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I studied for a BA (Double Hons) degree in Drama and English at the University of Manchester, before becoming a freelance practitioner, working as a theatre director, teacher, writer and facilitator in community settings. From 1998 – 2003 I was Director of Theatre Education at Mind the Gap theatre company in Bradford, running the company’s innovative training programmes in professional theatre for adults with learning disabilities. From 2002 – 2009 I also performed as Smiley Smacko of The Pierrotters, Britain’s last remaining seaside pierrot troupe.
Since joining the University of Huddersfield in 2005 I have maintained ongoing links with the theatre industry mostly through memberships of company boards, including Promenade Promotions and Chol Theatre. From 2011 – 2013 I was an Artistic Assessor for Arts Council England, focussing on street theatre and Disability Arts.
Research and Scholarship
My main area of research focuses on performers with learning disabilities, and examining the social and aesthetic significance of this work. As well as renowned theatre companies in this field (Mind the Gap, Back to Back, Dark Horse), this research also includes learning disabled musicians, such as Heavy Load and Susan Boyle.
Drawing on my own practice as a seaside entertainer, I investigate the history of the British Pierrot troupe, a popular form in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These troupes performed on the beaches, promenades and piers and their repertoire included songs, sketches, dances and novelty acts. The first troupe, formed by banjo player Clifford Essex, appeared at Henley Regatta in 1891, and within a few years most seaside resorts had at least one, and usually several, troupes.
I also investigate another renowned troupe from the history of popular entertainment, the Rat Pack, comprised of five performers: Frank Sinatra; Dean Martin; Sammy Davis Jr; Peter Lawford; and Joey Bishop. Although primarily considered a musical act today, the troupe’s work encompassed several forms (comedy, song, dance, drama and impersonation) and spanned a range of media (film, television, radio and nightclubs).
Publications and Other Research Outputs
Calvert, D (2017) ‘Book Review: Disability Theatre and Modern Drama by Kirsty Johnston’ New Theatre Quarterly , 33 (1), pp. 92-93. ISSN 0266-464X
Calvert, D (2016) ‘Disability, care and debility: radically reframing the collaboration between non-disabled and learning disabled theatre makers.’. In: Disability, Arts and Health, 1st - 2nd September 2016, Bergen, Norway
Calvert, D (2016) ‘Book Review: Applied Theatre - Aesthetics, edited by Gareth White’ New Theatre Quarterly , 32 (2), pp. 199-200. ISSN 0266-464X
Calvert, D (2016) ‘Jokes as performance text: a close reading of Rat Pack banter’ Comedy Studies , 7 (1), pp. 38-47. ISSN 2040-610X
Calvert, D (2016) ‘Everything has a fucking value: Negative Dialectics in the Work of Back to Back Theatre’ Contemporary Theatre Review , 26 (2), pp. 134-152. ISSN 1048-6801
Calvert, D (2015) ‘Heroism and heroic action in applied and social theatre: a selection of provocations from TaPRA's Applied and Social Theatre working group’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance , 20 (2), pp. 173-176. ISSN 1356-9783
Calvert, D (2015) ‘MASHED and SHAMED: a new approach to the acronym’. In: When the writing is on the wall: a discussion of the ecology of research, creativity, impact and value, 9th May 2015, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Calvert, D (2015) ‘Mind the Gap’. In: British Theatre Companies: 1995-2014. London, UK: Bloomsbury. pp. 127-154. ISBN 9781408177273
Calvert, D (2015) ‘Similar hats on similar heads: uniformity and alienation at the Rat Packs Summit Conference of Cool’ Popular Music , 34 (1), pp. 1-21. ISSN 0261-1430
Low, K. and Calvert, D. (2015) ‘Conference Review: Heroism and the Heroic in Applied and Social Theatre’ Journal of Arts and Communities . ISSN 1757-1936
Calvert, D (2014) ‘'Actual Idiocy' and the Sublime Object of Susan Boyle’. In: iek and Performance. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 178-195. ISBN 9781137410900
Calvert, D (2014) ‘Heroism as the aesthetic dimension of solidarity’. In: TaPRA 2014 Theatre and Performance Research Association, 3rd - 5th September 2014, Royal Holloway, University of London
Calvert, D (2014) ‘A person with some sort of learning disability: the aetiological narrative and public construction of Susan Boyle.’ Disability and Society , 29 (1), pp. 101-114. ISSN 0968-7599
Calvert, D (2013) ‘Book review: Drama, Disability and Education by Andy Kempe’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance , 18 (4), pp. 417-418. ISSN 1356-9783
Calvert, D (2013) ‘Royal Pierrots and White Coons: the British Pierrot Troupe in the Racial and National Imaginary’ New Theatre Quarterly , 29 (2), pp. 107-120. ISSN 0266-464X
Calvert, D (2013) ‘From Pedrolino to a Pierrot: The Origin, Ancestry and Ambivalence of the British Pierrot Troupe’ Popular Entertainment Studies , 4 (1), pp. 6-23. ISSN 1837-9303
Calvert, D (2013) The rat pack and the British pierrot: negotiations of national identity, alienation and belonging in the aesthetics and influences of concerted troupes in popular entertainment Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.
Calvert, D (2012) ‘Carnival of the Mundane: Red Oktober at Englands National Tramway Museum’. In: Performance Studies International, 27th June - 1st July 2012, Leeds University, Leeds, UK
Calvert, D (2012) ‘The Rat Pack: Legacy and Influence’. In: University of Huddersfield Diamond Jubilee Lecture Series, 6th June 2012, University Campus, Barnsley
Calvert, D (2010) ‘Loaded Pistols: the interplay of social intervention and anti-aesthetic tradition in learning disabled performance’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance , 15 (4), pp. 513-528. ISSN 1356-9783
Calvert, D (2009) ‘Like the Special Olympics? The relationship of research to practice in theatre and learning disability’. In: TaPRA Conference 2009, 7th - 9th September 2009, Plymouth University
Calvert, D (2009) ‘Heavy Load: The Love Child of Johnny Rotten and Audrey Hepburn’. In: Applied Theatre, Aesthetics and Uncertainty, Friday 8th May 2009, Manchester University
Calvert, D (2009) ‘Re-claiming authority: the past and future of theatre and learning disability’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance , 14 (1), pp. 75-78. ISSN 1470-112X
Calvert, D (2008) ‘Oh We Do Like To Redefine The Seaside’. In: Performing Heritage, 3rd - 5th April 2008, University of Manchester
Between 2012 and 2016 I acted as co-convenor of the Applied and Social Theatre Working Group for the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA). In this role, I have jointly curated events at Huddersfield University, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Liverpool Hope University, as well as the working group’s meetings for the national conferences at Glasgow University / Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Worcester and Bristol University. I am also Deputy Chair of the theatre company Dark Horse, based at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.
Research Degree Supervision
I welcome enquiries from research students interested in contemporary Applied Theatre or Outdoor Performance, for supervision of MA by Research / MPhil or co-supervision of a PhD. I am particularly interested in theatre engaged with people with learning disabilities, and broader applications of theatre in a context of Disability.
Indicative (but not exclusive) areas for study might include:
- Learning disabled performance / performers
- The history of Disability Arts
- Theatre of the Oppressed
- Applied Theatre practices
- The Pierrot tradition
- The Rat Pack and / or any of its individual members
I am currently the Chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee for the School of Music, Humanities and Media, and represent the School at the University’s Equality and Diversity Enhancement Group. I am a Deputy Academic Integrity Officer for the School, and also act as Disabilities Co-ordinator for the Drama department.
Teaching and Professional Activities
I teach across the theory and practical modules on the BA (Hons) degree and also currently supervise students for MA by Research.
I am Module Leader for two theory modules, Models and Theories of Performance Practice 1b, a first year module looking at key developments in drama, theatre and performance in recent history, and Models and Theories of Performance Practice 2b, a second year module looking at the social and political significance of theatre.
In practical modules, I direct student performances at all undergraduate levels, and covering a range of styles and approaches, including devised performances, clown shows, text-based work from the historical to the contemporary avant garde, street theatre, Invisible theatre, Renaissance drama and community-based projects. I have also taught options that explore the theory and practice of applied and social theatre.