Hope College December 2012 : Page 8
Faculty Profile Historian’s Inspires S Book Play Above is a moment from english playwright Adrian Bunting’s award-winning play Kemble’s Riot , which focuses on the 66 nights in 1809 that patrons rioted in protest against theater-owner John Kemble’s decision to increase prices and reconstruction that reconfigured public seating as expensive private seating. The production involves members of the audience either in support of or opposition to the character of Kemble. (photo courtey of Adrian Bunting) cholars typically pursue a topic because it has captured their imagination. They hope that the work that they produce captures the imagination of others as well. In a humanities discipline such as history, that usually means a book or article that might find use in courses or serve as a crucial resource for other researchers as they in turn push understanding in new directions. Inspiring a writer across the Atlantic to develop a play? Well, that can happen, too. Dr. Marc Baer, professor of history and chairperson of the department, heard this past spring from a British playwright who read his first book, Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London , and turned the material into a play. Kemble’s Riot , by Adrian Bunting, has been staged to glowing reviews, and was named “Best Theatre Show” at the 2011 Brighton Festival, England’s largest arts festival. After the play’s presentation this past summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotsman.com noted “This production has it all. A political rant with laughter and tears. There is enough to contemplate for days,” while The Times of London said, “Fascinating, artfully understated modern resonances make you think about Reithianism, Dr. marc Baer of the Hope history faculty with his 1992 book Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London. celebrity and popular culture.” The production began with Bunting’s chance discovery of Dr. Baer’s 1992 scholarly book in a Brighton book shop more than a decade earlier. “I didn’t hesitate to buy it as soon as I saw the title,” Bunting said. “Without the book, there would have been no play.” For 66 nights in the fall of 1809, as Dr. Baer’s book recounts, audiences at the newly rebuilt Covent Garden theatre rioted over an increase in ticket prices. The theatre had burned the previous December, and manager John Kemble raised the prices to help recoup the construction cost. At the same time, the reconstruction had removed a section previously available to the public and reconfigured it as expensive private seating. The riots became an organized movement that crossed class and culture and ultimately succeeded in prompting Kemble to lower prices and apologize. Bunting, who had never heard of the riots, became drawn by the audience in particular. “The fact they organised themselves so efficiently, with such unity of purpose should be an inspiration to us all,” he said. In fact, those attending become the rioting audience, acting in opposition to—or perhaps in support of—the character of Kemble. “They were the main character in the story,” Bunting said. “Without the crowd there is nothing. I decided that it would be possible to write the play in such a way that the audience could easily be persuaded to ‘join in,’ a long and established theatrical device not used so often these days. Fortunately it works.” The play Kemble’s Riot, which has been staged to glowing reviews, began with British writer Adrian Bunting’s discovery of historian Dr. Marc Baer’s book Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London in a Brighton shop. Dr. Baer, who is a specialist in modern British history, had likewise initially discovered the event through serendipity. He was visiting the University of California to review microfilm of primary sources for another project when he found references to the riots. He initially thought that they’d make an interesting side-project, but by the time he was done he’d developed a 291-page book that not only described the events in detail but set them in their wider context, also exploring the audience’s tactical use of theatricality and the event’s significance as modern democracy developed in Great Britain. “I kept researching, and at some point when I had about a 50-page manuscript I realized that it was way too big for an article,” Dr. Baer said. “To me that’s how scholarship works. You can plan what you’re going to do, but you can also let the muse strike you and say, ‘No, this is something else altogether.’” 8 News News From From Hope Hope College College
Historian’s Book Inspires Play
Scholars typically pursue a topic because it has captured their imagination.