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Jo Robinson

Associate Professor in Drama and Performance, Faculty of Arts

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Expertise Summary

My areas of research expertise are theatre history and historiography; theories of reception and the study of audiences; the digital humanities, and nineteenth and twentieth/twenty-first century theatre and performance with a particular focus on the relationships between place, space, community and region.

I regularly engage in collaborative projects with creative industries, libraries and heritage organisations:

  • I have been awarded three AHRC collaborative doctoral awards for PhD students to work with Nottingham Playhouse, New Perspectives Theatre Company, and the British Library.
  • I am currently working with Theatre Royal Nottingham on a series of major research and outreach activities focused on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the theatre in 1865.
  • I curated an exhibition. 'Playing Around: Taking Theatre to Communities across the East Midlands', with the University's Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, January to May 2015.
  • I worked with the Malt Cross Music Hall in Nottingham as part of the University's 'Assets, Archives and Audiences' project supported by the AHRC's Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange fund in 2013
  • My 'Mapping the Moment: Performance Culture in Nottingham 1857-67 project , which ran from 2006-09, involved close liaison with regional libraries and museums

I am also interested in innovative practice and research in teaching and learning, with particular focus on assessment and feedback and work related learning. I was awarded a Lord Dearing Teaching Award by the University in 2010: the nomination, made by a student, recognises 'the real confidence, motivation and ambition encouraged in students by way of outstanding attention to individuals'.

As Director of Teaching in the School of English from 2011-13 I headed the following projects:

  • University of Nottingham Teaching and Learning Strategic Fund project, 'Enhancing feedback'
  • HEA Departmental Teaching Development Grant project, 'Embedding employability in English: work related learning and reflection in the creative industries'
  • University of Nottingham Teaching Development Fund project, 'Rethinking assessment through TESTA'.

Outreach and Public Engagement

In addition to my collaborative research work with regional creative industry partners I have given lectures at the Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham Contemporary and to local history societies on my work on Nottingham's theatrical history.

Teaching Summary

I contribute to core and optional modules in drama at undergraduate level, where my research interests in theatre history and contemporary theatre practices, theatre audiences, and place, space and… read more

Research Summary

My research falls into three main areas:

  • In a development of my past work on nineteenth-century performance culture in Nottingham (see below) I am leading a major collaborative project with Theatre Royal Nottingham building on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Theatre Royal in 2015. Since 2014 I have been working with the Theatre Royal to develop ways of exploring and sharing their archival history, resulting in a number of events and projects including drawing on AHRC Creative Economy Knowledge Exchange funding for an initial mapping of potential impacts. As one of the key cultural locations in the city, the Theatre Royal is ideally placed as a potential gateway for heritage learning; working with them and colleagues from the University's Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, I am currently developing a new strategy and approach to preserving, curating and sharing the heritage of this venue supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. AHRC Follow on Funding has just been awarded to support sharing of the project's approach with other creative and cultural organisations within Nottingham.
  • 'Changing Communities: performance, engagement and place', is a major project on theatre and community in the East Midlands from 1973, the year in which both Nottingham Playhouse's Theatre in Education Company Roundabout and the Perspectives Theatre Company (now New Perspectives) were founded in the region. Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews, this project aims to map and analyse the complex interrelationships between community, place, repertoire, funding and engagement in relation to two very different companies both of whom place connection with community and place at the heart of their mission. This research has so far resulted in the book Theatre & the Rural, published as part of Palgrave's cutting-edge Theatre & series in 2016; the article '"Outside of everything and eveybody": renegotiating place in the classroom' in Research in Drama Education and an exhibition, 'Local Acts: Theatre and Communities in the East Midlands', at the Lakeside Arts Centre in 2015 which drew on the archives of both companies and my ongoing research.
  • An ongoing focus of my research is theatre historiography: reflecting on the methods of theatre history and the modes of its writing. My 2015 edited collection, Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth (Palgrave), co-authored with Clare Cochrane, has led to an invitation from Bloomsbury to co-edit the 150,000 word Bloomsbury Companion to Theatre History and Historiography (forthcoming, 2018).

Selected Publications

My areas of expertise for supervision of research are theatre history and historiography; theories of reception and the study of audiences; the digital humanities, and nineteenth and twentieth/twenty-first century theatre and performance with a particular focus on the relationships between place, space and community.

My recent and current research students include:

  • Gill Brigg, holder of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, who completed her collaborative project with the Nottingham Playhouse, 'Performance for audiences with profound and multiple learning difficulties: performances & reception'.
  • Mathilda Branson, holder of our second AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, who has just completed a collaborative project with New Perspectives Theatre Company, East Midlands' leading rural touring company, on a project 'The Horizons of Rural Touring: Re-Imaging the Rural Tour'.
  • Sam Haddow, who joined the School as a Postgraduate Teaching Fellow, whose thesis, 'Playing with the past: the politics of historiographic theatre', focused on historiographic drama in the context of debates around history and postmodernity. Sam is now Lecturer in Theatre at the University of St Andrews.
  • Soudabeh Ananisarab, whose thesis, 'George Bernard Shaw and the English Midlands', focused on Shaw's involvement with the Malvern Festival. Soudabeh is now Lecturer in Drama at Birmingham City University.
  • Hannah Manktelow, holder of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership award from the British Library, who is currently completing her thesis on 'Provincial Shakespeares'.
  • Andy Barrett, Artistic Director of Excavate, a community and participatory arts company in the East Midlands, who is working on the role of the playwright in the creation of community plays.

Previous research students include Dr Heather Lilley, who worked on Community and Negotiations of Audience-Performance Relationships in the Theatre of Cartoon de Salvo, Kneehigh Theatre and Northern Stage, and is now Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Greenwich, and Dr Jill Sullivan, who worked on The Business of Pantomime in Nineteenth Century Nottingham and Birmingham, and is now an AHRC-funded postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Exeter.

I contribute to core and optional modules in drama at undergraduate level, where my research interests in theatre history and contemporary theatre practices, theatre audiences, and place, space and memory are reflected in my lectures and seminars on nineteenth and twentieth/twenty-first century theatre and performance.

Undergraduate modules taught

I currently teach on the first year module 'Introduction to Drama', and contribute to thesecond year module 'Theatre from the long twentieth century'.

In the third year I convene and co-teach the new module, 'Performing the Nation: British Theatre since 1980', which examines the ways in which theatre writing and practice has reflected and engaged with questions of national, regional and local identity from Thatcher to the current day.

Innovative practice in teaching and learning

I am focused on developing excellent and innovative practice and research in teaching and learning, with particular focus on assessment and feedback and work related learning. I was awarded a Lord Dearing Teaching Award by the University in 2010: the nomination, made by a student, recognises 'the real confidence, motivation and ambition encouraged in students by way of outstanding attention to individuals'.

As Director of Teaching in the School of English from 2011-13 I headed the following projects:

Past Research

My interest in mapping and connectivity builds on a substantial project on Victorian theatre and entertainment in Nottingham and the East Midlands undertaken with major Arts and Humanities Research Council funding in 2006-09. The 'Mapping Performance Culture: Nottingham 1857-1867' project investigated the performance and entertainment culture of the regional town of Nottingham in the mid-nineteenth-century. In a collaboration with Dr Gary Priestnall from the School of Geography we have developed an interactive map of Nottingham which enables the user to find out about the kinds of performances and entertainments which were happening in the town, and about the audiences who might have attended those performances. Working in partnership with local archives, museums and libraries, the site enables digital access to a large amount of material on entertainment and social culture which has been previously difficult to access, collected from newspapers, diaries, playbills and other sources, and brings new methodologies to researching the interrelationships of both repertoire and spectatorship in theatre history.

Please visit the Mapping Performance Culture website to watch a film about this project.

My PhD thesis - and a number of published articles resulting from that doctoral research - focused on areas of theatre and performance from a feminist perspective. It revisited the history of hysteria in order to re-centre attention on the symptomatic acts of the performing body on stage in performances ranging from nineteenth century melodrama through Ibsen to contemporary feminist works. I therefore have ongoing interests in representations of madness in theatre in past and contemporary works, in gender and performance, and in the history of acting, particularly on the nineteenth century stage.

  • ROBINSON, J., 2016. Theatre & the Rural Palgrave.
  • ROBINSON, J., 2016. ‘“Outside of everything and everybody”: renegotiating place in the classroom’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. 21(2), 214-228
  • COCHRANE, C. and ROBINSON, J., eds., 2015. Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth Palgrave Macmillan.
  • COCHRANE, C. and ROBINSON, J., 2015. Introduction. In: COCHRANE, C. and ROBINSON, J., eds., Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth Palgrave Macmillan.
  • ROBINSON, J. and SUTHERLAND, L., 2013. Congregations, Audiences, Actors: Religious performance and the individual in mid-19th-century Nottingham. In: CLAIRE MARIA CHAMBERS, SIMON W. DU TOIT and JOSHUA EDELMAN, eds., Performing Religion in Public Palgrave Macmillan.
  • ROBINSON, J., PRIESTNALL, G., TYLER-JONES, R. and BURGESS, R., 2011. Mapping the moment: A spatio-temporal interface for studying performance culture, Nottingham, 1857–1867 International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing. 5(2), 103-126
  • ROBINSON, J., 2010. Mapping the place of pantomime in a Victorian town. In: DAVIS, J., ed., Victorian pantomime: a collection of critical essays Palgrave Macmillan. 137-154
  • ROBINSON, J., 2010. Mapping the field: moving through landscape Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts. 15(4), 86-96
  • ROBINSON, J, 2007. Becoming more provincial?: The global and the local in theatre history New Theatre Quarterly. 23(3), 229-40
  • ROBINSON, J.K., 2007. The actress as manager. In: GALE, M.B. and STOKES, J., eds., The Cambridge companion to the actress Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 157-172
  • ROBINSON, J.K., 2004. Mapping performance culture: locating the spectator in theatre history Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film. 31(1), 3-17
  • TOWNSEND-ROBINSON, J.K., 2003. Expressing the unspoken: hysterical performance as radical theatre Women's Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal. 32(5), 533-557
  • ROBINSON, J.K., 2003. Victorian Nottingham: mapping theatrical culture In: Shifting Scenes: Theatre Histories beyond London.
  • TOWNSEND, J.K., 2001. Elizabeth Robins: hysteria, politics and performance. In: GALE, M.B. and GARDNER, V., eds., Women, theatre and performance: new histories, new historiographies Manchester: Manchester University Press. 102-120
  • TOWNSEND, J.K., 2000. Re-membering the Performing Body: Hysteria, Memory and Performance in Portrait of Dora and Augustine (Big Hysteria) Performance Research. 5(3), 125-131
  • TOWNSEND, J.K., 1996. Aftermath: Rodney Ackland's The Pink Room. In: HOWARD, T. and STOKES, J., eds., Acts of War: The Representation of Military Conflict on the British Stage and Television since 1945 Aldershot : Scolar Press.

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