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Plenary Interview: Emer McHugh

Interview by: Micaela Kluver (BritGrad 2021 Publicity/Marketing)

BritGrad 2021 is almost under way, and we couldn't be more excited about our amazing list of plenary speakers! Read below for Emer McHugh's insights on progressing from theatre-maker to researcher to published author, as well as advice on how to be a more inclusive and contributing member of the PGR research community.

You can find her full bio here.

Your forthcoming monograph, Irish Shakespeares: Gender, Sexuality and Performance (Routledge), looks at the role of 'gender, queerness, and feminisms' in 'contemporary Shakespearean performances by Irish practitioners.' (Sounds fascinating!) What inspired you to enter into this area of study?

It started in my final year of my undergraduate degree, when I went to see Pan Pan Theatre's The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane in the theatre. I was so fascinated by the ways in which Shakespeare interacted with Irishness (including its riffs on Samuel Beckett's Endgame). But it took me longer than that for me to realise that this was something I wanted to pursue for research: I thought about it a lot but I kinda ran from it I guess, I thought it was a bit too obvious. As it often does, it takes theatre for me to get inspired, and the announcement of DruidShakespeare (then known as The Irish Shakespeare Project) after I finished my MA spurred me into preparing a PhD proposal. As for my focus on gender and sexuality studies, my supervisor noticed that I tended to gravitate towards this as a lens throughout my work. The fact that I got excited about writing about WakingTheFeminists probably should have told me something.

For those looking to publish after their post-graduate degree, how have you found the process of expanding your PhD thesis for publication?

Slow. For many reasons. But I think it will make it a better book -- I've been doing a lot of thinking work, and rethinking some of the things I said in my thesis in the first place. If Fiona Apple can take her time with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, so can I? Hopefully?

You are currently working on the Early Modern Studies in the Global Classroom project at NUI Galway. Can you explain a little more about the project and your involvement with your role as Research Assistant?

So, as part of this project I am creating a series of open educational resources (OERs) on Shakespeare and early modern performance studies. I'm approaching them as an introduction to thinking about the styles and conventions of early modern theatre, and ensuring that students can approach them in a less intimidating, accessible way. My teaching philosophy has always been about enabling students to approach Shakespeare on their own terms, and I hope these resources will make that process more easier.

You are a seasoned veteran of BritGrad, having presented for the conference in previous years. What is your favorite takeaway from this experience and what are you looking forward to most about returning as a plenary speaker?

The best takeaway experience from BritGrad was this: I met some of my best friends at the conference. It's corny but true! I even collaborate on projects with some of them now. But the friendship and camaraderie is the most important thing, I think. As a graduate of the Shakespeare Institute too (I did my MA in Shakespeare and Theatre there), I also just really loved returning to the Institute and seeing everyone there again. I guess what I'm looking forward to most about returning as a plenary speaker is being able to experience BritGrad from the other side, getting to hear amazing friends and colleagues give plenary talks, and getting to hear about really exciting PGR research. I'm also generally very excited about my double-act with Vanessa Lim on Friday (hi Vanessa!).

And finally, is there any advice you would give to current PGR students? Anything you wish you would have been told before embarking on your journey?

Goodness I have several points: first, you need to have a life beyond your PhD. Whether it's really enjoying reading books or getting into cooking or going to the cinema or watching Love Island every night. It will ground you in ways you never knew you needed. Secondly, find the friends and mentors who will uplift you, bolster you when you need to be bolstered, make room for the whole you, and who will support you even though you make extremely terrible jokes about Hamlet. Thirdly, you have to learn to be a good colleague. This is especially for white cishet abled PGRs: it is not always about you and your work, and your marginalised colleagues need support, love, and amplification. Be generous, be supportive, and as we Irish say, be sound.

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