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Plenary Interview: Ella Hawkins

Interview by: Kirsty Scott (BritGrad 2021 Events Coordinator)

Just days away from BritGrad 2021- what perfect timing for our next plenary interview! Read on to learn more about Ella Hawkins and her research in Elizabethan design (on page and pastry)!

You can find her full bio here!

What are you presenting at Britgrad this year?

I’ll be speaking about the use of Elizabethan dress to define fantastical elements of Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary performance (particularly the fairy world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the goddesses in The Tempest’s masque scene). This research originally formed part of my PhD thesis, and is the basis of a chapter in my forthcoming book, Shakespeare in Elizabethan Costume: ‘Period Dress’ in Twenty-First-Century Performance.

Can you talk about your past and current work?

I’ve been interested in design for Shakespeare since I was an undergraduate at the University of Warwick. I wrote my BA dissertation about Dash Arts’ 2006­–8 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, focusing on how the production was shaped by the various cultural and architectural contexts in which it was staged. When I went on to do a Masters degree at the Shakespeare Institute, I took advantage of every opportunity to pursue this interest further. My MA dissertation explored three contrasting approaches to stage design for The Winter’s Tale.

My PhD thesis (completed in 2020) focuses on the significance of Elizabethan and Jacobean dress in twenty-first-century costume design for Shakespeare. I interviewed contemporary theatre directors, designers, dramaturgs, and costume-makers to establish why they incorporated early modern dress into their productions, and analysed how individual costumes reinterpreted elements of Shakespeare’s plays for modern audiences. The thesis reframes so-called ‘period’ costuming as a dynamic collection of practices capable of refashioning textual meanings, reflecting present-day political and societal shifts, and confronting contemporary injustices.

I am currently in the final stages of preparing my thesis for publication as a research monograph. It is due to be published by Bloomsbury (The Arden Shakespeare) next year.

What are your plans for upcoming work and future plans?

I have some part-time HE teaching work lined up for the 2021/22 academic year. I am still in the market for permanent employment or postdoctoral fellowships, so I will continue to develop proposals and applications as positions are advertised. Design remains my primary research interest: I hope to carry on studying visual and sartorial elements of performance, wherever I go next.

What experience do you have as an early career researcher?

My experience as an ECR has been quite varied. Since finishing my PhD in June 2020, I have divided my time between applying for jobs and fellowships, developing work for publication, and working as a freelance writer. I’ve also looked out for opportunities to share my research through academic and public-facing talks, and have given guest lectures for design students and as part of the Sartorial Society Series. Unexpectedly, my baking exploits have in the last few months become part of my profile as a researcher. I create sets of decorated biscuits inspired by design history and share photographs of them online, sometimes in collaboration with heritage organisations. All in all, my first year as an early career researcher has felt very different from PhD life. It has been difficult at times­—especially when the rejections have come through in droves—but I’ve learned a lot about the job market, publication processes, public engagement, and the importance of having an excellent support network.

What are your thoughts on Britgrad and do you have any advice for prospective new students joining for the first time?

BritGrad is a wonderful conference, particularly for those presenting their research for the first time. It’s a friendly and supportive environment, you’ll hear excellent papers on many different topics, and the people you meet will become the next generation of scholars. My advice would be to not worry about adhering to a particular idea of what a conference paper should be. BritGrad is the perfect place to break conventions, and to try new things. Have a fantastic conference!

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