Musical Theatre and All That Jazz Research Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Sch of Art, Design and Performance


This research network brings together a new group of scholars to interact with practitioners, industry figures and the public as they explore new avenues for research, practice and understanding that emanate from examining interconnections between musical theatre and jazz.

Musical theatre and jazz are most often studied, practiced and produced separately but they have shared origins, characteristics and discourses. These intersecting histories and features are sometimes mentioned in passing in the critical literature but their potential for extending knowledge and developing new methodologies remains obscured by the separation of forms. By researching intersections and interactions between forms and considering what they might mean for understandings both within, across and beyond disciplines, the research of this network will produce new interdisciplinary conceptualisations, methodologies and practices that have implications that extend beyond developing academic knowledge to address issues of contemporary practice, the creative industries and audiences.

In reflection of the increasingly involved and global character of both musical theatre and jazz and their study, the network's core membership is both multidisciplinary and international in its makeup, including scholars from Europe, the USA and southeast Asia as well as from the UK. The network will meet at three one-day workshops, staged in Portsmouth, Birmingham and Munich, that aim to provoke productive cross-disciplinary critical discussion around set themes. These themed workshops are deliberately located within venues that facilitate the engagement and interaction of differently interested audiences of academics, industry figures, practitioners and the public with network debates and activities. They aid impactful working, which is a core aim of the network.

A vital element in developing impactful cross-disciplinary knowledge generation is a practice-research project that is integrated within the network. This will bring together jazz musicians with musical theatre practitioners to explore the forging of a common language between disciplines in the process of creating a new work-in-progress 'Jazzical' - an experimental form mixing jazz and musical theatre practices and understandings. This project will inform network debates as much as it is informed by them. It is designed to offer new insights and methodologies stemming from the nexus of forms in practice, partly to address industry concerns for fresh and interesting musical-theatrical productions that are on a suitable scale for small- and mid-scale venues like Portsmouth's New Theatre Royal (host venue for the first network meeting) and of interest to festivals like the 'Biennale' in Munich (the location for the last network meeting).

The network will produce a series of public events attached to the three network workshops, an edited volume of scholarship, a work-in-progress theatre piece and associated online and video materials. It is designed to engender much lively debate that extends beyond academia through the public and industry engagement activities associated with the workshops and the network's online platform. The network aims to situate these emergent things within a context of the historical and social discourses that underpin the intersections between musical theatre and jazz. Eminent keynote speakers from the UK and the US have thus been selected and approached for their proven ability to offer discourses that extend across disciplines and to speak to industry practices and the public.

In bringing this new and diverse network together to explore this unmapped interdisciplinary terrain, it is hoped that new research territory and modes of inquiry will emerge which will lead to an application to the AHRC to support further work in this neglected but exciting, potentially fruitful and highly impactful area.

Planned Impact

This research network has pathways with the potential to achieve impact in the following areas beyond academia:

1. Industry bodies and practitioners
The network will make use of existing relationships with professional bodies like Musical Theatre Network and Jazz Promotion Network in order to build routes to lasting impact. These organisations work with key decision makers, lobbying in support of writers, composers, performers, producers, venues, and festivals throughout the UK and in Europe. Through exchanging knowledge and expertise with these bodies, the network has an opportunity to inform attitudes to and to play a role in transforming policy around these performing arts and their crossovers. Through the interdisciplinary studies of the network and the integrated practice-research project, there is potential to effect change in creative practices and promote new collaborations between practitioners and with professional bodies.

2. Commercial sector
Taking advantage of existing relationships with musical theatre and jazz companies, like Perfect Pitch and Serious Music, we will welcome industry figures to engage with network events and the online forum. Our Portsmouth workshop venue, the New Theatre Royal, is a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England and brings a host of contacts and insights into the commercial concerns of such regional small- to mid-scale theatres. The knowledge generated by the network will be of value to such venues as well as a wide range of practitioners, producers, promoters, festival directors and publishers in musical theatre and jazz. Sharing knowledge about the ways in which performers understand, characterise and explain their relationships with the infrastructure of the relevant creative industries will help to open up new commercial opportunities. For example, the practice-research project in the network will develop the basis for a show of the precise kind typically sought by receiving venues like the New Theatre Royal.

3. Third sector organisations and individuals
The events proposed in this series will allow for organisations engaged with musical theatre and jazz in non-profit or clinical environments to participate in discussions. In addition to the potential for arts and community organisations to make a contribution, this diverse approach extends to individuals who might consider themselves amateur writers, composers, performers or producers wishing to improve their skills, or professionals looking to transform their current practice and employability in non-commercial environments. In that regard we plan to exploit links with the National Operatic and Dramatic Association.

4. The media
The network also has the potential to transform the approaches of media workers such as film and television producers, magazine editors, podcasters, photographers and authors who have close connections to musical theatre and jazz, either in the products they produce or in the context of making media that depicts, discusses, comments upon, or otherwise engages with performance practices. We will engage beneficiaries in these fields primarily through the infrastructure of workshop-hosting institutions to encourage them to bring their media networks into contact with network events, website and publications.

5. Local communities and the wider public in general
Similarly, beyond those who work directly in the performing arts, there is also a broad and worthwhile audience of individuals who simply wish to learn more about the culture of creative work in the music/theatre industries and apply transferrable elements of the research to their own lives and careers. We will endeavour to reach these audiences through opening our events to the public and providing open access to the website.


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