When the artistic team at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatre responded in January 2014 to the partnerships scheme being advertised by the Humanities’ then newly formed Knowledge Exchange (KE) group, their enquiry was answered by Ros Ballaster, Professor of 18th Century Studies at the Faculty of English. For a whole year both parties were able to take advantage of the mutual collaboration that KE fosters by bringing together the research-rich culture of Oxford with expertise in devising and delivering relevant and challenging theatre to a local audience.
So when the KE fellowship came to an end 12 months later, the mutual feeling was that the relationship should continue – and this is where Oxford University Innovation stepped in. Working closely with the Humanities office, we put together an agreement stating the expectations and rewards of such extended cooperation, expressed in monetary form. In this way, not only can the theatre’s artistic directors be clear of the high value of the academic expertise, but Ros’ faculty can clearly demonstrate the impact and benefits for all concerned.
To date, Ros has been involved in four productions. She has written articles for programmes, and attended rehearsals for two plays: a new adaptation by Mike Poulton of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and a contemporary reworking of a farce by Georges Feydeau, Every Last Trick. As she’s settled into the role she has started to arrange consultancies and workshops in Oxford and Northampton to support scriptwriting, research and adding literary value to productions. Her aim is to produce genuine exchanges of mutual benefit both to the theatre and the academic scholars.
I think it’s good for the culture of the University to have some people working outside of it, in these exchange relationships, not just in terms of public engagement. It feeds the expertise and experience of the external partner back into our research and teaching practices. I do feel like I have a pretty easy relationship with the people at Royal & Derngate now. The personnel may change but I know most of the people there and they can ring me up, ask for something, and I can just say, “No I can’t deliver that” or “Yes I can probably find someone” or I can try and do it myself. You know, it’s uncomplicated, and I have now signed a consultancy agreement with them for twelve days a year, so it will be an ongoing relationship.
– Ros Ballaster, Professor of 18th Century Studies, Faculty of English