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Ellen Schaffert

Drama and Theatre Studies, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Institutional Diversity: Representing Disability in the Contemporary Shakespeare Industry

Recently, the UK theatre industry has been criticised for its lack of diversity: onstage and within creative and administrative spheres. Responding to movements like #MeToo, #GiveArtistsAChance and #TheatresPullUpOrShutUp, institutions have worked to increase representation of communities marginalized by race, gender, sexuality, and disability, on and off-stage.

However, Shakespeare performance scholarship has raised concerns about the strategies of the Shakespeare industry to improve diversity. Julian and Solga (2021) and Williams (2019) point to the harm that ‘performative’ diversity can cause to implicated communities. Williams’s model of ‘incomplete dramaturgy’ offers tools for exploring how productions hailed as ‘progressive’ often fail to anticipate the implications of their choices, resulting in reinforcing harmful views. Most recent work on institutional diversity and contemporary Shakespeare performance (e.g. Jarrett-Macauley 2017, Power 2016, Rogers 2013, Thompson 2011) focuses on race, gender and sexuality. To date, there is no sustained study on disability in the contemporary Shakespeare industry that considers its place in all facets of performance. This thesis will fill this gap by interrogating the place of disability in a climate concerned with institutional diversity (as defined by Sara Ahmed) by asking:

  • What is being done to represent Shakespeare’s disabled characters onstage, who is playing them, and what are the ramifications?
  • What strategies are being deployed to integrate disabled actors into Shakespearean performance? What are the implications?
  • What strategies are used to present Shakespeare to disabled audiences? What is their purpose, and what are their implications?
  • What strategies are implemented within the Shakespeare industry to include disabled people within its institutional diversity? What are the ramifications?

Research Area

  • Drama and Theatre Studies
  • Theatre and Society

Other Research Interests

  • Regional theatre (particularly Welsh and Irish theatre), in particular how productions intersect with concepts of Heterotopia and Sites of Memory.
  • Ecopoetry
  • Wider early modern performance, particularly the works of Christopher Marlowe.
  • Institutional diversity onstage more broadly.