Dr Abigail Rokison-Woodall (2003)
Shakespearean Verse Speaking
Lecturer in Shakespeare and Theatre, University of Birmingham
“Try whatever interests you, and don’t be afraid of change”
How do you look back on your time at Trinity Hall?
With great affection. I wasn’t as active in the MCR as perhaps I might have been, but I did get involved in a great deal of University drama, and met fellow enthusiasts amongst the graduates at Trinity Hall – one of whom produced a couple of the shows that I directed, and one of whom was in them. The College was hugely supportive, and the Master (Professor Daunton) and his wife became patrons of the theatre company that I set up with a Trinity Hall undergraduate. I also have very fond memories of punting in the college punts, sitting in the library with that wonderful view of the river and rehearsing in the lecture hall.
Why did you choose to study Shakespearean verse speaking?
I began my career as a professional actor, training at LAMDA. I acted for a few years and then decided to do an MA whilst reassessing what I wanted to do as a career. Whilst taking my MA I became aware of a gulf between what I had been taught about speaking Shakespeare as an actor, and what I was now learning about the transmission and editing of the text as an academic. This seemed the perfect topic to pursue for a PhD.
How did your time at Trinity Hall impact on your career?
During my time at Cambridge, through the ADC, Marlowe Society, English faculty and Trinity Hall, I met a number of theatre professionals with whom I have stayed in touch. These contacts have been vital in my research and teaching. Trinity Hall also gave me the opportunity from the first year of my PhD to gain experience supervising undergraduates (mainly in Shakespeare in Performance) which proved invaluable.
What is your greatest career or academic achievement to date?
I think that my greatest achievement was winning the inaugural Shakespeare’s Globe First Book Award. Not only was this a great honour, but it gave my the opportunity to give public talks at the Globe and Cheltenham Literary Festival and subsequently in New York, Staunton Virginia and Stratford Ontario.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t try to fix too early on a career plan. Try whatever interests you, and don’t be afraid of change. If I hadn’t trained and worked as an actor for a number of years then I wouldn’t have come up with the topic for my PhD, and I wouldn’t have got either the job I had in Cambridge (as Director of Studies in English and Drama at Homerton) or the job that I now have in Stratford-upon-Avon.