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Monday, 3 January 2022

Crossing the Circle - new article

We are pleased to start 2022 with an update from Rob Fellman, our resident archivist and PhD candidate with the University of Sheffield! Over to Rob:

Their ‘web’ perhaps began as a Venn diagram of circles that cross together over time to form a singular, collaborative constellation that might be called ‘Third Angel’. As I write this, I realise I have been subconsciously informed by Kelly’s own use of the Venn diagram analogy in a previous Backpages article. I return to this point later and add the words: a process he calls ‘seeking the heart’.

This is an excerpt from an article published in Contemporary Theatre Review’s Backpages in September 2021. As the author of the article, I would describe it as a playful connection with Third Angel’s approach to research within their artistic practice. I am under no illusion that my own research residency with Third Angel is a testament to this very process, and indeed, places me firmly within their ‘Venn diagram’. This article, in part, represents this acknowledgement as I try to connect my own wider research with previously published texts on Third Angel’s working methods. I become unashamedly aware, in turn, of Third Angel’s influence on my own thinking. To what extent am I a neutral observer, and how much of my own view is also theirs? (Or should I say, ours?)

Image: The Earth in Full View, seen from Apollo 17. Credit: NASA.

This article is intended as a creative response to theory, that takes its inspiration from the words of Third Angel and two specific recurring images from within their oeuvre: the Voyager space probe travelling away from Earth, and the idea of the ‘perfect circle’ that our planet appears to be from such distances away…

The circle contains within it a web of connections, of ‘cross-transit’ by which ‘iterations’, or microcos- mic cycles, can form as ideas are tested, adapted, and then repeated (such as trying out an idea in rehearsal). Kelly’s co-artistic counterpart, Rachael Walton, told Philip Stanier of a moment during the making of 9 Billion Miles from Home that marked a processual shift away from factual content, marking ‘the start of a departure from an obsession with Voyager, away from science, towards [the question of] why Voyager was so interesting’. The circle, as opposed to a continuum, illustrates the degrees of academic and practical research in ratio (whether scientific or artistic in origin), like the points of a compass, by which a combination of the full spectrum of possibilities makes a complete – perfect – circle. 

Take a read of the article and see how these two things relate:
Crossing the Circle: A Response to the Role of Research in the Work of Third Angel
by Rob Fellman
in Backpages 31.3, Contemporary Theatre Review, 31:3, pages 364-379. (2021).

Rob Fellman is a Collaborative Doctoral Award holder with Third Angel theatre company and the University of Sheffield, UK. His research explores longevity in the UK arts sector and is supported by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities.

A few months ago we were delighted to hear that our application to jointly host a PhD with Sheffield University was successful, and that Rob Fellman would be joining us to start his work on “Contemporary theatre-making and company longevity: technologies of creation, collaboration and remembering” this autumn. We’re looking forward to working with Rob, and very excited to see what he finds in our archive - both literally and analytically! So, slightly later than planned, we’d like to introduce him. Or rather, let him introduce himself…


By way of a brief introduction, my name is Rob and I am a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. I recently started working on something called a ‘collaborative doctoral award’. These ‘CDA’s’ (as they are more simply named) reflect changing approaches within Higher Education institutions and funding bodies alike, to enact a more integrated form of academic learning; positioning researchers alongside partner organisations to produce mutually beneficial outcomes.  

It all sounds rather formal put that way, but it essentially means that over the next three years I have the unique pleasure of working with Third Angel, as a collaborator of sorts. I will be beginning my journey by looking into the archived materials that Alex, Rachael and their past creative collaborators have produced during formative rehearsals, whilst also looking ahead to what might still be to come… There are many possibilities that can arise from the reflection and evaluation of the past, that might unearth an essence or ‘trace’ of what Third Angel contribute to the field of contemporary theatre (and indeed what importance they are still yet to play). I am intrigued to find out what relationships exist between the knowledge contained in Third Angel’s archive and the knowledge held by its members and collaborators. How might Third Angel’s approach to ‘collecting’ and ‘retelling’ be considered, especially in view of their company’s longevity (approaching 25 years in action)? 

The recent book launch of ‘There’s A Room’ (you can read the recent blog post on this here for a bit more context) marks a defining moment in Third Angel’s journey. Its release acts as a commitment. Just as their words are committed to paper, so too are they reaffirming a commitment to the sharing and openness that has characterised much of their creative practice to date. Third Angel are, by their very nature, a collaborative company and the texts of ‘There’s A Room’ are no exception. Alongside Rachael and Alex the likes of Jerry Killick, mala voadora and Chris Thorpe knowingly make their marks on its pages, whilst unnamed others may (or may not) have contributed in a multitude of different ways; in stories shared, in chance meetings, or in simply being in the wrong place at the right time… Third Angel are masters of observation, so anything could make it in!



What then of all the collaborators to come; readers and performers of these texts (you? Me?) through which the legacy of Third Angel can be breathed a lasting life; their stories once again re-told and re-imagined? My research hopes to engage with some of these (admittedly broad!) questions. I hope to find out how collaborative work impacts on the potential for longevity in the arts sector that Third Angel so wonderfully embody – is it true that there is a strength in numbers?  

I plan to keep you updated on this blog with some of my findings, both with attempts at answers to the questions posed above, as well as some exciting discoveries from the archive (we hope)! I look forward to sharing my journey with you. If you are interested in keeping a closer eye on what I am up to, you can find me on Twitter @Rob_Fellman so please do feel free to connect with me on there. Oh, and if you haven’t got your copy of ‘There’s A Room’ yet, you can grab yours here!  

Watch this space…

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