Dr Phoebe Rumsey
Musical theatre is all about collaboration. From choreographing musicals like Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical and The Rocky Horror Show to completing a Master's and PhD, I've found that success mainly comes from being involved with a group of passionate collaborators.
I recently moved here from New York City where I had been doing a PhD, a Master’s and various other jobs for the past 7 years. I hold dual citizenship with Canada and the U.S and have pursued creative projects and studies in both countries.
I grew up heavily involved in dance and did an undergraduate program in contemporary dance at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Throughout my professional career as a dancer, I always had an interest in how movement can tell a story, so I started exploring more singing and acting, which is how I got into musical theatre.
My Master’s at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada was studying ‘dream ballets’, which is a musical theatre convention where dance carries the plot of a show for some part of it, such as in Oklahoma! or the opening of West Side Story. After that, I returned to Canada and was a choreographer for a further 10 years, specifically choreographing musicals.
After many wonderful collaborative projects, I realised I wanted to look more academically at some of the theory behind musicals and the assumptions/stereotypes about the genre. I decided to move to New York City to do a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY, alongside continuing my dance training, research and performance.
Once I completed my PhD, I began looking for a teaching position. It can often be challenging to find a musical theatre program that is the right fit for a discipline which has so many different genres—singing, dancing, acting, musical composition, choreography, research, theory etc. The course at the University of Portsmouth had a program that was a great fit for me and has proven to be an extraordinarily fulfilling next step.
I recently signed a contract with Routledge to write my first book titled: Embodied Nostalgia: Social Dance, Communities and the Choreographing of Musical Theatre. The project is about dance in musical theatre and what the body does on stage—what kind of moves characters are doing and why. I specifically connect those moves to social dance and investigate the communities where these dances originated. I look at a dozen different musicals and investigate the choreographic strategies used to explore past memories, historical situations and the cultural resonances therein.
My quest is always to try and demonstrate how important dance, movement and the body in motion is to musical theatre. On a broader scale, my aim is to continually uphold musical theatre as a fascinating area of study that can tell us a lot about ourselves, socially, politically, and culturally.
I teach in the Musical Theatre course and across the Drama and Performance course, both of which are in the School Art, Design and Performance, part of the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries.
One of the modules I teach is ‘Movement for Performance’, which involves instruction in various dance techniques, choreography and physical theatre, along with a module called ‘Musical Theatre Skills’. I also teach lecture style modules on the history and theory of performance. Most of my students are first and second years, although I also mentor some of the third-year students’ ‘Major Academic Projects’. I also supervise one postgraduate student.
My goal is always to instil a sense of curiosity and confidence in the students. My hope is that by their third year, students will start taking on projects on their own, feeling that they have the skill set to move into a career musical theatre. More broadly, however, whether they pursue a career as an artist or a practitioner, scholar, theorist, or teacher, I hope they feel well poised to put forth creative projects of their own design.