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Jo Robinson

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 am currently working with Theatre Royal Nottingham and nearly 70 volunteers on a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project. This aims to enable the much-needed cataloguing and organisation of the venue's own archive, and to bring together key documents and stories from repositories across the city in order to create a resource generated by the public for the public, to professional standards of scholarship. Our ambition is to create an easily accessible digital forum for engaging with the venue's heritage, through which users can explore the multiplicity of narratives which weave together to tell the story of over 150 years of the Theatre's life in Nottingham.
  • An AHRC Follow on Funding for Impact and Engagement award is now supporting my work with UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature and a number of literary and heritage organisations across the city to share, test and develop the model of citizen scholarship that underpins the Theatre Royal project in order to enable those organisations to share their own narratives and histories with a wider audience.
  • I am currently leading an AHRC/EPSRC Next Generation of Immersive Experiences project with colleagues from Computer Sciences and Languages in collaboration with Red Earth Theatre Company to develop inclusive integrated immersive theatre for deaf audience members across a spectrum of hearing impairment from D/deaf to partially hearing. Working together through a series of iterative workshops and events, the project will explore the potential for the use of cheap or freely available immersive technologies to support further development of integrated inclusiveness for deaf audiences in small scale touring productions. It will develop prototype approaches that can be shared with other companies and venues as well as - potentially - signposting opportunities to develop similar approaches with other groups with different accessibility needs.
  • 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 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, recognised 'the real confidence, motivation and ambition encouraged in students by way of outstanding attention to individuals'. In 2017 I was Runner Up in Best All-Rounder category in the University of Nottingham Students' Union Staff Oscars.

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 focuses on the histories and practice of regional theatre and performance. I am particularly interested in the relationships between performance, place, region and community, particularly… read more

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:

  • 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.
  • Gemma Edwards, holder of a Midlands3Cities doctoral studentship, working on her thesis project: 'Representing the rural: new rural imaginaries on the twenty-first century British stage'.
  • Laura de Simoni, who is working on theatrical dystopias.
  • Stewart Campbell, who is a Midlands4Cities student at the University of Birmingham, working on a collaborative doctoral project with Oxford Lieder.

Previous 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'
  • 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.
  • Tilly Branson, holder of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with New Perspectives Theatre Company for her project 'Re-imagining the rural tour', Tilly is a director and dramaturg and sits on the board of Pentabus Theatre.
  • Hannah Manktelow, holder of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership award from the British Library, whose thesis focused on 'Provincial Shakespeares'. Hannah is currently Project Officer for TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).
  • Sam Haddow, who worked on historiographic drama in the context of debates around history and postmodernity, and is now Lecturer in Theatre at the University of St Andrews
  • 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 Anglia Ruskin University
  • Jill Sullivan, who worked on The Business of Pantomime in Nineteenth Century Nottingham and Birmingham, and is now Archives Assistant at the Bristol University Theatre Collection.
  • Tracy Cruickshank, now Associate Head of School of Arts/Head of Drama at De Montfort University.

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 lecture on the first year module, Drama Theatre Performance.

In the third year I convene and co-teach the 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, recognised 'the real confidence, motivation and ambition encouraged in students by way of outstanding attention to individuals'. In 2017 I was Runner Up in the Best All -Rounder Teaching Category in the University of Nottingham Students' Union Staff Oscars.

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

Current Research

My research focuses on the histories and practice of regional theatre and performance. I am particularly interested in the relationships between performance, place, region and community, particularly where existing histories neglect the importance of local and regional practices. My research also focuses on the ways in which the methods that we use to research and share those stories can shape our knowledge, which has led to key innovations in research practice, from early digital collaborations with geography colleagues to map and explore mid-nineteenth-century performance culture in Nottingham, to my current work with communities of citizen scholars in the city to co-research and co-curate the history of the Theatre Royal and other local cultural institutions. My focus on relationships between performance and audience has also led me to work with different regional creative industry partners.

Our Theatre Royal: its stories, people and heritage

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. Since 2014 I have been working with the Theatre Royal to develop ways of exploring and sharing their archival history. Working with David Longford from the Theatre Royal and Laura Carletti (then UoN Horizon) we have developed a new 'Citizen Scholarship' strategy for preserving, curating and sharing the theatre's heritage, supported by a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a two-year collaborative 'Our Theatre Royal Nottingham' project, from February 2017. The strategy has involved working alongside and supporting skills development of 'Citizen Scholar' volunteers to co-research and co-curate the Theatre Royal's history through: i) the sorting and cataloguing of the analogue archive of materials held by the Theatre and not currently accessible to the public; ii) collection and editing of oral histories from key figures in the venue's story; iii) research across different repositories in the city; iv) the curation and creation of a freely accessible digital collection that brings together objects from these various elements, linked to enable the user to make their own connections and narratives; v) development of talks and exhibitions to share the findings with the local public.

Citizen Scholarship

My AHRC-funded 'Citizen Scholarship in Nottingham' project, which commenced in October 2017, built on the HLF-supported 'Our Theatre Royal Nottingham' in its aim to develop a sustainable model of archive development and volunteer engagement for heritage and literary venues in the city and wider region, with support from Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Framework workshops based on the 'Citizen Scholarship' model that help each organisation reflect on/identify their own needs in terms both of history and heritage and of user engagement and cultural value evaluation have been delivered, and I am supporting organisations to develop and test their own pilot projects and digital engagement strategies with communities of supporters and volunteers.

Regional creative industry cultures.

This research has two strands:

i) collaborative work with theatre practitioners and companies in the East Midlands, including New Perspectives Theatre Company and Red Earth. I am currently leading an AHRC Next Generation of Immersive Experiences project with colleagues from Computer Sciences and Languages in collaboration with regional theatre company Red Earth to develop inclusive integrated immersive theatre captioning for deaf audience members across a spectrum of hearing impairment from D/deaf to partially hearing. New projection mapping software can be used with traditional theatre projection systems to make captioning part of the artistic design of the show using any part of the set, props and even actors themselves; the project has also developed software that allows much faster generation of captions via an easy import of text from a Word document - where scripts often reside - rather than someone having to hand type sections of script in multiple files. The first production to showcase this creative way to display the words and sounds of a show is the epic Arctic adventure story, Soonchild by Russell Hoban, adapted for the stage by Red Earth Theatre. The technology will be made available open source to other theatre companies with training and the loan of hardware included once the tour is finished.

ii) '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.

Theatre Historiography

An ongoing focus of my research is theatre historiography: reflecting on the methods of theatre history and the modes of its writing. I have co-edited two key collections in this field with my long term collaborator Professor Clare Cochrane: the 2015 edited collection, Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth (Palgrave), and in 2019 The Methuen Drama Handbook of Theatre History and Historiography (Bloomsbury)

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.

  • JO ROBINSON, 2017. Beyond Outcast London: Theatre in the Provinces at the fin de siècle. In: JOSEPHINE GUY, ed., The Edinburgh Companion to Fin de Siècle Literature, Culture and the Arts Edinburgh University Press.
  • 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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