5 Books for Theatre Students and Theatre Nerds: Get Ahead in Theatre Class | PhD Vlog


Hello, my name’s Tom and welcome back to
my vlog where I talk a little bit about theatre, a little bit about being a PhD
student and a little bit about those two things squished together.
So, today’s one of those wonderful days where I get to talk about both the
things that I’m really passionate about hand in hand. And partly this is
a video that I’ve wanted to make for a little while now but partly I’m also
aware that it’s that time of year where A Level results have gone out and lots
of people are heading off to start a course of study in theatre at many
different levels whether that’s undergraduate or postgraduate.
Also, I thought it’d be cool to make a video that was a about some
books which might be useful if you’re a theatre maker maybe, or involved in
creating theatre, and maybe want a bit more of a critical framework to think
through how you think about the bits of theatre that you watch or make and how
you intellectually respond to those. So, today, I’m gonna share five
books which I’ve found really, really useful for starting to think more broadly
and more intellectually I suppose about theatre. Now, what I’ve tried to do is
pick some books which might not be completely obvious. I think there’s a
lot of books out there like The Empty Space or Stanislavski’s work or Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and maybe Brecht on Theatre which are ones which,
if you find a list like this, normally will almost always be on there.
Each of those are books by theatre practitioners and very much argue for a
very particular kind of theatre which maybe looks in a certain way and maybe
means in a certain way as well. So all those books are super useful and I certainly suggest going to read them to start to get an idea of what the theoretical
underpinnings of certain forms of theatre are. But what I wanted to do was maybe
suggest some books which might be harder to find out about if you’ve not
engaged academically or as intellectually with theatre before. And,
in fact, my first two books aren’t particularly about theatre at all but
are more broadly ones about cultural theory. And so, in this video, there are my
top five books and for thinking about theatre. So, book number one is Raymond
Williams’ Keywords. This is a really seminal book
written by the great cultural theorist Raymond Williams and, essentially, what it
is is a little bit of a glossary in which it will start to give you a
definition of what those terms mean within the field of cultural
studies. So, a word such as cultur,e which might have a lot of different colloquial
meanings, in this book Williams starts to refine what it might
mean when we talk about it in an intellectual or academic context. He’s
also really keen to always point out when things have multiple or conflicting
meanings and really highlight that, not to necessarily suggest that one is
better than the other but really just to point out that different areas of theory
will treat certain words in certain ways. So, we have words like commercialism,
community, criticism, dramatic, elite, fiction, utilitarian, violence; all of
these words which we can get quite used to using colloquially but, when we
start to use intellectually or academically, we start to have to think
about having more of a grounded definition for. The second book I wanted to
suggest almost takes that idea a little bit further and it is Roland Barthes’
Mythologies. Now, this is very much more of an English literature book, I’d
suggest, than one that automatically pertains to theatre or to drama. But
what it starts to do is to dissect how cultural texts (so a play for example or
a book or a film) might start to have political or social connotations to it.
So, for example, there’s a really famous essay within this book about a wrestling
match. And, although it’s looking at a wrestling match, which is meant as a
kind of popular form of entertainment, what it does is it starts to dissect what
the different characters within the wrestling ring might mean and, by
extension, it starts to look at what kind of political ideologies (or hegemonies if
you watched my video the other day) the narratives which play out within that
wrestling ring might start to either criticize or critique or perhaps to
support. There’s also some great chapters on visual art and and some more popular
modes of performance and, although it’s not directly about theatre, I’d
really suggest it’s a great book that, if you’re anything like me and like to have
quite an accessible way of starting to think about how politics and society and
culture starts intertwine and interact with one another, it’s a book that I
found really, really inspirational and helped me to start thinking in a similar
way about theatre. Book number three that I’d like to suggest is David Edgar’s How
Plays Work. Now, this is primarily a book for playwrights or dramatists or
dramaturges, people that are thinking about how to construct a piece of
theatre. And particularly, I’d say, it’s for people who like to create narrative
driven pieces of work (rather than postmodern work or
postdramatic work which explores an idea) I’d suggest that most of the book
pertains to the writing of theatre which explores characters which have fairly
naturalistic storylines. However, in explaining to the potential
playwright or dramatist how to construct a piece of theatre, I also think it
suggests some really good ways of analysing. So, whether you consider
yourself to be a playwright or a director or a lighting designer or an
actor or a stage manager or all or none of the above, I’d certainly suggests that
How Plays Work is a really good way of starting to think about how narrative
plays a part in what theatre means and what it looks like and how narrative is
constructed. I’d also say, because there is lots and lots of different books
which are like this or seek to do a similar thing, that this has this
wonderful middle ground of it is incredibly accessible (it’s not hard to
read at all) while at the same time it’s written by David Edgar who is both an a very
influential playwright (primarily coming from the State of the Nation plays of
the 1970s) but also was professor of playwriting at Birmingham University. So
it straddles a wonderful line between being both academically reputable but
also being eminently readable. For book number four, I’m not actually going to
suggest a single book but a series and it’s the Theatre & series. Now, I’m not
for one minute suggesting that you go away and
every single one of the books in this series before you start your drama
degree or before you go and watch your next play. But what I would suggest is
that they’re really great, accessible ways into starting to think about
theatre in relation to lots of different themes. They’re all quite short books
either a little under a little over a hundred pages and therefore can be read
in a couple of sittings or, if you’ve got a long train journey perhaps, they
can be a really good way to wile away that time. Each book looks at the
relationship between theatre and a certain other thing. For example, this one
looks at theatre and the concept of nation, there’s a book by Jen Harvey which
looks at theatre and its relationship to the city and
there’s Dan Rebellato’s Theatre & Globalization. There’s a whole range of
them written by really, really great academics who very much know these
fields but are also very good at writing for people to read. They’re not books
which are completely clouded in lots of theory and, where they do invoke either
philosophy or political theory or some other kind of deep theory, they do take
the time to introduce those things properly so that you’re not expected to
have previously read a lot on that topic before. So, perhaps what I’d suggests, is
going on the Palgrave Macmillan website and having a little look through this
series and finding one which is theatre and something you’re interested in. And, I
think, as an introduction to academic reading and academic writing, just
reading through a book that you’re already a little bit interested in will
be a great door to writing yourself and also to reading slightly more complex
texts. The final book that I’d like to suggest is one that I do not have on my
shelf at the moment as I’ve lent it to a friend. It’s actually a book that is very
rarely on my shelf as I’m always lending out to people, and that is theory /
theatre by Mark Fortier. Now this is very much meant as an introductory book and it’s
got a lot in common with the module that I’m teaching on next term in fact as an
introduction to theatre and theory. It looks at theatre in certain
contexts and through various different theoretical backgrounds so there’s
chapters on theatre and semiology, theatre and feminism, theatre and
post-modernism. And it really takes you through how both the discipline has
developed over the past fifty or so years but also on different ways that
you can approach looking at theatre in the present day. Because, as I hope that I
have started to show with some of my videos and my performance
analysis videos, you can always approach the same bit of theatre from many
different angles. And I think theory / theatre is a really good book for
starting to introduce both the breadth of academia and scholarship which exists
within the field of theatre, but also gives you that idea of how the field has
developed. So there you have my top five books for theatre students or people
that are just really super into theatre and want to have a better critical
framework for understanding it. If you have books that you particularly
like about theatre that I have missed out then please do drop them below in
the comments, it’d be great to hear about them and to maybe come up with a
slightly bigger list so that, when people come to watch this video, there’s even
more below. But thank you very much for watching once again. If you haven’t
subscribed then please do consider doing so, it’d be great to see you around again. Thank you very much and have a great week!

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