Last Thursday, 19th July, we were pleased and proud to see this year’s graduating class in Drama processing across the stage of the Whitworth Hall. The proceedings were presided over by Vice President of the University, Professor Clive Agnew, and the address was given by the Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, Professor Alessandro Schiesaro.
Everything went smoothly, apart from the small hiccup when yours truly (Steve Bottoms, head of Drama) accidentally managed to skip over Kate Cranfield’s name when reading out the list of graduating students. (Trust me, it’s easy to do – last year Charlotte Horton fell victim to a similar eyesight malfunction…) Kate got a special round of applause when she was added in at the end of the cohort, thanks to Lee Felvus waving madly at me to catch my eye… (sorry!)
Also during the graduation ceremony, the recipients of this year’s Drama prizes were announced. Since they knew nothing about these in advance, we greatly enjoyed watching for the expressions of shock and delight on the students’ faces. And here they are after the ceremony, looking composed…
From left to right: Hannah Davies, Philippa Franks, Catherine Millar, Roma Havers, and Bethany Woods. (Photo courtesy of Alison Jeffers.)
This is the second time that we have awarded named prizes in honour of noted former staff and students of the department. (For last year’s awards and an explanation of the prize names, see here.)
This year’s prize recipients are particularly noteworthy for the breadth of their achievements. Full citations are as follows (in alphabetical order of prize winners’ names):
Hannah Davies and Catherine Millar — Tony Jackson Prize for Student Citizenship (co-recipients)
Catherine and Hannah are receiving this award for their generous and diligent work — over two years — as Peer Mentor Coordinators for Drama. During this time, they have consistently worked to provide support networks for their peers, demonstrating maturity and organizational skill. They have impressed us all with their compassion and thoughtfulness, and have both contributed hugely to the continuing success of our degree programmes.
It is worth noting that Catherine has also been commended by the University’s Peer Support team for her mentoring work. She completed a range of training in order to become an ‘Advanced Mentor’. For her part, Hannah has also committed her time to being one of Drama’s student ambassadors, working at Open Days and UCAS days, and helping staff and prospective students immeasurably. She has even spoken to A-Level students off-campus about the experience of university study. Hannah has also been an important member of the Staff-Student Liaison Committee during her time with us.
Managing these demanding, ongoing roles alongside their degree work is a real achievement. Both Hannah and Catherine have made a consistent and appreciable difference to the Drama community throughout their time in Manchester. The lasting impact of their influence and enthusiasm will be felt long after they have graduated.
Philippa Franks – Meera Syal Prize for Outstanding Practical Achievement in Drama
Pip is receiving this award principally for her practical work for the Level 3 Directors’ module. Throughout the rehearsal and production process, Pip impressed everyone with her professional attitude, preparedness and aptitude. The final piece was of an exceptionally high quality, and would not have been out of place in a professional setting. Directing an extract from Mike Bartlett’s play Cock, she drew compelling and nuanced performances from two of her male peers. The scene was raucously funny in a way that felt earned, and grounded in different kinds of ache and confusion. Pip coaxed her actors, within twenty minutes’ stage time, into conveying a natural and believable sense of their characters’ long, messy relationship history. Moreover, the scene was framed within a striking and memorable visual setting — a deteriorating circle of chalk, within which no other props or furniture were necessary. Performances and design played extremely well off each other. Pip’s overall approach to the scene demonstrated a real depth of understanding of the play, as well as a strong ability to collaborate and communicate with others.
Pip also deserves recognition for her work, throughout her time with us, as an assistant in the department’s wardrobe – a role in which she has served the Drama community commendably, and provided excellent support to our wardrobe supervisor. In addition, it should be noted that – across her degree – Pip has frequently performed in and supported the work of other students, to a high degree of accomplishment. Her performance in August: Osage County was particularly commendable for its detail, maturity and control.
Roma Havers – David Mayer Prize for Outstanding Drama Dissertation
Roma receives this award for her exceptional dissertation — a fascinating and in-depth study of performance poetry, and specifically of configurations of gender in the work of three contemporary performance poets. Her study is often strikingly original, not least because this is an under-recognised art form in critical terms. Across each of the three chapters, Roma develops a critical, engaged and insightful reading of the practices of performance poetry. Particularly impressive for a piece of undergraduate work is the criticality with which secondary sources are considered, and the way Roma is willing and able to challenge certain received understandings. Her attention to ideas of presence, power relationships encoded in space, and the relationship between bodies and words is especially noteworthy.
This remarkable dissertation research also provides an excellent example of a student applying their own embodied, practical knowledge in scholarly terms. Roma is herself an accomplished performance poet, who – ever since her first semester here – has become a noteworthy presence in Manchester’s spoken word scene, both within and beyond the University. She performs regularly at a wide range of events. She also edited the Books section of The Mancunion and ran the Creative Writing Society, organising and leading a group of Manchester University spoken word poets into second place at UniSlam 2017, the UK National University Poetry Slam. Roma has now secured a richly-deserved place on the Creative Writing MA at Manchester.
Bethany Woods – Viv Gardner Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement
This award recognises the student who secured the highest overall grade across all of our Drama degree programmes. To achieve this, Beth has performed consistently highly in all her modules – so much so, in fact, that she is also a recipient of a prize from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures for overall achievement.
Beth impressed all the staff at Manchester from the moment she arrived. From writing and directing the Freshers’ Play in her first year, to creating documentary works about young women’s attitudes to their bodies in her second year, to her consistently exceptional work on her Director’s project in third year, her interest in and aptitude for politically inflected theatremaking has been consistent, and we’ve been impressed by the attitude with which she has approached developing her creative craft.
Beth’s attitude to her academic studies has been just as impressive. Her attendance record is impeccable, her grades are consistently and deservedly high, and her presence in lectures, seminars and workshops has been of benefit to everyone in the room. She’s also demonstrated a commitment to the wider student body, sitting on the Staff-Student Liaison Committee across all three years of her degree. Her conduct and feedback in these meetings has helped us to respond to queries and concerns, particularly for Joint Hons students.
Beth has pushed herself to develop and learn as much as possible over the past three years, and we are delighted by how far she has travelled. She has also taken full advantage of opportunities made available to her beyond the University itself. She has been involved as a Young Creative at the Royal Exchange, and produced her own work independently. Creatively and academically, Beth has excelled in all her work. She could have competed for other prizes too if we did not have a policy of sharing them out among deserving candidates. She richly deserves this award as the outstanding “all-rounder” in her year group.
Warm congratulations to all our prize winners, and indeed to the entire graduating cohort. (We would have liked to give prizes to lots of you!) We wish you all the very best for the future, whatever it may hold.
(Do come back and visit us when you can, and don’t be shy to ask us for references when you need them…)