The Paper Stage: making early modern drama accessible

By Morgan Rodway-Wing

University of Kent stage production

Image courtesy of University of Kent

Canterbury is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK, with significant ties to key literary figures such as Christopher Marlowe. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked by students because of the stigma surrounding early modern drama which sees students shy away from studying playwrights such as Marlowe due to the complex language. Luckily, the University of Kent’s very own L. Drysdale is on hand to attempt to break the stigma and take the fear out of studying Early Modern drama.

The Paper Stage was originally a reading group designed to assist English Literature students studying stage two modules. However, noticing the number of people who struggled to understand and engage with Early Modern drama, Drysdale decided that it needed a complete reinvention and took over the reading group in September 2019. In doing so, they have single-handedly transformed it into an astonishingly effective 2-hour support session, and it is my belief that anyone who attends is better off. The best part about it is that everyone is encouraged to come along, whether they study English or not.

Attending the first session of the term, I was apprehensive and concerned that I might have to read something aloud or, even worse, act a scene out. However, Drysdale was clear to set the record straight that it is “not a drama club” and went on to explain that no one is ever forced to read anything aloud if they do not wish to. Talking about the name, Drysdale explained that “the reason that this is called The Paper Stage is that we construct a version of the plays that live but isn’t necessarily on a stage”. They then went on to state that “theatre isn’t designed to stay on paper” which led me to believe that this reading group was not going to be an ordinary group, but an amalgamation of reading, performing, learning, and laughing – I could not have been more spot-on if I had tried.

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The witty nature of Drysdale created several moments of hilarity, particularly when they announced that the title for that evening’s session was going to be ‘Where are we, what’s going on and how the f**k did we get here?’ which left me chuckling to myself. The humour continued with their use of props during the reading group, notably a copy of the painting ‘The Ugly Duchess’. Drysdale’s use of humour created a relaxed environment and encouraged students to open up in order to allow themselves to indulge in the worlds of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Dekker.

There is absolutely no denying that early modern drama carries a stigma with it, with many students preferring to study more modern time periods. However, The Paper Stage has undoubtedly adapted the way I perceive and approach Early Modern drama, and I believe that it will do the same for anyone who attends.

The Paper Stage runs on alternating Monday evenings.

Image courtesy of KentBlogs