‘Mr Shepherd’, my examiners asked, ‘are you married?’ The context was the examination of my thesis on portrayals of independent women on the early-modern stage. I replied that I wasn’t. ‘Ah well’ they said, smiling knowledgeably, ‘if you were married you would know that whatever is said by and about women, in practice it makes very little difference to the way life is lived.’ The thesis was then failed on grounds of being unscholarly.
This little episode confirmed me in my sense that, beyond any local academic project, the main goal in my career should be to attempt to change institutions, or at least those bits of them where I had influence. I was already working at the University of Nottingham as their first ever lecturer in English drama, with a brief to direct student shows as well as teach English literature (everything since 1500) and drama (everything). Over the years we carved out a clear drama pathway as part of the degree, with some sort of affirmation when I became their first Professor of Drama in 1994. Meanwhile I continued to teach students about gender in the early-modern period (and of course published the benighted thesis). This was in turn part of the widespread upheaval in literary studies caused by those of us who were Marxists, feminists and/or gay activists chucking out the old courses, with their assumptions about the way life was really lived.
That general need to change disciplines, if not institutions, together with my own local circumstances, made me interested in the assumptions we make about how we work and what we study, the distinction between doing drama and literature, for example, and what’s at stake in that distinction. So I got interested in researching and writing books that tried to tell large historical stories and identified the rise and fall of academic values and assumptions. This was not necessarily very sensible since it had become intellectually fashionable to scorn the production of so-called grand narratives. But anyone who has inspected my wardrobe will know that fashion is not a big player in my life, so on I went: the history of English drama and how we know it; the formative intellectual shapes in drama and theatre studies; a poetics of the dramatic text. These huge projects were all collaborative and I gained enormously by working with people much cleverer than me.
After a bit of time trying to sort out the drama department at Goldsmiths, as Professor of Drama between 1996 and 2001, I ended up at Central, more or less by accident. But it rapidly became clear that here too was an institution ready for change. What made it attractive as a task was that it was like a return, on much bigger scale, to my early battles with the introduction of drama as a practice into a book-based university department. Here, though, the project was to make a conservatoire into a university college without losing the specificity of the conservatoire work. The opposition from sections of the so-called theatre industry was reassuring confirmation that I was once again offending those who saw themselves as guardians of the way life is really lived. The community of Central has shown, far beyond my own efforts, how this tense and productive combination of conservatoire and university college is actually a good thing, an engine which can generate huge energy and even delight.
Looking back, I seem to be in neither one discipline nor another. Among literary folk I was the one who did embarrassing things that involved waving arms around; among drama folk I was told, with a knowledgeable smile of course, that I was not ‘A Practitioner’. But I quite like this sense of being – well – I suppose – undisciplined.
I no longer supervise doctoral students, but I’ll try to answer questions on my work where relevant.
2018 (forthcoming). The Great European Stage Directors, eight volumes. Series editor. (London: Bloomsbury)
2018. Studying Plays: 4th edition (with new material on testimony, monodrama and the post-dramatic), with Mick Wallis (London: Bloomsbury)
2017. ‘9 August 1967/The Pyjamas’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 37: 2 (Orton-Halliwell anniversary issue), pp. 173-183
2016. The Cambridge Introduction to Performance Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
2012. Direction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)
2009. The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
2009. On Training, edited with Richard Gough (Performance Research 14.2)
2006. Theatre, Body and Pleasure (London: Routledge)
2004. Drama/Theatre/Performance, with Mick Wallis (London: Routledge) (published in Korean 2015)
2004. ‘Drama and Politics 1970-2002’, in The Cambridge History of English Literature, edited by Laura Marcus and Peter Nichols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 635-652
2003. ‘Lolo’s Breasts, Cyborgism, and a Wooden Christ’, in Cultural Bodies: Ethnography and History, edited by Helen Thomas and Jamilah Ahmed (Oxford: Blackwell)
2002. ‘A Coloured Girl Reading Proust’, in Joe Orton: A Casebook, edited by Francesca Coppa (London: Routledge), pp. 141-154
2002. ‘Revels End, and the Gentle Body Starts’, Shakespeare Survey 55, pp. 237-256
2000. ‘A Bit of Ruff: Criticism, Fantasy, Marlowe’, in Constructing Christopher Marlowe, edited by J.A. Downie and J.T. Parnell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 102-115
1999. ‘Blood, Thunder and Theory: The Arrival of English Melodrama’, Theatre Research International 24: 2, pp. 145-151
1998. Studying Plays (reprinted 2002, 2010), with Mick Wallis (London: Arnold)
1996. English Drama: A Cultural History, with Peter Womack (Oxford: Blackwell)
1996. ‘Melodrama as Avant-Garde: Enacting a New Subjectivity’, Textual Practice 10: 3, pp. 507-522
1994. ‘Pauses of Mutual Agitation’, in Melodrama: Stage Picture Screen, edited by Jacky Bratton, Jim Cook and Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute)
1992. ‘What’s so Funny about Ladies’ Tailors? A Survey of some Male (Homo)sexual Types in the Renaissance’, Textual Practice 6: 1, pp. 17-30
1991. ‘Acting Against Bardom: Some Utopian Thoughts on Workshops’, in Shakespeare and the Changing Curriculum, edited by Lesley Aers and Nigel Wheale (London: Routledge), pp. 88-107 (reprinted in 2000. Shakespeare in Performance, edited by Robert Shaughnessy, Basingstoke: Macmillan)
1990. A Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers 1580-1720, with Maureen Bell and George Parfitt (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press)
1989. Coming on Strong: Gay Culture and Politics, edited with Mick Wallis (London: Unwin Hyman)
1988. Because We’re Queers: The Life and Crimes of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton (reprinted 1989) (London: Gay Men’s Press)
1988. ‘Shakespeare’s Private Drawer: Shakespeare and Homosexuality’, In The Shakespeare Myth, edited by Graham Holderness (Manchester: Manchester University Press), pp. 96-110
1986. Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (reprinted 1993) (Brighton: Harvester Press)
1985. The Women’s Sharp Revenge: Five Women’s Pamphlets from the Renaissance (London: Fourth Estate)
1981. Amazons and Warrior Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth Century Drama (Brighton: Harvester Press)
I spent twenty years directing about two plays a year, but no longer, to my regret. This was the laboratory producing the evidence underpinning my published analysis and theorisation of a range of different modes of dramaturgy and performance. Alongside that I consider teaching and writing themselves to be practices, with failure to regard them thus leading to horrible, if not deadly, results. But also, now, I am interested in the ideological standing of ‘practice’ as a concept.
Nothing to declare.