Originally posted: 9 September, 2020
With the start of BritGrad Festival 2020 just days away, we thought we would treat you to another guest blog post! Our third guest article is provided by Dr. Ronan Hatfull. Ronan is an alumnus of the Shakespeare Institute and The University of Warwick. He currently researches Shakespearean adaptation and performance and is co-founder of the theatre company Partners Rapt.
The BritGrad Aid Package
You will never have a better conference lunch than sat upon the lawn in the Shakespeare Institute garden, after a barnstorming panel or plenary, consuming more quiche than you previously thought possible. If any academic ever tells you otherwise, they’re lying. Fear not, for this reflection will not focus on food from this point onwards. BritGrad is a feast in every sense and, for that reason, I felt I should first pay tribute to those sunlit moments caught al fresco.
When asked about the experience of studying at the Shakespeare Institute, I often liken it to the combination of a sixth form for adults and a hospital which helps its patients to better understand and, eventually, come to terms with their early modern addiction. This is due to its cosy scale, which gives the Whovian sense of being bigger on the inside, and its capacity to nurture the near-fanatical fascination about Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I was lucky enough to be part of the debut Shakespeare and Theatre MA cohort from 2013-14 and discovered BritGrad to be surely one of the Institute’s best forms of treatment: a therapeutic experience which I have had the pleasure of attending ever since.
BritGrad amplifies everything that works so well about the Institute. There is an extraordinary range of ideas on display and the acceptance and encouragement of all research avenues from print culture and performance studies to the emotions and popular culture never ceases to amaze and inspire me. As someone firmly encamped in the Shakespop corner, having presented at BritGrad on biographical fiction, hip-hop and radio adaptations in my time, this conference was the first place where I discovered that the study of Shakespeare’s cultural legacy had so many branches and that others shared this self-same passion.
It is difficult to express the immeasurable impact of this conference on my personal development as an academic, public speaker and person. As someone who has doggedly torn a passion to tatters since the age of five, getting up to speak in front of others was not something about which I thought I would be intimidated at my first BritGrad. However, when I delivered my first paper on the intertextual relationship between Hamlet and Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller film Stoker, I found myself instantly nervous about exposing intellectual ideas to anyone other than my seminar tutors. BritGrad implicitly taught me to slow down my speech, not to “perform” the role of speaker and, above all, to be myself.
I primarily research the comedic adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays on stage and screen. Humour, therefore, is a core aspect of my interests and BritGrad also played a nurturing role in this development. Discussing comedy comes with the hopeful prerequisite that you will make the audience laugh. BritGrad has attracted a host of plenary speakers over the years who perfectly manage the balancing act between delivering a rigorous intellectual argument whilst also serving to entertain their audience in the mode of a performer. This is something I’ve experimented with over the years and BritGrad has been the perfect place to test drive that mode of delivery.
The example which I can recall best came during a paper on Shakespearean intertextuality within Marvel Cinematic Universe and my comparison of two images: one of the former Institute Director, Peter Holland, delivering a paper to adoring fans at an academic conference in America, and another of the actor, Tom Hiddleston, in costume as the supervillain Loki, delivering a speech to adoring fans at Comic-Con. Although this was intended to deliver a laugh and punctuate the main body of the paper, by doing so, I was also able to make a serious point about the fanaticism which surrounds both Shakespeare and superheroes and the communal spaces in which fans gather to celebrate their idols.
At this year’s conference, I’m very excited to be presenting on the work of Spymonkey, a comic physical theatre company who specialise in creating compressed mélanges of lengthy and significant topics. The paper represents the beginnings of my next research project and you can to read a version of it in a forthcoming edition of Shakespeare Bulletin. I’ll be exploring their 2016 production The Complete Deaths, in which the four-person ensemble performed all seventy-five of Shakespeare’s onstage deaths in ninety minutes. I’m especially excited to be presenting this work at the first ever virtual BritGrad, given that my paper reflects on how the production was rebroadcast by the company as lockdown “aid package” and the effect upon the viewer of watching it within this new context.
Appropriately, BritGrad can certainly be viewed as the ultimate “aid package” for early career scholars: unique opportunities at an embryonic stage of your development, inspirational speakers and workshops, and a stimulating space in which to share ground-breaking research. The conference nurtures the scholars of the future and has always felt like home to me. To everyone returning this year or embarking on their first foray into its magical depths, I hope it feels the same to you. I’ll bring the quiche.
Dr. Ronan Hatfull