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I am Ken Dixon Professor Drama and one of the co-founders of the Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media, where I was its first Head of Theatre.
My main research and teaching interests lie in English drama 1580-1737, theatre, film and television comedy, and the development of the theatre in the UK in the second half of the twentieth century until today.
All my current work relates to the interaction between scripts and performance and, therefore, seeks to explore performance traditions, historical circumstances, performer training, company identities, and reception circumstances, as well as the words committed to the page by individual dramatists.
In addition, I have a powerful interest – as an editor and general editor, as a sceptical critic of mainstream editorial practice in handling dramatic texts, and as a director – in the differing nature of playscripts from different periods, and what they do, and do not, seek to prescribe about the performances which might be derived from them.
At the heart of all my recent research is a focus on the collaborative nature of the processes by which performances are generated from scripts. An indispensable practical component of this, for me, is regular directorial work on seventeenth-century scripts with student casts and production teams.
The Department’s move to its resplendent new building in 2010, and the enhanced resources it brought with it, have enabled bolder experiments of this kind. Since 2010, I have directed or co-directed, on our handsomely equipped main stage, four comic masterpieces from the early modern repertoire – Thomas Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters, John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan, John Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife, and James Shirley’s Hyde Park. All of them have been filmed at one of their performances and are available to view, free, at earlymoderntheatre.co.uk. This directorial research has also produced retrospective critical explorations of the new insights into the relevant scripts which practical exploration of this kind opened up.
My teaching experience in the 1990s made me convinced that university exploration of the script/performance interface needed to be more adventurous and experimental in its combination of searching analytical and historical investigation with carefully planned practical experiments and ambitious and sustained dialogue with the world of contemporary theatrical practice and its leading practitioners. I also came to regret the fact that there was scarcely any significant cross-dialogue between the separate worlds of theatre, film and television studies.
These convictions led to my invention and introduction of the Writing and Performance (Drama/Film/Television) BA and MA degree programmes, in 2000, within the Department of English and Related Literature at York, which sought to put these principles into practice. Their swift success and popularity with applicants – gaining the BA, for instance, first place in the relevant category in The Guardian’s University League Tables in both 2005 and 2006 – then led to the exciting opportunity to develop this approach yet further in the new Department of Theatre, Film and Television.
My current research ranges from an exploration of how actors have been, and are, trained to handle early modern scripts in drama schools and rehearsal rooms across the last century to developing a new concept of how online editions of plays from this repertoire might be developed in innovative multi-vocal and performance-encouraging directions.
I am also extending our work with leading practitioners in new directions. In July 2016, for instance, I made three films with the Olivier Award-winning actor Henry Goodman about the challenge of playing lead roles in Ben Jonson comedies today. I also enjoy working with professional companies – most recently, as advisor on Simon Godwin’s 2016 National Theatre production of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.
I have published five editions (of, in total, seventeen plays by eight dramatists). I am also founder and general editor of Oxford English Drama for Oxford University Press. The series has now published thirty-five collections of plays (from Elizabethan revenge tragedies to a collection of c.1900 ‘New Woman’ plays). The remit I set myself was to expand the repertoire of drama available (and at affordable prices), in radically re-edited texts, which would be freshly alert to performance issues and challenges, and also much more pro-active and thorough than earlier editions in aiming to explain everything likely to puzzle or mislead modern readers.
From that project developed a series of articles on what seems to me to be the failure of modern Shakespeare editing – and the editing of early modern drama more generally – to make good on its promises to be genuinely performance-friendly.
My most recent publications focus on two main areas – the processes by which modern concepts of how to train actors to tackle the distinctive demands of early modern scripts have developed (and some of the problems those concepts bring with them), and the challenges of performing the early Jacobean comic repertoire today.
I have supervised MA and doctoral work on a wide range of early modern topics, including Fletcherian tragicomedy, sexual punning in Jacobean comedy, the representation of prostitution in the early modern theatre, the development of comic styles in the 1630s, and the touring performance practices of the 1590. I have also supervised nineteenth- and twentieth-century projects, including on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, and Beckett, on Forced Entertainment and Frantic Assembly, and on the directing career of Gregory Doran.
I would welcome PhD proposals on any aspect of English theatre 1580-1737, on post-Second World Theatre, and on comic scriptwriting and performance in theatre, film and television.
In March 2005 I co-organised, with Professor Peter Holland (University of Notre Dame, US), a conference on ‘Players, Playwrights, Playhouses: Investigating Performance, 1660-1800’ at the Huntington Library, California. The proceedings of that conference, which I also co-edited, were published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007. In 2016, I was invited to return to the Huntington, to give the final paper (on ‘“Speak That I May See Thee”: Performing Jonson in the Twenty-First Century’) at a two-day conference on the anniversary of the 1616 Jonson First Folio.
I frequently read manuscripts for publishers and also referee articles for periodicals.
I especially enjoy, however, working with professional companies on productions of early modern repertoire – most recently, on Simon Godwin’s 2016 National Theatre production of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.
In March 2005 I co-organised, with Professor Peter Holland (University of Notre Dame , US ), a conference on 'Players, Playwrights, Playhouses: Investigating Performance, 1660-1800' at the Huntington Library, California . The proceedings of that conference, which I have also co-edited, will be published by Palgrave in 2007.