Jenny is a playwright and PhD student from Glasgow. She is currently undertaking an AHRC funded Practice-as-Research PhD in the department of Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow titled Play/writing histories: Navigating the Personal, Public & Institutional stories of Theatre Space. An Architextual study of the Citizens Theatre. Previously she gained an MSc with Distinction in Writing for Theatre and Performance at the University of Edinburgh in 2013 and an M.A. (Hons) in English Literature and Classics at the University of Glasgow in 2009.
So Jenny, can you tell us about your subject? My research seeks to model a methodology for architextural practice: a mode of playwriting that reveals hidden histories of sites by exploring the dramaturgy of their architecture. My subject site is the Citizens Theatre, and in particular its non-performance spaces. In these spaces, shared by staff, patrons and artists, layers of public, personal and institutional stories coalesce to form a rich, alternative archive of this Victorian theatre. Examining these social, political, cultural and emotional connections to the theatre is, I think, vital to a comprehensive understanding of its history and its potential future impact. As playwriting offers the potential to juxtapose, entwine and layer stories to reveal connections, commonalities and contrasts between seemingly disparate events, people and moments, I think it is the ideal tool for investigating embodied, palimpsestic spaces by responding to both the materiality of a site, and the events that did, do and will happen in it.
Tell us a bit more about the Citizens and your personal connection to the space….. The Citizens Theatre, situated in the Gorbals in Glasgow, has been one of Scotland’s most successful and significant producing theatres since the 1940s. It is dedicated to creating high quality, challenging work that is accessible to as wide an audience as possible. In the 1970s they famously sold every seat at 50p, and they maintain this tradition today by selling off 100 seats at 50p for every Citizens production. They also foster close ties with the Gorbals community, and beyond, through an exceptional programme of outreach projects.
My family have worked at the Citizens in various capacities since the 1960s. My maternal grandmother was Head Usherette for forty years and my paternal grandfather was the day-man and driver (and appeared in a few shows) for over 25 years. In the 1970s my mum and her sister joined my grandmother’s troupe of usherettes, while my Dad and his brother began working backstage as design assistant/prop maker and carpenter respectively. My parents met while working at the theatre and, several years later, when my brother and I were old enough, we too took up employment at the Citz. It’s an incredibly special place to me. As a child, the building was my playground. I remember swinging on gold bannisters and staring up at impossibly tall statues, probably without any real awareness of what the building was for. As an adult, it was my first ever job and the first time I was regularly exposed to performance. As a result, I fell in love with theatre and decided I wanted to pursue a career in playwriting.
What archives or sources are you using for your research? The Scottish Theatre Archive, based in Special Collections in the University of Glasgow library, is home to both the Citizens Theatre Archive and the Giles Havergal Collection so that is a vital resource for me. Claire McKendrick at the STA is brilliant and often recommends items that will be useful for my research. She recently flagged up a letter from my grandmother to Giles Havergal which was a lovely find! My research seeks to uncover hidden histories of the building so much of my fieldwork involves collecting oral histories from past and present patrons, staff and artists who have a connection with the Citz. I plan to donate these to the Scottish Theatre Archive on completion of my PhD so hopefully they might be useful to someone in the future!
What is the most rewarding aspect of your research? I love talking to people about their memories of the Citizens. It’s an incredibly special building that people foster a real fondness for. As a member of Front of House staff, I noticed that patrons were very often eager to share their own Citizens story and tell me about the first time they came to the theatre. These conversations planted the seeds of my PhD proposal. Yesterday I ran some children’s workshops to find out how children feel about the theatre, and particularly the building. Most of the children are participants in the weekly drama classes, kids@citz, and some have been attending the classes since they were 4 years old. Many of them used words like ‘home’ and ‘warm’ and ‘family’ when talking about the theatre. I’m eager to figure out how the building provokes these feelings and how I can capture the essence of the building through playwriting.
What challenges have you faced over your first year and how have you overcome them? Starting a PhD is incredibly daunting. I had been juggling a 9-5 job and freelance writing for a few years before starting so my time was fairly structured and directed and I mostly worked closely with other colleagues. Staring up at the PhD mountain, alone, without a map can be really overwhelming. I worried about how I would manage such a mammoth project on my own. I had no idea how I would structure my time or if I was going in the right direction. And I was especially concerned that I didn’t have the ability to do it. Luckily I have two brilliant supervisors, Professor Dee Heddon and Dr Vicky Price who are incredibly supportive and assist me in navigating both academic and logistical hurdles. They offer a friendly ear and valuable advice when I am facing difficulties. They also keep in regular contact and we set clear goals for each meeting. I think without such robust support I could easily become demotivated and drift. My PhD pals also provide a vital support network. I’m very lucky to have fantastic officemates with whom to navigate the emotional ups and downs of PhD life. They know when we need to crack on and try another Pomodoro session, or when it’s time to call it a day and head to the pub. I think it’s really important to engage with your peers academically, but also socially. It’s can be a lonely experience being a PhD student and it’s great having friends who understand what you are going through.
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