseph. This is his first full length published article he has written since he completed his PhD. He was humbled when he learnt who the other contributing authors were; some of the names he has known since studying drama at GCSE. The theme of the edition the article will be appearing in is also close to his heart – On Libraries. Joseph worked at Peckham public library for over three years when he was studying for his PhD and experienced first-hand what a vital public service they provide.

The experience of co-authoring an article is not always straightforward given the differences in writing styles all authors have. When Joseph was editing the article he strove to create a coherent and unified authorial voice. This is an important stage in the editing process because it ensures the greatest clarity of argument. Joseph was also minded to maintain the integrity of Anka’s writing because of her specialist knowledge of the history and teaching of Kantor. The task was to contextualise this with Joseph’s theories of archiving and performance documentation. The article is a pertinent example of a practice research process originating from pedagogy and exemplifies the innovative work being undertaken at the college.


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