Category Archives: Theatre

The Drama of AIDS

By Emily Garside
The moment that you had the idea and decided it was something you wanted to research (your Archimedes moment)

This was actually way before my PhD started. For context, I looked at the two plays I wrote my thesis on (Angels in America by Tony Kushner and Rent by Jonathan Larson) for both my Undergrad dissertation (Rent) and my Masters (Angels in America). So really I pin this moment down to when I discovered the plays…this was in my year abroad in Montreal (I’m British) and we rented the Angels in America mini-series. (On account of long Canadian winters, we were always looking for a new thing to watch.) I remember distinctly my flatmate saying ‘this is supposed to be good, it’s about people with AIDS’. Soon after, as a young musical theatre fan, I discovered ‘Rent’ and bought the cast recording, I don’t remember much else except listening to it on the bus home (on my portable CD player!) and falling in love.

It all began from there, nearly 11 years ago now. Those two moments planted the seed of interest. I fell in love with the plays several times over and in several stories I don’t have space for here! But I wrote one dissertation, then another and when I finished my MA, I realised I wasn’t finished with these plays and this topic yet!

How your background and experience may have led to your choice of PhD topic, no matter how tenuously?

I think my mish-mash of academic background influenced things a lot. I studied History at Undergrad level, and it’s where my academic interests lay. However while on my year abroad I started taking acting classes and studied drama for optional modules at University. What was a casual hobby became more serious and I went on to study at RADA for my MA. But despite ‘learning’ how to do theatre, my approach kept some of the historian’s mindset, always thinking about context and the wider picture not just the ‘text’.

I always say too I’m very influenced by being a working class girl. I’m very practical and don’t suffer pretentious fools. I hate the wishy washy approach of many literary scholars and I hate a worthier than thou attitude of many academics. Something that shaped the approach to my own research (and no doubt ruffled a few feathers along the way).

How your reading and research may have been shaped by things by extra-curricular or non-academic factors:

I think being passionate about theatre in the broader sense really shaped my research. I’ve been a theatre person since about age 15 and have always been both up to date and fairly encylopedic on the current and previous Broadway/West End shows. This was something my supervisors (all English literature specialists) weren’t prepared for and didn’t quite know how to handle. For me though this interest/context was the essence of what I looked at. And if I wasn’t such a theatre fan, and didn’t have all that information at my fingertips I don’t know what it would be!

I also had the advantage of practical training. This helped ansed shaped my work enormously. I was able to look at archival records, including the stage management ‘Bible’ copy of the scripts and understand all the technical elements and so ‘bring to life’ the physical play in a way people without that practical training probably can’t. The practical training also gives me a different perspective on the staging of the plays, the actors roles etc.

Finally  the main non-academic factors I was shaped by was being a self-funded PhD and the amount of extra curricular work this took. I supported myself through a variety of jobs and this certainly influenced the way I worked and my attitude to the PhD.
Emily Garside has completed a PhD in AIDS-related theatre at Cardiff Metropolitan University and is about to take up a position as Research and Development Advisor at University of South Wales, advising for the Creative Industries Research Institute. You can tweet her @Emi_Garside and check out her blogs Fixed Point Time and Mucky Phd.


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