Professor Alan Read
Alan Read is Professor of Theatre in the Department of English, School of Arts & Humanities.
Tell us about your career
Book on my bedside table
Jun’Ichiro Tanizaki’s brief masterpiece, In Praise of Shadows, for twilight reading, and Giorgio Agamben’s briefer What Is An Apparatus? for getting off to sleep.
Favourite holiday destination
Arles, with family, for the photographic Rencontres, Avignon, among theatre friends, for the festival, and the Camargue for the light and the waves.
Proudest work moment
Not pride, but pleasure: whenever the valley goes to the waterer (and it yields fruit).
Early aspirations to become a human rights lawyer were mercifully interrupted by a tutor at Merton College Oxford who pointed out to me that playing the drunken judge Azdak, in Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, was not a pre-requisite for the bar, nor necessarily the only qualification I would require to pursue a legal career.
I did learn from Brecht that “The valley should go to the waterers that it yield fruit” and went to the Pacific Northwest in the USA to undertake a PhD at the University of Washington exploring everyday, quotidian philosophies of equality and political traditions of performance.
My first paid work was with the Council of Europe and Dartington College of Arts bringing together theatre practitioners from five continents who had committed at least a decade to working through performance and activism with a single community. This experience of sustained cultural commitment encouraged me to take on the direction of a neighborhood theatre in the rapidly developing and politically embattled area of Docklands in South East London through the 1980s. My partner, the artist Beryl Robinson, took up the opportunity to work and paint in a beach-side industrial complex in Barcelona in the early 1990s and we spent four years there, during which time I wrote my first book Theatre & Everyday Life in the Catalan theatre library in Gaudi’s Palau Guell on the Nou de la Ramblas.
On return to the UK, I became Director of Talks at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London during the mid 1990s, a period of intense theoretical and artistic expansiveness. Working there with Homi Bhabha, Jacques Derrida, bell hooks, Zaha Hadid, Patti(and Mark E) Smith, and nightly, feisty, intellectually demanding audiences, I developed an appetite for public engagement, radical inclusion and argument that has remained with me since.
Describe your current role
I am currently Professor of Theatre in the Department of English, a vibrant community of researchers, innovative teachers and administrative supporters whose compelling range of interests and expertise attracted me to King’s in the first place.
Since 2006 I have been teaching undergraduate courses such as Theatre Capital, how London ‘performs’, and Performance Philosophy, how theatre does its own ‘thinking’, with some of the brightest students one could hope for. I have a group of PhD students working on a variety of subjects from ‘the unstageable’ to the ‘abandoned practices’ of fire ritual in Greece, and I work alongside my two performance colleagues Dr Lara Shalson and Dr Kelina Gotman to develop the potential of performance across the English curriculum, from first year through Masters to PhD.
In collaboration with the Centre for e Research I have led on the conception and development of the Anatomy Theatre & Museum which was opened on the Strand in October 2009, and am in the process with King’s Business of creating the Performance Foundation to make the most of the demand for performance techniques and technologies and their operation to foster equality of opportunity in the arts. One of our first collaborations was the successful Bridging the Gaps EPSRC proposal led by Dr Mark Miodownik which over the next three years will create a ‘diagonal science’ of materials between King’s disciplinary interests.
Current research and projects
With my colleagues (and with support from the research grants office) we have been successful in securing an AHRC Creative Fellowship with the artist and theatre maker Gregg Whelan who will work with us from 2010 until 2015. Gregg is founder and director of the company Lone Twin whose work is internationally shown and respected, he will be a great asset to the School of Arts & Humanities and the King’s corridor of campuses as his project involves an examination of the social, celebratory and bio-medical implications of the extreme, durational performance of ‘ultra running’.
The project provides us with a critical engagement with a defining feature of homo sapiens’ early survival and will parallel Lone Twin’s work as recipients of one of the national awards to create a showpiece event for the Olympic Cultural Festival.
I have recently been granted a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to pursue a research project entitled: Engineering Spectacle: Inigo Jones’ Past and Present Performance at Somerset House. As it suggests the work from 2010 to 2013 will explore the political performance legacy of England’s first great architect and stage impresario, Inigo Jones, who for 30 years in the 1600s operated as ‘Surveyor to the King’s Works’ on the site that is now occupied by Somerset House and King’s Strand Campus.
The project has been conceived to encourage a creative and intellectually viable expansion of the arts in partnership with our Somerset House Trust neighbours and to create an ‘off west end campus’ for performance research and practice among, what I call, King’s cultural partners.
More immediately I am contracted to complete the third book in a trilogy of works on those ‘valley waterers’, following Theatre & Everyday Life and Theatre, Intimacy & Engagement I am writing on those who appear to have no potential in world drama but around whom everything turns: The Theatre & Its Poor: Performance, Politics and the Powerless.