What can you expect from your first year of studying Drama at the University of Manchester?

What can you expect from your first year of studying Drama at the University of Manchester? We interviewed Molly Stedman, who’s about to start her second year, to find out.


What kind of things did you do in your first year?

So we’ve been doing quite a lot of theory-based things. Quite a lot of looking through the history of drama in a sense. In the first semester we looked at loads of stuff, from Greek theatre to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, right through to contemporary theatre practices in the second semester. And there are practical modules, so every Friday we had a long bit of practical, which we did a devised performance for. We did six weeks of learning different theatre practices, loads of different things like flashmobs, happenings, Mark Ravenhill, stuff like that. Then for four weeks different practitioners came in and taught us which was really good. I’m really interested in sociology so I love stuff like forum theatre, and we got to do that which was really nice.


That’s all very academic stuff, what about outside the course?

I’m part of the Drama Society who put on loads of plays. There was the Autumn Showcase, there were four plays, two of which were new writing. I was in one of those, which was so much fun. Being in one of those at the start of the year was the best thing, I got to know second years and loads of people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and now I’m really good friends with them. There was the MIFTAs festival as well, which were mostly written by students, and the third years’ directorial projects. And the New Writing Showcase at Contact, which was really fun, I was in one of those.


What have been the highlights of first year?

Probably doing the plays, I think, with the Drama Society, and getting to know more of the people in it. It’s nice to get to know people outside your year because it’s quite a small course. But also just meeting people at university and living in halls; I’ve really enjoyed being in halls.


Was there anything that was unexpected?

I was so homesick at the start of the year! I didn’t love freshers’ week, that was unexpected; everyone told me that freshers’ week will be the best week of your life and it just wasn’t my thing. I think because you don’t have anything to do that week, it was hard. You’ll get over it though! I had two really lovely peer mentors who helped me so much, making sure I was okay, so I did get over it, it was all fine in the end.

Also, the film module I did, The Art of Film. It was so much fun, it was one of the best things I’ve done. I didn’t realise I’d really enjoy film, and now I’m carrying on some of the film modules this year. That made me love film a lot more. I learnt a lot about identity on film, which I really liked.


What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt?

Life skills! Being at university teaches you how to get along with people that you maybe wouldn’t usually get along with. Learning how to see beyond what people first seem. That sounds really sentimental! And the learning has fed into what I’m doing outside of the course. I volunteer with Student Action at Refugee Conversation Club and a lot of the stuff I’ve learnt, especially about applied theatre, has really made a difference there.


What advice would you give to someone about to start studying drama at Manchester?

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get into things in first year. Don’t stop trying! And don’t be scared by the theory you learn. I think a lot of people come to university and think you’re going to be acting the whole time but that’s not what it’s like. Learning the theory gives you skills, it helps you to watch drama in a very different way, and make it in a very different way. Also, use the library! No one uses the library. It’s great.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make friends! People have a lot of preconceptions about university, and sometimes it feels like if you haven’t made loads of best friends immediately you’ve done something wrong. But it will all be fine!

‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’

In the summer, Drama staff get on with their various research projects. This feature by Vicky Lowe gives an insight into her ongoing work on film stardom and voice dubbing.

Look again at this clip from the 1964 Bond film, Goldfinger. The actor who plays the iconic baddie, Auric Goldfinger, is of course the German stage and screen actor Gert Fröbe. Yet the character is actually voiced by another actor, Michael Collins, apparently because Fröbe’s heavy Bavarian accent was too strong and he didn’t sound as the production team expected a continental style villain to sound! So Michael Collins, an English actor, constructed a vocal performance to match the visual image of Goldfinger and painstakingly dubbed all of Fröbe’s lines from the film in post-production.

This is part of a hidden history of vocal characterisations and performances that is only just coming to light. BBC4 recently aired a documentary The Secret Voices of Hollywood (2013) that exposed the ‘ghost’ singers of Hollywood, such as Marni Nixon and Bill Lee, who sung for the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965) but received no credit for their performances in the film or on the motion picture soundtracks that accompanied them. Of course we can see this in the context of an industrial practice dedicated to creating illusions and erasing any signs that a performance is ‘constructed’ through technological means.  Marsha Siefert (1995) argues that in fact that the practice became widespread in the 1950s because Hollywood was having to compete with the growth of television and so films, particularly musicals,  became more and more about the extraordinary; the impossibly beautiful image coupled with the out of this world voice.

But what about Britain? I’ve long been fascinated the sound of film stars, as much as their image, having written about how important Robert Donat’s voice was in the production of his star persona. However, this hidden history has got me intrigued. The difficulty of course is, in finding material that evidences these artists’ contributions because, of necessity, their work remained uncredited. So far, my research has taken me to uncover the work of performers such as Robert Rietty, who lent his voice to Adolfo Celi in Thunderball (1965) and often provided the voice for actors who were unavailable  to dub their own roles in post -production. An entertaining interview between Rietty and Barry Norman about this issue can be found here.

More recently, the young actor who played Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011), found to his dismay that his voice had been dubbed by another actor in the final film. It would be interesting to know why this was felt to be needed, particularly from a director whose work seems rooted in gritty authenticity.  I know from my research into Donat, that actors’ voices were subject to an enormous amount of scrutiny in the 1930s with production executives trying to find actors who would appeal to both British and American markets. So perhaps this actor’s natural Northern tones were deemed too local to appeal to transatlantic audiences.  I would be interested in hearing from anyone else working in this area, so if you have any information then please do email me at Victoria.s.lowe@manchester.ac.uk .

Perhaps the most interesting example of voice dubbing can be found, ironically, in one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, Singing in the Rain (1952). In that film, the Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Selden is bought in to dub the high pitched, screechy voiced, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in her first sound film performance. In real life, Hagen was a trained Broadway actress who ended up lending her carefully modulated tones to Debbie Reynolds, whose real voice was thought to be too mid-western Hicksville for her character. So you have Hagen dubbing Reynolds dubbing Hagen!!

Sur-PRIZES at Graduation!

Last week it was a real pleasure to participate in the graduation ceremony for our outgoing third year Drama students. It was presided over by none other than poet and playwright Lemn Sissay, the University’s new Chancellor — apparently only the second such ceremony he had taken on. Lemn brought a really infectious sense of enthusiasm and positivity to the whole event. Graduations can often be a rather dryly formal affair — give or take the hooting and cheering of Drama graduands for their classmates as they cross the stage. But Lemn greeted everyone with a beaming smile, a warm handshake, and some variation on “Amazing! You did it!” Which managed not to sound even a tiny bit condescending, because he really seemed to mean it.


Speaking for myself, I was charged with reading out all the names of those processing to shake Lemn’s hand. This meant not just the students on our three Drama programmes, but also a whole bunch of PhD and MA students who came before them on the bill, some of them from completely different departments (most of whom I’d never heard of!). Bit of a challenge that, especially with pronouncing some of the names. Still, nobody has complained so far… There was a brief moment of panic where I realised I had inadvertently skipped over Charlotte Horton’s name on the list (sorry Charlotte!!). Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her quickly swap places with the person waiting behind her in line — so realising the error I called Charlotte’s name next and I’m not sure too many people noticed. (Imagine if she’d been left there waiting until the end of the ceremony. Yikes!) It’s quite tricky reading out that many names off a list without tripping up over them. Wonder if you can get a degree in that…

Anyway, the most memorable moment of the graduation was the moment when outgoing Head of School, Professor Steve Hutchings, read out the names of those students who had been awarded prizes. None of them realised they had won anything in advance, so there were some fantastic intakes of gobsmacked breath (accompanied by stifled shrieks of excitement). Some explanation is perhaps needed…

In previous years, Drama has traditionally awarded three prizes to members of the graduating year. These have gone to the three students with the highest overall grades on our three programmes — Drama, Drama and English, Drama and Screen. But we recently decided to rethink this a little. This was partly because the existing system is not necessarily very fair. What if, one year, the highest-ranked student on one of the programmes had actually achieved a less-stellar standard than a number of mostly non-prize-winning students on the other programmes? Also, we thought it was time we had prizes that recognised something of the diversity of student achievement in Drama. People are good at different things, and some people really excel at certain things, without necessarily being excellent at everything.

One final point was that we thought we should give our prizes names. Every year in our graduation ceremony, we listen to a big list of Music prizes, all of them named after various impressive-sounding people. So we thought it was time to step up our game…

The four prizes awarded this year, initiating a pattern we plan to pursue in future, are as follows:

  1. Gardner Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement in Drama. This oneTodd-Daphne-Viv-Gardener goes to the student whose overall graduating grades are the highest across all three of our programmes. We’ve named it after Professor Viv Gardner (pictured right), one of our retired Drama colleagues, who was herself a student in Drama at Manchester – back in the 1970s – and went on to contribute hugely to the department at every level of her career. She seemed the perfect choice after which to name this prize, which this year was awarded to Harriet Duddy. Harriet, of course, performed excellently across a wide range of modules, but I’d like to draw particular attention to her dissertation, which looked at the figure of the child in the plays of Caryl Churchill, and particularly the varying ways in which children seem to represent fear or apprehension about the future.
  2. Mayer Prize for Outstanding Drama Disssertation (or Research Essay). downloadThis one, self-evidently, goes to a student whose final year dissertation was especially remarkable – and this year that was Sophie Fox Davison. Sophie wrote about the portrayal of the body in the cinema of Pedro Almodovar, looking at how questions of Spanish nationality and cultural heritage, post-Franco, are played out on bodies in Almodovar’s films.
    The Mayer prize is named after Professor David Mayer (right), another emeritus member of the Drama staff who served here for many years, and whose reputation for scholarly rigour made him the natural choice for this award.
  3. Meera Syal Prize for Outstanding Practical Work in Drama. download (1)Since this is a practical prize, we wanted to name it after a graduate of the department who has excelled as a notable practitioner — and across the fields of stage and screen. Since Meera is a noted novelist as well as actor, she ties together all three of our programmes rather nicely (Drama/English/Screen). When she was approached about our naming this prize after her, she expressed both honour and surprise – and happily agreed. The inaugural Meera (as opposed to Oscar!) goes to James Walker in recognition of a range of outstanding practice, notably his practical dissertation (he made a 30-minute film that serves as a meta-critique of narrative structures in mainstream movies) and his practical coursework on ‘Falstaff & Gandalf Go to the Movies.’
  4. Jackson Prize for Outstanding Student Citizenship. This final prize is named after Professor Tony Jackson, 9780719089053yet another emeritus professor in Drama here at Manchester, who is remembered especially for his pioneering work connecting theatre, education and (latterly) heritage. His research and teaching connections with partners well beyond the University made him the natural choice for this ‘citizenship’ award. In future, it might be awarded to students who have pursued socially engaged work outside the University, or who have gone above and beyond in their roles as, say, student ambassadors with prospective students. This year, though, it has been awarded to Michael Honnah in recognition of his always-enthusiastic commitment to his role as chairperson of the Drama Society, which has also involved excellent work building relations across the building with Music Society. Michael always involves as many people as possible in his ambitious plans (just look at his multi-medial Directors project!) and has exemplified the positive attitude we look for in all our students.

Very well done indeed to all our prize winners, but beyond that, to all of our graduating students for their achievements during their time with us. We wish you all the very best in the coming months and years, as you plot your various global conquests. We hope you’ll come back and see us from time to time — and don’t forget that we’re always here if you need advice, support, or references.

Onwards and upwards!

Alumni Profile: Lucy Sparks

Do you ever wonder what our graduates get up to? Drama alumni from the University of Manchester have gone on to have a variety of careers; our series of alumni profiles shows just a few of the directions a drama degree can take you in. All our featured alumni graduated in the last ten years – here Lucy Sparks talks about how her drama degree has led to a career in social work.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 13.46.12Lucy Sparks

BA Drama, 2013

I am a Family Placement social worker with a voluntary adoption agency. My work mainly involves recruiting, assessing and supporting people who wish to adopt. It’s about finding permanent homes for children who are often labelled difficult to place – for example older children or children that need to be adopted as part of a sibling group. We also work closely with other teams within the organisation who support birth families where children have been adopted, as well as supporting adopted children themselves, and adults hoping to trace birth relatives after losing contact due to adoption.

Most of all I enjoy building relationships with people – particularly children. I love completing direct work, which is often around life stories, helping the child or young person to make sense of their own life.

When I tell people about my drama background, they are generally surprised that I have ended up in social work – but for me it was a very natural progression and I see a clear link between the two disciplines. The Drama course at the University of Manchester is about broadening your mind and understanding alternative ideas and standpoints; it pushes you to evaluate your values and ethics; it instills a sense of confidence and a great ability to communicate both personally and professionally. All these things are vital to social work practice and were invaluable learning curves for me.

More practically, the Theatre in Prison project course in my third year, alongside my voluntary work with Student Action and Reach Out, sparked my desire to work with people, particularly those who are vulnerable or disenfranchised.

Alumni Profile: Shereen Perera

Do you ever wonder what our graduates get up to? Drama alumni from the University of Manchester have gone on to have a variety of careers; our series of alumni profiles shows just a few of the directions a drama degree can take you in. All our featured alumni graduated in the last ten years – here Shereen Perera tells us about her work and how it grew out of studying at Manchester.

Portrait picShereen Perera

BA Drama and English, 2011

I am currently the Capital Bid Co-Ordinator at Contact Theatre in Manchester, working on their £6.2million redevelopment project. I am also the co-director and music curator for Video Jam which I helped to set up in 2012. Video Jam’s main concept is an evening of short films with a variety of live musical accompaniment. The events seek to explore the relationship between sound and moving image. So far we’ve done 33 events and worked with over 320 artists. Video Jam programmes always consist of different genres of film and music, exposing audiences to new work. It’s really rewarding working with a wide range of artists at different points in their career. I love being given the opportunities to curate site-specific programmes, whether that’s for the re-opening of The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, an event at Liverpool Cathedral, or in DIY settings like Islington Mill.

My experiences at the University of Manchester taught me the value of collaborative working and seeing my work from different perspectives. I run Video Jam with my former classmate Sarah Hill who is the film curator. We both have very different skillsets but the same kind of attitude and commitment when it comes to our work. We complement each other well and this is a good grounding for a professional relationship. The people in my year group definitely help each other out – even now some years after graduating.

I organized and staged a lot of events and productions during my time at university, from fundraisers for the Drama Society, to producing plays in the John Thaw Studio, to directing site-specific work at the student pub The Ram & Shackle. These experiences gave me valuable production and event management skills.

Workshop Opportunity: Theatre for Development

pic for caitlin

Bobby Smith, a PhD student in Drama and Global Development, has organised a Theatre for Development workshop which will be co-led by Maxwel Okuto, the director of Amani People’s Theatre in Kenya. They will hold a session in London on the 30th June 4-6pm and another in Manchester on the 7th July 3-5pm (TBC). The interactive workshop aims to share information about Theatre for Development, and about Amani People’s Theatre’s approach to peace education and conflict resolution. It is suitable for those with an interest in applied arts and international development, as well as for those who have been actively working in the sector. Attendance is free, but places are limited to 20. Please contact Bobby at Robert.smith-7@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk for more information and to confirm your attendance at one of the workshops.

About Amani People’s Theatre: APT was founded in 1994 by young African artist-peace builders. APT employs an interactive multi-arts approach to peace building and conflict resolution training. Their process integrates education, entertainment and research in exploring conflict and searching for non-violent responses to such conflicts. The organisation has worked mainly in grassroots community contexts in rural and urban Kenya, but has also conducted workshops and performances across East Africa, Sudan, Europe and North America. APT draws on the educational, therapeutic and meditative elements of indigenous African performance, as well as the work of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal.

About the project: Maxwel and Bobby have been awarded funding by Arts Council England and the British Council to collaborate on exploring drama and theatre for peace and conflict resolution in Kenyan criminal justice contexts. The work also feeds into Bobby’s PhD research in applied theatre and Theatre for Development partnerships between the UK and East Africa.

Out of Time Symposium, 17th June 2016


Out of Time: Temporal Slippage in Performance and the Visual Arts

Friday 17th June 2016, 9am – 5pm

Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, Ellen Wilkinson Building, University of Manchester, M15 6JA


Out of Time is a one-day interdisciplinary conference bringing together PGRs, early career researchers and established academics to explore temporality in the performing and visual arts.

Performance has a unique and dynamic relationship with time, necessarily ephemeral yet endlessly repeating. At first glance it appears to be unavoidably time-bound, dependent on bodies moving in time and space; however, the theatre is also capable of conjuring moments of temporal slippage and resistance.

Whilst performance can be said to represent a state of true presence, impossible to document or freeze in time, other theorisations have focused on the ways in which performance reconstructs, re-embodies and resurrects the past.

The conference will interrogate notions of presence, recognising that the performative present is haunted by traces of the past and hints of the future. We aim to explore the risks and rewards of the temporal play inherent to performance.

Some of the questions that we are hoping to address include:

  • (How) is it possible to archive the live?
  • What are the ethical implications of attempting to give voice to the past in performance?
  • How does memoir negotiate time?
  • What happens when identities are performed outside of chrononormativity?
  • What is the connection between time and capital?
  • How can we play with clock time to make our own (a)temporal schemes of resistance?
  • What does it mean to be ‘of’ time rather than ‘in’ or ‘on’ time?
  • How might performance help us to think about the future?

Out of Time aims to foster a supportive discursive environment that promotes further collaboration and dialogue within the PGR and PGT community, and represents an excellent opportunity for early career researchers to gain valuable experience of presenting and giving feedback.

Speakers on the plenary panel will include Professor Stephen Bottoms and Dr Rachel Clements, specialists in contemporary theatre and performance based at the University of Manchester.

Some of the papers to be presented on the day are:

Marina Abramovic: In Residence – A Test Case for the Application of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis – Kelli Alred (University of Melbourne)

Measuring the Body’s Durational Value in the Work of Santiago Sierra – Edward Bacal (University of Toronto)

No Future: Time and Waterworks from Ibsen to Urinetown – Professor Stephen Bottoms

What’s going on (and on and on)? Long Time, Survival, Endlessness – Dr Saini Manninen (Birkbeck, University of London)

Endurance Tactics: Performing Re-enactments in Moving Image Installations – Kate O’Connor (University of Queensland)

Inexactments: Deconstructing Heritage Discourse – Beth Emily Richards (University of Plymouth)

“Playing with Time Perception in Acousmatic Music”: A Composer’s Perspective – Adriana Ruiz (University of Manchester)

Disrupted Time: Uncertainty and Slowness in the Dark – Yaron Shyldkrot (University of Surrey)

Destroying Time with Time: Cyclical and Linear Time in the Music of Harrison Birtwistle – Sophie Sully (University of Manchester)

Movement and Temporality: Methods for Documenting Lighting Design – Kelli Zezulka (University of Leeds)


Registration is now open; click here to register.

For further information, please contact outoftimeconference@gmail.com