21 September, 2023 | by Rushi P

November 1, 2020

Seeking proposals for an edited collection on “theatre-fiction”, i.e. novels and stories about theatre.

Theatre has made star appearances in dozens of novels, from J. W. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship to Mikhail Bulgakov’s Black Snow to Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. There are historical theatre-novels (John Arden’s Silence Among the Weapons), naturalist theatre-novels (George Moore’s A Mummer’s Wife), children’s theatre-novels (Noel Streatfeild’s Curtain Up), detective theatre-novels (Claire Legendre’s La Méthode Stanislavski), and even science-fiction theatre-novels (Christopher Stasheff’s A Company of Stars). But while literary genres such as science fiction or detective fiction have been extensively theorized, “theatre-fiction” has not received the attention that this enduringly popular and complexly intermedial genre deserves. This volume of essays will explore novelists from a range of eras and parts of the world who engage in sustained ways with theatre as artistic practice(s) and industry, examining what happens to theatre on the pages of novels, and what happens to novels when they collaborate with theatre.

This project situates itself within a developing domain of scholarship on theatre/novel intersections. The significance of theatre in the lives of particular novelists has been probed in studies such as Francesca Saggini’s Backstage in the Novel: Frances Burney and the Theater Arts and Stephen Putzel’s Virginia Woolf and the Theater. Monographs such as Alan Ackerman’s The Portable Theater: American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Stage and David Kurnick’s Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel remind us that theatrical and novelistic forms did not develop in isolation, accentuating a history of fluid boundaries, reciprocal exchanges, and creative antagonisms. On one hand, what will connect the chapters in the proposed volume is a more specific thematic emphasis—they will focus on novels that are specifically about theatre as artistic practice and industry (as opposed, for instance, to novels whose engagement with theatre and drama is more strictly formal, e.g. novels reflecting the five-act structure of Shakespearean tragedy or the dialogue of well-made plays). Theatre-novelists, however, are linked not only by theme and topoi but also by the shared formal and stylistic challenges and opportunities that arise from engaging through one medium with elements and attributes of others. In this respect, a study of theatre-fiction has links with the developing field of intermediality, which has grown to examine what theorists call “intermedial reference” or “intermedial representation”. Within intermediality studies, significant attention has been paid to topics such as the ekphrasis of visual art and cinema, leaving novelistic engagement with theatre largely unexplored.

In addition to accentuating the significance of theatre in the work of prominent novelists, this volume is also an opportunity for less-studied theatre-novelists to receive critical attention. The aim is to bring together discussions of theatre-fiction from a range of eras and parts of the world, shedding light on some hitherto neglected works and bringing them into conversation with a broader field. The following link provides a list of novels and stories that engage in sustained ways with theatre, and which might be possibilities for discussion in this collection.

The volume will showcase a range of approaches to theatre-fiction, such as:

  • a focused analysis of a particular theatre-novel;
  • an analysis of theatre across the oeuvre a novelist who frequently engages with it;
  • a comparison of the ways in which two or more novelists engage with theatre;
  • a discussion of theatre-fiction from a particular era (e.g. late-1800s France);
  • a discussion of a specific theatre-fictional phenomenon across two or more novels (e.g. novelistic portrayal of theatre audiences, novelistic rendering of acting methods …);
  • an investigation of how theory and scholarship from the realms of Theatre and Performance Studies might inform analysis of theatre in novels;
  • theatre-fiction and pandemics: the next-best thing when theatres are closed?
  • etc.

Please send a brief bio and an abstract of no more than 600 words to [email protected] by November 1st 2020.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Graham Wolfe
Associate Professor, Theatre Studies, English Language and Literature
National University of Singapore
[email protected]