Professor Pascale Aebischer
Pascale Aebischer is Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Performance Studies. Her current research focuses on theatre and digital live performance during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her academic background is rooted in the history of the performance of early modern drama (including Shakespeare), with an emphasis on 1580s-1700 and 1980s-present. She has a particular interest in bodies and performance technologies (from candlelight through social media to 'live' theatre broadcast and digital performance). These interests are reflected in her teaching, which focuses on early modern - Restoration theatrical cultures and performance practices, Shakespeare, and present-day performance on stages and screens.
From 2021 to 2023, Pascale led the coordination of the AHRC's Covid-19 research portfolio as Principal Investigator of The Pandemic and Beyond: the Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery. Her work on this project was recognised in the June 2023 King's Birthday Honours List with an MBE for 'Services to Economic and Societal Resilience during Covid-19'. She is the current co-lead, with Dr Karen Gray (Bristol), of Pandemic Preparedness in the Live Performing Arts: Lessons to Learn from COVID-19 (British Academy).
She has served as Director of Education and Head of Department for the Department of English and Film.
Office hours: During term-time only, book here for 10-minute Microsoft Teams or in-person meetings in Office 319 (Queen's Building).
Please note that I work part-time, at 80%, and divide my time between teaching/student-facing work (Monday afternoons and Tuesdays) and work on Pandemic Preparedness.
Social media (private, own opinions): Twitter @PascaleExeter; LinkedIn.
Since the incursion of COVID-19 into our lives, my research has taken a dramatic turn towards participatory research on the theatre industry, with a focus on digital technologies, creative workforces, and policy engagement. I'm working with practitioners, organisations and policy-makers to help the industry have the evidence base it needs to recover and be resilient to future shocks. This work takes me out of my comfort zone and I make lots of mistakes along the way, but I am on a steep learning curve and keep being thrilled to find that so much of my knowledge of early modern theatre turns out to have equipped me for this change of direction.
Before 2020, my research was mostly situated at the intersection between the early modern playtext and theatrical culture on the one hand and present-day performance on the other, with a particular focus on bodies, gender, race, violence, ethics, media, or spectatorship - or all of these together. Past research and book projects include Shakespeare's Violated Bodies: Stage and Screen Performance (CUP, 2004), Remaking Shakespeare: Performance Across Media, Genres and Cultures (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), Jacobean Drama (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Performing Early Modern Drama Today (CUP, 2012, "Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2013"), Screening Early Modern Drama: Beyond Shakespeare (CUP, 2013), and, with Susanne Greenhalgh (Roehampton) and Laurie Osborne (Colby), Shakespeare and the 'Live' Theatre Broadcast Experience (Bloomsbury/Arden Shakespeare, 2018; paperback 2019).
My most recent two books are concerned with how digital technologies have transformed how we watch Shakespeare. The first, an (only just) pre-pandemic book, is Shakespeare, Spectatorship and the Technologies of Performance (CUP, April 2020; winner of the David Bradby Monograph Prize 2021). The book develops work in phenomenological approaches to performance and spectatorship, as well as work on digital performance, scenography and theatre architecture and reconstruction. I am concerned with how technologies from candle-light to live video and theatre broadcast shape the spatial dynamics and dramaturgies of early modern drama and how audiences understand the plays. The second, a book written during the Covid-19 pandemic, takes this work further and examines digital spectatorship of 'viral' Shakespeare productions during the first and second lockdowns of 2020. Viral Shakespeare: Performance in the Time of Pandemic (CUP, 2021) investigates the effects of binge-watching Hamlet in lockdown, thinks about what it's like to watch Shakespeare in languages other than English, and includes a 'deep dive' into the live Zoom performances pioneered by Creation Theatre and Big Telly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to think through the concept of 'Zoom performativity' and how theatre-making in itself became a political message in the face of Covid-restrictions and economic hardship and marginalisation for the creative industries.
Between 2021 and 2023, I was the lead coordinator for the AHRC's Portfolio of funded COVID-19 research. For more information on this work, see The Pandemic and Beyond: The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery; four co-edited volumes based on this work are under contract with Manchester University Press and due to be published in 2024. This work builds on and integrates my earlier AHRC/UKRI-funded project, Digital Theatre Transformation: A Case Study and Digital Toolkit , which explored how Creation Theatre (Oxford) managed its complete digital transformation of its backstage and creative operations, establishing a business model and creative practice that enables the company to continue paying freelance creatives Equity wages. We worked with representatives of Equity and with members of Creation Theatre and Big Telly (NI) on documenting the processes of digital transformation and the business model that enabled it, and to produce detailed research of audience responses, including an assessment of the perceptions of value-for-money for live digital shows.
I am now building on this experience with research that combines my interests in the theatre industry and the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry with my growing expertise in policy engagements for arts and humanities researchers. I'm co-lead, with Dr Karen Gray (Bristol), of Pandemic Preparedness in the Live Performing Arts: Lessons to Learn from Covid-19. This is a British Academy-funded research project that spans the G7 countries, with Co-Investigators in Germany (Prof Heidi Liedke), Canada (Prof Kelsey Jacobson) and the USA (Prof Barbara Fuchs), and additional academic collaborators in Italy, France and Japan. We are working with policymakers and stakeholders within the theatre industries to examine the ways the different G7 countries have responded to the pandemic impacts on their respective theatre industries, compare the data, and offer evidence-based recommendations to prepare theatres for future crises.
I am also involved in a "GENEX" project with colleagues connected to the University of Exeter in the UK (Victoria Sparey, Jo Esra, Chloe Preedy, Freyja Cox-Jensen, Harry McCarthy, Maria Shmygol) and the University of Geneva in Switzerland (Lukas Erne, Emily Smith, Georgia Fulton) concerned with using practice-based methodologies to explore plays by Shakespeare.
I am PI of Pandemic Preparedness in the Live Performing Arts: Lessons to Learn from COVID-19, a British Academy-focused project I am co-leading with Dr Karen Gray (University of Bristol) and that ranges across the G7 countries. We are collaborating with teams and academic colleagues in each of the G7 countries and are additionally supported by partnerships with two grassroots industry organisations, Freelancers Make Theatre Work and Something To Aim for. Our work involves engagement with a Lived Experience Panel of industry professionals based in the UK, USA, Canada and Germany and ongoing conversations with policymakers at governmental and industry level. We are housed in the Societies and Cultures Institute at the University of Exeter, started work in April/May 2023 and will conclude with a report launched at the end of March 2024.
Between March 2021 and February 2023, I led The Pandemic and Beyond: the Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery project. The project was hosted by the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter and embedded in the College of Humanities, with team members from Humanities (Prof Pascale Aebischer, Dr Benedict Morrison, Dr Karen Gray), the Medical School (Prof Victoria Tischler), the Business School (Prof Sarah Hartley), and Social Sciences and International Studies (Prof Des Fitzgerald). The team has coordinated the research, supported its dissemination via a media campaign (@PandemicBeyond) and bespoke films and podcasts. With the help of Policy@Exeter and Culture Commons, we set up an online policy portal and built partnerships with academic communities, the wider public connected or impacted by the AHRC Covid-19 projects, Non-Governmental Organisations and policymakers to inform local, national and international crisis response and policy.
I am very interested in hearing from graduate students who would like to carry out a research project on Shakespeare and early modern performance studies, theatre history, spectatorship, feminist and/or queer responses to early modern drama, or adaptation studies. Since the advent of Covid and the digital turn in theatre, I have a particularly strong interest in new forms of digital theatre involving early modern texts. With Shakespeare so (problematically?) present in curricula and performance cultures across the world, I would welcome the opportunity to work with research students who have their own cultural perspectives and non-Western methodologies to bring to bear on the study of Shakespeare in performance. I have a particular interest in theatre architecture, media and technology, including digital technologies, and have a long-standing fascination with the work of Derek Jarman and other counter-cultural artists who have engaged with the drama of the early modern period.
I also have an interest in the relationship between French classical theatre and early modern drama in England and would welcome supervising interdisciplinary work that might also take in German and Italian traditions, as well as visual culture.
With Brexit and the Climate Emergency as urgent present concerns, I would love to facilitate PhD work focused on how either of these concerns are reflected in the present-day performance landscape for early modern theatre - or, indeed, on how they replay older debates regarding the environment and the place of early modern England within the broader political landscape of early modern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Africa. With much of my teaching energies going into decolonising the curriculum when it comes to teaching early modern drama, PhD research in that area would also be a very exciting thing to be involved in.
- Jeremy Bloomfield: “An Analytical History of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi in Text and Performance” (co-supervised with Dr Jane Milling, Drama): completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2011.
- Jennifer Barnes: ‘“Masculinity and the Heroic Body in Filmed Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies”: completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2012. Her thesis research has since been rewritten as Shakespearean Star: Laurence Olivier and National Cinema (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
- Sally Templeman: “Food and Its Discourses in Early Modern Texts”: completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2013.
- James Alsop: “The Living Dead in Early Modern Drama”: submitted within four years; PhD awarded in 2015.
- Callan Davies: “The Mechanics and Invention of Moral Vision in Early Modern Tragedy”. completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2016.
- Harry McCarthy: "Boy Actors on the Early Modern English Stage: Performance, Physicality, and the Work of Play". Completed and examined within three years; PhD awarded in 2019.
- Jim Porteous: "The representation of London and the court in city comedies performed by Children’s Companies 1604-06". Part-time PhD, completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2020.
- Abhik Maiti: "All the Computer’s a Stage: The Merging Boundaries Between Video Games and Literature". Changed supervisory team.
- Pankhuri Singh: "The adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays in Indian cinema and their rustic portrayal." Current.
- Jane Wright: "Applying Shakespeare as Drama Therapy to Military Veterans with Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder". Current.
Zhiyan Zhang: "Fluid and Loci: Death and Memory in Shakespearean Plays." Second supervisor, PhD awarded in 2012.
External PhD examiner for students from the following institutions: King's College London (with Shakespeare's Globe and Roehampton University), Guildford School of Acting (University of Surrey), Queen's University Belfast, University of Birmingham (Shakespeare Institute, with Nottingham University), De Montfort University (Leicester)
Internal PhD examiner and PhD chair at the University of Exeter.
External impact and engagement
As the PI for Digital Theatre Transformation, I have been interviewed for BBC Radio Devon and have done media work that has been published in The Daily Telegraph and The Observer. I have also published research findings in the trade Press, with articles in Equity Magazine and Quarto Magazine.
My work as PI on The Pandemic and Beyond: The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery from 2021 to 2023 involved public engagement work, including podcasts, social media, media work and webinars aimed at the general public and policy makers. The impact of that work was recognised in the King's Birthday Honours List (June 2023) with an MBE for 'Services to Economic and Societal Resilience during Covid-19'.
My current work as co-lead of Pandemic Preparedness in the Live Performing Arts: Lessons to Learn from Covid-19 (British Academy, April 2023-April 2024) involves working with grassroots theatre industry organisations, practitioners, and policymakers to ensure that the recommendations we produce as part of the project meet the needs of the people the recommendations are aimed at.
Contribution to discipline
Between 2012 and 2017, I was General Editor of Shakespeare Bulletin, the leading journal in early modern performance studies (http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/shakespeare_bulletin/). I am still on the journal's editorial board and am furthermore on the editorial boards for Literature Compass and The Hare, as well as for Cambridge University Press' Shakesepeare on Screen and Cambridge Elements: Shakespeare in Performance series. I also review for some of the major presses and journals in the field of Shakespearean and early modern performance studies. In 2011-12, as part of an AHRC-funded research project, I took on the role of Higher Education consultant for Stage on Screen, a London-based production company (see www.stageonscreen.com).
I have contributed to workshops and debates that inform the reconstruction of Inigo Jones' and John Webb's designs for the Cockpit-in-Court as part of the Shakespeare North project in Knowsley and have worked with Callan Davies and Heather Knight at the Museum of London Archaeology to explore how Knight's excavation of the Curtain Playhouse shifts received narratives regarding the entertainment culture and architecture of playhouses in Elizabethan and Jacobean London.
In relation to the Digital Theatre Transformation Covid-19 rapid response project, I have talked about how theatres can use digital media to continue performing during lockdown on BBC Radio Devon and have commented on the Government's funding package for theatres in the Daily Telegraph. I've also spoken about my interest in Shakespeare and early modern theatre on BBC Radio Somerset.
I work in early modern performance studies, looking at the ways in which the plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries are redeployed in present-day performance, exhibitions, installations, digital media and criticism. There is an obvious connection between this research and my teaching, which concentrates on Shakespeare (Level 1), theatre history ('Theatrical Cultures: Renaissance to Restoration', Level 2), the wider early modern culture in which the plays are embedded ('Desire and Power', Level 2), and present-day performances of early modern drama across a range of media ('Spectacular Bodies', Level 3). I am launching a new level 3 option, 'Shakespeare and Crisis', in 2023-24. I have also taught on the 'Staging Shakespeare' MA/MFA programme led by the Drama department and contribute to MA teaching in the Department of English. From 2023 onwards, I will be part of the teaching team on the MA module 'Environments of Early Modern Drama'.
Since the Student Guild's Teaching Awards were first introduced in 2009-10, I have been nominated for a range of awards every year. I was voted 'Lecturer of the Year' for English in 2009-10, 'Most Supportive Member of Staff' for English in 2010-11, and was shortlisted for the institutional award for 'Research-Led Teaching' in 2016.
I grew up in Bern (Switzerland), where I spoke French at home and Swiss German with my friends. I interrupted my Combined Honours degree in English and French Literature at the University of Bern for one year in 1990-91 so as to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Performing Arts at the London Academy of Performing Arts. This experience inspired me to start a theatre company at the University of Bern and to celebrate the end of my degree with a staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In 1996, I was awarded a Berrow Scholarship to allow me to study for an M.St and a DPhil at Lincoln College, Oxford. While there, I staged a production of the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet with my fellow-students and took advantage of the proximity of Stratford-upon-Avon to spend a lot of time in the theatre and even more time in the Shakespeare Centre's archives.
Upon completion of my DPhil, I took up a Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, with the support of a Research Fellowship for Advanced Researchers from the Swiss National Science Foundation. For the next three years, I combined work on Henry Green and on my first book with teaching the early modern syllabus for colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. In 2001, I also had the opportunity to work with colleagues at Anglia Ruskin University to organise Scaena: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries in Performance, a large international conference.
My first two years as a lecturer were spent in Leicester, which was tremendous fun and a very important stepping-stone towards my move to Exeter, where I've been since 2004.
Since arriving in Exeter, I've had two children and have written books on Jacobean drama, film adaptations of early modern plays, performance technologies and about how Shakespeare went 'viral' during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2012 and 2017, I was General Editor of Shakespeare Bulletin. I have done stints as the Director of Education and the Head of English.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I led a project on the digital transformation of Creation Theatre (Oxford) and then went on to lead the co-ordination of the AHRC's portfolio of COVID-19 research across the UK, working with researchers in over 70 teams to bring their findings to the attention of media and decision-makers. The work of my team which included academic and professional services colleagues as well as some brilliant student interns and Digital Humanities Lab staff, was rewarded with an MBE for 'services to economic and societal resilience during COVID-19' - an individual honour I wish I knew how to share with all the Arts and Humanities colleagues across the UK who worked so tirelessly throughout the pandemic to do their bit to help out. My next destination is a policy-oriented project that compares how the responses to COVID-19 in different countries have impacted on the live performing arts.
I teach mainly for the Department of English and Creative Writing but take a vivid interest in Drama and Film.