New Scholars Prize

ISTR runs an annual essay competition for New Scholars. There is no set theme for this competition; rather, candidates are encouraged to submit work drawing on their current research. New research, or essays developed from papers presented at the preceding conference are welcome. The New Scholars Prize is awarded to the best essay, judged on originality, coherence and rigour.

Essays must be between 4 000 – 6 000 words (excluding bibliography) and should not be published or submitted for publication in advance of the award announcement. Candidates should submit entries in English electronically as an e-mail attachment. They will be judged anonymously; hence, the author’s name must not appear anywhere in the essay itself. All submissions must be accompanied by a cover sheet, must be presented with attention to correct spelling and stylistics and referenced according to a standard norm (i.e. MLA or Chicago style).

Details of the competition for 2020.

Eligibility: A New Scholar is defined as a graduate student, post-doctoral researcher whose PhD has been completed less than three years ago, or a researcher without a PhD who has been in an academic post for less than three years. Membership of ISTR is not necessary to enter the competition, but prize winners will need to join ISTR to attend the conference where the prize will be awarded.


Recent Winners


Winner – Justine Nakase (NUI Galway)  

“Cuchulain, and Black!: Race and Performance in the 2016 Easter Rising Commemorations”


This paper explores the casting choices of two major commemorative performances in the 1916 Centenary. RTÉ’s Centenary and the GAA’s Laochra both traced the evolution of the Irish state, positing the mythic hero Cuchulain as historic origin point. Accordingly, both performances opened on the mythic past before staging key moments in the history of the Irish state. In both productions Cuchulain and mythic Ireland were cast as racially diverse, with black or mixed race Irish men embodying the iconic hero. While this multicultural casting might seem to signal toward an inclusiveness of Ireland’s new migrant and minority ethnic communities, this was undermined by the fact that this diversity on stage was soon replaced by a homogenously white cast. Tracing the long, tangled and gendered histories of Irish racialisation and cross-racial performance, I argue that these commemorative events reflect deeply rooted ideas around nationality, masculinity and race in Ireland. As performance texts, Centenary and Laochra thus articulate both the current preoccupations of an increasingly diversifying nation and lingering histories of racial appropriation. While both commemorations attempt to signal toward a more pluralised society they ultimately essentialise the black male body for regenerative consumption by a primarily white Irish audience, thus echoing established tropes of Irish identity rather than forging new ones.

Justine Nakase is a PhD candidate and Irish Research Council-funded scholar at the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway. Her dissertation examines race and identity in contemporary Irish performance with an emphasis on mixed race and minority ethnic Irish figures. In 2016 she produced #wakingthefeministswest, a season of theatre by Irish women writers from the west of Ireland with support from the O’Donoghue Centre. She is currently co-editing a two-volume collection on Irish women playwrights.

Second  Place – Dayna Killian (Waterford Institute of Technology)

The Women of the Abbey: Margaret O’Leary and The Woman (1930)


The Abbey Theatre has a long history of controversy surrounding the depiction of Irish womanhood on the national stage. Most recently this argument extended from a preoccupation with misrepresentation into a sustained debate around underrepresentation. A debate immediately followed by the demand for transformation through the rise of the ‘Waking the Feminists’ movement in 2015. This paper contributes to the current conversation by resisting the patriarchal narrative surrounding the Abbey. It does so by considering Margaret O’Leary’s The Woman (1929) as part of a larger historiography which foregrounds the experiences of Irish women in plays submitted to the Abbey by women playwrights, prior to 1950. Ireland in the 1920s and 30s saw the erosion of women’s ability to contribute to the socio-political sphere and within this historical context figures such as O’Leary are revolutionaries who sought to depict the personal destruction that such oppression produces. Situating O’Leary within this environment this paper will contribute to the recuperation of the work of women playwrights who challenged the contemporaneous status quo. After considering the historical climate within which O’Leary lived, it will then explore the depiction of the protagonist of The Woman, Ellen Dunn, trapped within a network of tightly interwoven power relations that works to establish an absolute adherence to a conservative framework of ideological values.

Dayna Killian is a third-year PhD candidate for the ‘Performing Women’ project at Waterford Institute of Technology. Her research is part of the wider ‘Performing the Region’ project at WIT and seeks to recoup the work of women who submitted plays to the Abbey prior to 1950 and to engage with future policy development intended to reduce gender inequality in the theatre sector. Dayna recently attended Notre Dame as a Fulbright visiting researcher where she focused on the work of Margaret O’Leary and The Woman, which was produced by the Abbey in 1930.

Third Place – Clara Mallon (UCD)

“Performing Difference: Ex-centric Representations in Pat Kinevane’s Trilogy”


The boundaries of Irish marginalisation define containment as a form of exile. Pat Kinevane’s theatre crosses this boundary and makes that boundary visible, awakening audiences to the connection between the personal and the political throughout. Within his most recent trilogy (Forgotten, Silent and Underneath), Kinevane focuses on decentred identities constituted on the fringes of contemporary Irish society. The solo performances can be seen as subverting conventional notions of the ex-centric subject as silenced and invisible. Though the marginalised come to occupy the centre in Kinevane’s work, he complicates the idea of the centre itself. This is achieved through the utilization of combined strategies associated with postmodernism and the mechanisms of traditional storytelling. Consequently, Kinevane’s performances can be seen as working toward both involvement and detachment on the part of the spectator. This essay asserts that Kinevane’s solo performances attempt to initiate what Linda Hutcheon terms “aesthetic and even political consciousness-raising” (73), which she argues is a necessary step toward radical change. His theatre reveals how very connected we are to the silenced, forgotten and invisible of this world; offering a serious, sometimes desperate, but also incredibly playful call to reassess our relationship to the centre, and those voices lost to its margins.

Clara Mallon is a drama tutor/lecturer with the School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin. She received her BA in Film, Literature and Drama from Dublin Business School and her MA in Theatre and Performance from University College Dublin. She is interested in both the practical and academic aspects of drama and performance. Her role within UCD involves theoretical and practical tutorials in the areas of contemporary postmodern performance, 20th-century avant-garde theatre and contemporary Irish theatre. She is also a coordinator and instructor for an undergraduate module in Early Irish Drama. Clara’s passion for teaching drama began when she completed her MA and facilitated groups of pre-leaving cert students in weekly drama workshops, through which they devised and produced a number of shows. In her spare time she runs a theatre company that produces yearly pieces of new writing. Clara has written, directed and performed with the company. She also writes performance reviews for an online forum which allows her to engage with the current theatrical landscape in an analytical way. Currently, her main research interest is contemporary Irish theatre and postmodern theatre practices. She is currently working on research for a PhD proposal in the area of contemporary Irish theatre.


1. Winner – Angela Butler (Trinity College Dublin) 

“Affective Encounter: Repetition and Immersion in The Corn Exchange’s Man of Valour


In 1968, Gilles Deleuze published Difference and Repetition, which set forth one of his most revolutionary proposals—repetition, rather than an act that is identical in manner, is a generative, creative, and forward-looking process. Deleuze argues that repetition creates through difference rather than stabilises through replication and thus pursues the notion that difference and repetition have the potential to be both destructive and constructive. This paper explores what transpires when a performance such as The Corn Exchange’s Man of Valour makes use of the destructive and constructive power of difference and repetition. Applying Deleuze’s concepts alongside Mikel Dufrenne’s phenomenologically guided study of aesthetic experience as a theoretical framework, the paper introduces a concept of the phenomenal identification—the appointment by the spectator of the actor as an affective “body double”. In Man of Valour, the spectator appoints the sole performer as a body double who performs an action and, through an embodied reciprocity, the spectator experiences the affect. By means of an intensive and affective language, the performance encourages the audience to relinquish the binaries that separate them from the performance and, through phenomenal identification with the performer, invites them to enter the performance, thus subjecting themselves to the forces within it.

Angela Butler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Drama at Trinity College Dublin. Her doctoral research presents a phenomenologically guided study of immersive sensory spectacle performance. Sensory spectacle performance aims to foreground the embodied experience and felt aspects of performance whereby the emphasis is always on the establishment of an affective encounter and communication of sensation. Angela’s thesis considers the connections between the affective experience offered by sensory spectacle performance and the influence of digital culture upon it. Her research interests include performance and digital culture, affect, aesthetic experience, perception, attention, and phenomenology.

2. Second place –  Cheryl Julia Lee (Durham University)

“The Redirected Gesture in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa


The staging of remembrance in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa invites us to see the stage as a space for evocation rather than representation. Building on the premise of the lieu de mémoire, as elucidated by historian Pierre Nora, this essay examines the ways in which Friel rewrites the theatrical vocabulary of memory plays in order that he might bring memory out from under the dust of history. In Dancing at Lughnasa, Friel’s particular use of the gesture frees the stage mechanism from its common use of representation and makes of it a symbolic expression of human feeling. Within these revised parameters, memory’s purpose is established as the formal accordance of significance to experience through emotion. Positioning his theatre between reality as we know it and the imagination, Friel establishes conditions that allow for emotional resonance so that meaning might be checked into present, that memory might be salvaged from being mere ruins of the past.

Cheryl Julia Lee is currently a PhD candidate at Durham University. Under the supervision of Dr Patricia Waugh, she is writing on the intersection of aesthetics and ethics in contemporary British and Irish fiction. She received her BA (Hons.) in English Literature from Nanyang Technological University in 2014 and her MPhil in Irish Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2015.


1. Winner – Laura Farrell-Wortman, University of Wisconsin – Madison

‘“That Mournful Figure in Black”: Grace Gifford Plunkett and the Post-Easter Rising Performance of Widowhood’


On the night of May 3, 1916, Rising leader Joseph Plunkett and artist Grace Gifford were married in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol and were thus transformed from a relatively obscure couple to two of the most public figures of the Easter Rising. Though the geography and iconography of the 1916 Easter Rising is rife throughout Dublin, it is especially evident at Kilmainham Gaol that some of the most poignant – and most romantically effective – narratives of the event were embodied by those who lived, not those who died. In this essay I examine Grace Gifford Plunkett’s performativity of political widowhood, with the Irish public and press as her audience. In the moment of her marriage, Grace Gifford was transformed in the public imagination from an artist and activist in her own right into a symbolic figure of gendered political sacrifice. I argue that through the performance of widowhood, and through the media’s creation of her iconography, Gifford Plunkett enacted and embodied the loss of her husband as a symbol of public mourning, and that the highly performative nature of their brief marriage was crucial to the development of the Easter Rising narrative both at the time of the event and in Irish memory.

Laura Farrell-Wortman is a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Her research considers the intersection of theatre and political economics in the Republic of Ireland. She is currently at work on a dissertation titled “Theatre After Anglo: Irish Drama Responds to the Great Recession,” exploring theatrical responses to the financial crisis of 2008 to the present. She is the 2016 recipient of the New Scholars Prize from the International Federation for Theatre Research and the Krause Research Fellowship from the American Conference for Irish Studies.


1. Winner – Ruud van den Beuken (Radboud University Nijmegen) ­

“Future Femme Fatales: Prospective Memories and Postcolonial Marriages in Original Mythological Plays at the Dublin Gate Theatre, 1928-1933”


The essay addresses the cultural and political implications of three original mythological plays that were produced at the Dublin Gate Theatre between 1928 and 1933. The author’s analysis of Micheál MacLiammóir’s Diarmuid and Grainne (1928), An Philibin’s Tristram and Iseult (1929) and David Sears’s Graine of the Ships (1933) attempts demonstrate that these plays feature marked departures from their thematic roots in Revivalist literature: rather than tap into a lost cultural reservoir and recreate something of the grandeur that was Éire, MacLiammóir, An Philibin, and Sears might be said to have problematized the function of mythology in a postcolonial state in their respective plays. Moreover, their representations of undesirable marriages as political conundrums that might be resolved through rebellion are reinforced through revolutionary narrative structures that can be interpreted as potent memory strategies. By thus analyzing the cultural memories that complicated these emblematic marriages, the author elucidates how such novel reimaginings of mythological tales could absorb the political discourse of postcolonial Irish nationalism without strictly conforming to the conventional rhetoric of insurrection and martyrdom.

Ruud van den Beuken is a PhD candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where he is writing a thesis on the Gate’s original playwrights titled Memory, Modernity and (Inter)nationalist Identities at the Dublin Gate Theatre, 1928-1940 (to be completed in 2016). He is one of the editors of Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014) and Irish Studies and the Dynamics of Memory: Transitions and Transformations (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016, forthcoming). He has published an article on commemorations of the Easter Rising at the Gate Theatre in Irish Studies Review (2015) and will publish two articles on postcolonial identity formation in mythological and historical Gate plays respectively in forthcoming edited volumes.

2. Second place – Virginie Girel-Pietka (Université Lille 3)

“Renewing Cuchulain as a National Icon”


Denis Johnston (1901-1984) grew up in a historical context that continually divided people, at once arousing and challenging their sense of belonging to a nation. After studying law in England and in the USA, he took an interest in experimental European theatre and started a career on the Dublin stage in the 1920s. He later became a war reporter for BBC Northern Ireland during the German raids on Belfast in 1941, and then a war correspondent in North Africa, the Middle East, Italy and Germany, which unsettled his sense of the human. He then summoned Irish dramatists to turn their interests “from the problems of the noble peasant to the question of human survival”. The present article shows that his 1956 pageant of the adventures of Cuchulainn was designed to stage humankind’s postwar trauma in the middle of a festival dedicated to Irish culture. Johnston explored what it meant to be human, superhuman or inhuman so that Cuchulainn’s heroism was reconfigured and renewed in an international context. The dramatist thus enhanced the cultural bonds between Ireland and the rest of the world and bridged the gap between national culture and international post-World War 2 concerns. The article is forthcoming in the next issue of Commonwealth Essays and Studies, dedicated to “post-conflict territories”.

Dr Virginie Girel-Pietka is a research fellow in Irish drama at Lille University. She teaches translation and English for Theatre and Film Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. She completed her PhD. on Denis Johnston’s dramatic works in 2013, under the supervision of Professor Alexandra Poulain. Her dissertation focuses on the way Johnston’s plays address modern man’s identity crisis, the challenges they entail as far as stage language is concerned and the relation between their content and their ever-changing form. She has published papers on Johnston’s experimental playwriting and is now reworking her dissertation into a monograph. She also shares information on the playwright’s works as well as on past and current research about them on a Facebook page entitled “Denis Johnston – Irish Playwright”.

3. Third place – Brenda Donohue (Trinity College Dublin)

“’Worthy of the Times, but Resisting the Times’: Critique and Creation in Emma Dante’s Theatre and Working Strategies”


In the Introduction to her 2011 collection entitled Nomadic Theory:The Portable Rosi Braidotti, the feminist critical theorist outlines the centrality of the nexus between critique and creation in the process of “nomadic thought.” In this matrix, which rejects the paralysing tendencies of melancholic philosophy, critical thinking is necessarily accompanied by an affirmative creative impulse that actively engages the “conceptual imagination” in an effort to produce “sustainable alternatives” (6). This paper suggests that Emma Dante’s theatrical oeuvre, along with her own particular and differentiated working practices, are consonant with Braidotti’s vision, where critical thought is intertwined with creative engagement in an attempt to find viable alternatives to the status quo.  Firstly, it is argued that Dante is critical of contemporary society on a number of key fronts and, not content with what Braidotti terms “sterile opposition” (6), she employs theatre practice as a medium for the creative identification, and exploration of, pressing social themes such as poverty, marginalisation, heteronormativity, and patriarchal dominance. Secondly, it is suggested that Dante both implicitly and explicitly opposes the traditional understanding of the role “playwright,” which defines the profession in exclusively masculine terms. Like nomadic thought that examines representational regimes that characterise “thought” in narrow ethnic and gendered terms, Dante resists the traditionally biased understanding of her role through a process of intellectual critique and the adoption of differentiated working strategies. Through such processes, Dante both critiques contemporary theatre’s rejection of female playwrights and directors, and creatively engages with the problem of exclusion, thus providing an embodied exemplar of a successful female playwright. 

Dr Brenda Donohue graduated from Trinity College in 2013 with a thesis on contemporary female playwrights. She is an active member of the Waking the Feminists movement for whom she is currently coordinating a large research project. This project is a quantitative analysis of Irish theatre in gender terms for the period 2006-2015. It aims to find out how the top ten Arts Council funded theatre organisations represent women in varying roles in the industry. Brenda has been a member of the ISTR since 2009.


2013 – Tanya Dean

“Fictional Realities in Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce and Jean Genet’s The Maids”

Tanya Dean is a DFA candidate in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama, where she also received her MFA in 2011. Her current research focuses on fairy tales and folklore in European theater. A former General Manger for Irish Theatre Magazine and Managing Editor forTheater, Tanya has published several journal articles on various facets of dramaturgy and Irish theatre, including the forthcoming “Aspects of Hibernia: Female Allegories of Ireland in Modern Irish Drama” in Theatre History Studies (forthcoming – 2014) 34. She has also worked extensively as a dramaturg both in Ireland and the US, and served as the Artistic Director for the 2012 Yale Summer Cabaret season, 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories.


In Saint Genet: Actor & Martyr, Jean-Paul Sartre observes that, “For Genet, theatrical procedure is demoniacal. Appearance, which is constantly on the point of passing itself off as reality, must constantly reveal its profound unreality.” This demoniacal element emerges as a dramaturgical fascination with metatheatricality, most potently manifest in Genet’s The Maids. Enda Walsh echoes this investigation of metatheatricality (and murderous siblings) in his play, The Walworth Farce. Both playwrights construct a play and a-play-within-the-play, demarcating the metatheatrical notion of the “Real” (a world within or without the play that constitutes the theatrical incarnation of reality) and the “Illusory” (a performative sub-world which is highlighted by and contrasted to the Real). For the families in both plays (the emotionally stunted men of The Walworth Farce and the titular siblings ofThe Maids), performance serves as both the sustaining structure of their lives but also as a potentially lethal trap, confining them to seemingly inescapable roles.


2012 – Christopher Collins

“‘The Cries of Pagan Desperation’: J.M. Synge and the Discontents of Historical Time”

Christopher completed his Ph.D on the plays of J.M. Synge at Trinity College Dublin in 2012. He is a Trinity College Dublin Gold Medalist. With Mary P. Caulfield he’s editing a collection of essays entitled “Ireland, Memory and Performing the Historical Imagination,” which is forthcoming in 2013. Christopher currently teaches at Trinity College and The Lir: The National Academy of Dramatic Art. He also works as a dramaturg and an applied theatre practitioner.


2011 – Aoife McGrath

“At the edge of the event?: the dance of unfixed thoughts in the work of Jean Butler and Colin Dunne”.

Aoife McGrath is Lecturer in the Drama Department at Queen’s University Belfast and recently completed her doctoral studies at Trinity College Dublin. She is a dancer, director and choreographer and has worked as the dance adviser for the Irish Arts Council. Aoife has published several journal articles and book chapters on dance in Ireland and her monograph, Dance Theatre in Ireland: Revolutionary Moves, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. Her ISTR New Scholars’ Prize essay will be published in the Oxford University Press publication, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (ed. Anthony Shay).