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Past Research Projects in the Drama Department

Our staff produce world-leading research delivered via projects that involve collaboration with a range of academic, heritage and industry partners. Our research expertise ranges across the wide field of performance and employs a variety of innovative and interdisciplinary practice-informed methodologies. Please see an archive of past research projects that the department has engaged with below.

AHRC 2012-2017


  • Jane Milling (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Kerrie Schaefer, (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Andrew Miles (University of Manchester)
  • Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester)
  • Felicity James (University of Leicester)
  • Lisanne Gibson (University of Leicester)
  • Eleonora Belfiore (Loughborough University)

The project was led by Miles, with Milling, Schaefer, Gilmore, James, Gibson and Belfiore as Co-Investigators.

Working with colleagues at University of Manchester, University of Leicester and University of Warwick, this project proposed a radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value. We are used to thinking about the benefits of the arts as a traditional way of understanding culture and its value but what about the meanings and stakes people attach to their hobbies and pastimes? Can we speak of supposedly mundane activities like shopping, taking the dog for a walk, or meeting up with friends as having cultural worth?

This research project brought together evidence from in-depth historical analyses, the re-use of existing quantitative data and new qualitative research to reveal the detail, dynamics and significance of ‘everyday participation’. Our aim was to generate new understandings of community formation and capacity through participation, to be developed through collaborations with partners and participant groups to evolve better practice for policy makers and cultural organisations. Our approach promised new ways of capturing the contexts and processes of cultural valuation including the ways in which creative economies are underpinned by local practices and community identities.

Understanding Everyday Participation | Articulating Cultural Values

Wellcome, 2017


  • Sarah Goldingay (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Aysha Nathoo (History, University of Exeter)
  • Emmylou Rahtz (Exeter Medical School)
  • Paul Dieppe (Exeter Medical School)

An interactive experience created for the Green Man Festival, to encourage kindness and connection. An interdisciplinary team from Drama, Medicine and Medical Humanities created a special project investigating individual and collective wellbeing.

AHRC, 2013-2016


  • Jane Milling (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Helen Nicholson (Drama, Royal Holloway)
  • Nadine Holdsworth (Drama, Warwick University)
  • Erin Walcon (University of Exeter)

The project was led by Nicholson, with Milling and Holdsworth as Co-Investigators.

This AHRC funded research project was the first major study to take amateur dramatics seriously. The resulting monograph, The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre, Nicholson, Milling and Holdsworth, 2018, received the David Bradby Monograph Award from TAPRA, 2019.

Amateur theatre has an active place in the social and cultural life of many communities, and a long history of community activity. Yet the term 'amateur' is often used disparagingly; academics have been conspicuously silent on the subject, and professional actors continue to deride amateur dramatics for their production values.  In the first major study of amateur theatre, this project offered new perspectives on its place in the cultural and social life of communities. Historically informed, it traced how amateur theatre has impacted national repertoires, contributed to diverse creative economies, and responded to changing patterns of labour. Based on extensive archival and ethnographic research, the monograph traces the importance of amateur theatre to crafting places and the ways in which it sustains the creativity of amateur theatre over a lifetime. It asks: how does amateur theatre-making contribute to the twenty-first century amateur turn?

Amateur_Theatre_Report.pdf (

AHRC 2013-2014


  • Cathy Turner (University of Exeter)
  • Duška Radosavljevic (University of Kent)

Project partners were Hanna Slättne (Tinderbox, N. Ireland) and Shadow Casters (Croatia).

What do we mean by ‘Porous Dramaturgy’? We applied a term used by theatre director Kully Thiarai, to describe a theatre institution which acts as a catalyst for activity that passes through and beyond itself; a space that is open to diverse occupations, collaborations and communities (Thiarai 2011). This project suggested that ‘porous’ dramaturgy might be similarly open to the contribution of the spectator or passer-by. The project set out to explore the relationship between the ‘porous’ dramaturgy of the artwork and the ‘porosity’ of the institution, asking whether the artwork may realise democratic aims through its ‘porous’ construction. We are interested in contexts where the notion of ‘community’ is placed under pressure by political and socio-geographical circumstances, and so part of our project concerned an examination of this work in relation to Croatia and Northern Ireland, as well as provincial UK communities. If certain kinds of dramaturgy allow the audience to permeate the artwork, and become part of it, what kinds of community may be constituted or recognised through this process?

AHRC 2012-2013


  • Jane Milling (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Fabrizio Nevola (Arts and Visual Culture, University of Exeter)
  • Antonia Layard (University of Birmingham)
  • David Rosenthal (University of Bath)

The project was led by Nevola, with Milling and Layard as Co-Investigators.

This pilot study on tavern culture ranged from early modern Europe to the present day. It investigated whether today’s real and imagined patterns of drinking – people congregating in public spaces at night, sold alcohol and revelling – are recurring practices and representations of drinking and of competing communities. It looked at how public space is used, and how tavern culture produces places and social groupings; how these spaces are regulated in the name of order, morality and health; the rhetorics of drinking and taverns, of pleasure, harm and authority. The project asked if the performance of drinking, and ideas of spectacle and carnival, are still part of modern drinking culture, and if contemporary questions about public policy on drinking and ‘anti-social behaviour’ find resonances in the past.

tavernsproject | An AHRC-funded Connected Communities study

AHRC Fellowship 2011-2012


  • Kerrie Schaefer, (Drama, University of Exeter)

1. How is 'community' conceived and enacted in community-based theatre and performance practices?
2. How might theories of 'community', in particular, in the work of Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben, provide a critical lens through which to analyse and theorise community-based theatre and performance practices?
3. How can the theoretical and critical analysis of community-based theatre and performance practice contribute to the field of practice, as well as interdisciplinary and social questions about the construction and/or deconstruction of communities?

In order to answer these questions the project presented five case studies of community-based theatre and performance practices. The case studies were drawn from an international field and included practices from the UK, Europe, North America, Australia and Singapore. Schaefer conducted fieldwork with performance companies in these various contexts. The research data comprised observation field notes, recorded documentation (video, still photography) of working processes, practices and performance outcomes, and interviews (audio recorded) with practitioners and participants. It also comprised in-depth notes from a close reading of primary critical theory sources and selected secondary sources. These critical theories of community were compared to the theories emerging from the ground of the case studies, and in this way, critical theory was applied, tested and evaluated in relation to theatre and performance practice.

AHRC, 2011-12


  • Kerrie Schaefer, (Drama, University of Exeter)

Harnessing creativity in civil society plays a central part in the delivery of a range of government strategies (Cameron 2010). Creative clusters are conventionally defined as the geographic concentration of a creative industry (craft, film, music, publishing, interactive software and design). We suggest that this definition requires broadening to capture and analyse the contribution of groups who come together to deliver a range of social and environmental benefits, particularly those outlined in the 'Big Society' agenda.

AHRC, 2011-12


  • Jane Milling (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Kerrie Schaefer, (Drama, University of Exeter)

What is Well-Being? It has variously been defined in relation to health, happiness, and the environment. Most commentators suggest that well-being is primarily about the quality of connections to one's friends, family, local environment, nation, and communities, that is, it is a social quality. How do participatory arts create and sustain social, and thus community, well-being? The Arts Council of England established that 'active participation in the arts can have a significant impact on the wider determinants of health such as improving living environments, increasing educational attainment and building social capital.' (The Arts, Health and Well-Being). These findings resonate with '5 ways to wellbeing' recommended by the New Economics Foundation (2008) and with recent NICE guidelines stressing the importance of group activity in alleviating mental health difficulties. The project aimed to explore the contribution of participatory arts to community well-being through analytical studies of flagship participatory community arts practices, past and present.

Project Report by Josie Billington, Hamish Fyfe, Jane Milling, Kerrie Schaefer

Connected Communities - Participatory Arts and Well-Being

AHRC, 2011-12


  • Sarah Goldingay (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Mick Mangan (Drama, University of Exeter)

A large-scale collaboration between playwright Howard Barker's company The Wrestling School, the Exeter Northcott theatre, and Drama Department staff members Sarah Goldingay and Mick Mangan, supported by the AHRC, led to the world premiere of his latest work 'BLOK/EKO' (formerly known as 'Nausicaa at 50') with a cast of 70.
In the November 2012 issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance, editors Sarah Goldingay and Mick Mangan bring together a variety of texts and essays regarding the project.

AHRC, 2011-2012


  • Jane Milling (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Jonathan Owen (Film, University of St Andrews)
  • Ravi Mahewsaran (Public Health, University of Sheffield)
  • Kerrie Schaefer (Drama, University of Exeter)

Public and media concern over risky sessional public drinking among young people, dubbed binge drinking, has been regularly expressed since the 2000s (Nicholls 2009; Berridge, Herring, Thom 2009). World Health Organisation and European Commission urged the construction of national action plans ‘emphasizing actions that regulate alcohol price, availability and marketing’, to which the government’s recent Alcohol Strategy responds (WHO 2010; The Government’s Alcohol Strategy 2012) Yet, some commentators warn that ‘social engineering techniques which attempt to modify well-established cultural drinking practices can have counterproductive results,’ and the outcomes of such policies are uncertain. (Peele 1997). This project set out to analyse the cultural representation of group binge drinking by young adults (18 to 35 years old) in British film and live theatre performance over the last forty years. Qualitative analysis of these representations was undertaken to reveal the cultural narratives around episodic excessive drinking.
The project held two consultations around these qualitative findings: a symposium on representations of binge drinking behaviour and performance interventions held on 15 May 2012, and a consultation with Interdisciplinary Alcohol Research Programme at the University of Sheffield on 24 May 2012. A series of key concerns and issues for further research emerged.

AHRC, 2012


  • Sarah Goldingay (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Robin Durie (Politics, University of Exeter)
  • Katrina Wyatt (Exeter Medical School)

On face value, community seems like a simple word: one that we all understand. But, if we start to ask questions about how we or others might think about their own communities, or the idea of community in a wider sense, we begin to realise that it is far from straight forward. Instead, it can stand for a complex range of social, political, religious and economic networks of people, places and concerns. How we think about it is shaped by our own life experience.

The project concerned two different communities who were working together to create a new community. The research team collaborated with Devon County Council's Children in Care Scheme [DCCCCS], and the young people they worked with, to better understand a crucial moment in these young people’s lives: the time when they left care to live as independent adults.

Briefing report for Community What do you mean (final) (

AHRC, 2009-12


  • Kate Newey, (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Professor Jeffrey Richards (Cultural History, Lancaster University).

Pantomime was one of the most popular, enduring and influential theatrical forms in Victorian England. It is a given of our national cultural life and has been part of the experience of virtually every generation of English people since the Industrial Revolution.

However, it remained almost entirely unanalysed and unstudied in a scholarly context. This neglect was almost certainly due to the widely held misapprehension that the pantomime is essentially lightweight and frivolous. This project undertook a wide-ranging study of Victorian pantomime in England, looking at pantomime as a rich vein of cultural history and topical commentary about British society and politics in the Victorian period.

AHRC, 2004-2009


  • Graham Ley (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Stephen Hodge (Drama, University of Exeter)
  • Jerri Daboo (Drama, University of Exeter
  • Sarah Dadswell (Drama, University of Exeter)

The British Asian Theatre Project was a 4-year research project that documented the presence of South Asians on the British stage, from magicians of the 1790s to new generations of British Asians.

The research team aimed to provide a critical and documentary history of this major aspect of the modern and contemporary British theatre, with particular emphasis on the period from 1975, when Tara Arts was founded by Jatinder Verma. The project had an AHRC-funded PhD studentship, held by Chandrika Patel.

The team’s research extended to both community and professional theatre and forms of South Asian live performance. In addition, attention was given to the historical development of South Asian live performance in the following regions: Bradford, Oldham and Manchester, Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Tower Hamlets and Southall. The research team conducted interviews in these areas, and with a wide range of theatre practitioners.

The Department of Drama hosted a Conference in 2008, which placed the research findings in the wider international context of migrant and diaspora theatre. The project resulted in a monograph and DVD documentation, British South Asian Theatres: A Documented History, edited by Ley and Dadswell, University of Exeter Press, 2012.