Professor Jim Davis awarded £600,000 AHRC grant to research Theatre and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century
An AHRC grant of approximately £600,000 has been awarded to Professor Jim Davis as Principal Investigator and to Professor Kate Newey (Exeter University) as Co-Investigator for a research project on Theatre and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century. The project will be based at Warwick in Theatre and Performance Studies. Two named postdoctoral full-time research fellows will also be attached to the project for its three-year duration: Dr Pat Smyth, an art historian specialising in the relationship between art and theatre in nineteenth-century France, who will be based at Warwick, and Dr Kate Holmes (who has a specialist interest in circus and aerial performance), based at Exeter. Bristol University’s Theatre Collection and Exeter University’s Bill Douglas Museum will be project partners, collaborating in the mounting of exhibitions and conferences.
The project will focus on the relationship of popular forms of theatre to visual culture and on spectacle and spectatorship in nineteenth century Britain, with France used as a comparative case study. The study of theatrical spectacle in this period has been neglected, despite revisionist studies such as Meisel’s Realizations (1983) which examines the practice of ‘realizing’ works of art on stage. The project will use archival research and recent theoretical approaches to move beyond Meisel’s model to offer a new reading of nineteenth-century staging that considers it not just aspiring to the condition of visual art, but as part of wider popular visual culture. A key aim will be to interrogate the continuing association between spectacle and ‘passive viewing’ by demonstrating the capacity of stage spectacle to convey multiple meanings and by exploring audience participation in the active construction of those meanings. Thus, the project will examine theatrical spectacle as part of a commercial, technologically innovative explosion of imagery in this period, part of a visual culture that included new forms such as lithography, steel-engraving, optical entertainments (such as panoramas and dioramas) and the illustrated press. The circulation of images will be examined in relation to theories of ‘remediation’. While existing studies of inter-art connections work on the premise of exchanges between essentially discrete art forms, this project will test the notion of a new kind of popular audience for whom distinctions of media were irrelevant and who sought instead the sensation of ‘immediacy’.