School of Arts

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Professor Nicola Shaughnessy


Drama and Theatre

Nicola Shaughnessy leads the ‘Imagining Autism’ project and directs the Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance.

Having studied Drama and English at Hull University, I abandoned my acting aspirations, acquired an MA in feminist theory and embarked on an academic career (continuing to pursue practice based approaches to teaching and research). My discovery of a neglected corpus of autobiographical plays by women inspired my PhD and a passion for archival research.

A PGCE at Cambridge initiated my interest in applied theatre prior to my first appointment in Cheltenham (now University of Gloucestershire). My extensive experience of curriculum development, academic leadership and educational management began here. I launched a new programme in Performance Arts, participated in the development of a modular degree scheme and the validation process for degree awarding powers. I also directed several productions at Shaftesbury Hall Theatre.

After five years I moved to University College Worcester, playing a similar role in developing Drama within a modular scheme. Here I established my long standing relationship with C&T theatre company and developed postdoctoral research, publishing articles on gender, theatre and autobiography. I also began postgraduate teaching and supervised my first PhD.

In 1999 I was appointed at Kent where I've developed my research and teaching specialisms in contemporary performance, applied theatre, dramatic autobiography and performance theory (aesthetics, ethics and cognition and performance). I introduced the Masters pathways in Contemporary Performance and Applied Theatre and was also involved in the development of postgraduate programmes in practice as research as well as initiating Kent's Graduate Theatre Company Scheme. I've played a variety of leadership roles to include being Director of Drama (2004-2007) and Deputy Head of the School of Arts (2010-2012). I'm Director and co-founder of Kent's Research Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance. I participate in a range of national and international subject and research networks: SCUDD (Executive Committee member 2009-2012) TaPRA (Documentation and Applied and Social Theatre working groups); ASTR (Cognitive Science in Theatre, Dance and Performance).

My work explores the cognitive and physiological processes involved in making, participating in and experiencing performance. In addition to publications I'm involved in practice based projects using applied drama and performance in the workplace as part of Kent's Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise network as well as an AHRC funded interdisciplinary project on drama, performance and intermediality as interventions for autism ( All of my work integrates theory and practice to demonstrate the value of the arts and their importance in society.

External Roles/Advisory Work

External Examiner Drama BA at Liverpool Hope University 1999-2002

External Examiner FdA Performing Arts Bournemouth University 2006

External Examiner BA Drama University of Northampton, 2009-2013

External Examiner Drama BA Drama and Theatre Studies, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2011-2014

Member of HEFCE Drama, Theatre and Performance Benchmarking Panel (March 2007)
HE Expert for consultation on UCAS Tariff for Speech and Drama Awards (May 2006)

Panel Member for validation of Edexcel BTEC Foundation Degree in Performing Arts and Theatre (NVC, Nov 2005)

Board of Directors, Vayu Naidu Theatre Company, Education and Outreach, 2002-2005

2006 Member of HEFCE Drama, Theatre and Performance Benchmarking Panel (March 2007)

Co-ordinator and Executive Member of SCUDD working party for the REF consultation Sept 2008-2009

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Applying Performance - coverBooks Authored
Applying Performance: Live Art, Socially Engaged Theatre and Affective Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012 312pp

Gertrude Stein, Writers and their Work. Plymouth: Northcote House, 2007. 128pp,

Books Edited
Lives of Shakespearean Actors, Volume 3: Margaret Woffington, Co-edited with Robert Shaughnessy London: Pickering & Chatto, 2008 325pp

Affective Performance and Cognitive Science: Body, Brain and Being (Under contract, Methuen: Submission date March 2013; Publication date Dec 2013).

Short Works
Chapters in Books

Gertrude Stein bookKnowing Me Knowing You: Cognition, Kinesthetic Empathy and Applied Performance’ in Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, ed Dee Reynolds and Matthew Reason, Intellect, 2012

‘Breathe Body of Lovely Death: The Disappearing Subject in Susan Glaspell’s Auto/biographical Theatre’ in Gale, M. and V. Gardner, (eds) Women, Theatre and Performance: Autobiography and Identity, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004, 39-57.  
One, Two, Three: Sylvia Plath’s Verse Dramas’ in Donnell, A and P. Polkey, (eds) Representing Lives: Women and Auto/biography, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000, 241-50.

‘Between the Scenes: Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater’ in Gale, M. and V. Gardner, (eds) Women and Theatre: Occasional papers 4, Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1997, 35-67

‘Is s/he or isn’t s/he?: Screening Orlando’ in Cartmell, D. I.Q., Hunter, H. Kaye (eds) Pulping Fictions: Consuming Culture across the Literature/Media Divide, London: Pluto Press, 1996, 43-56

‘When this you see remember me: Three plays by Gertrude Stein in Griffin, G. (ed) Difference in View: Women and Modernism:London: Taylor and Francis 1994, 43-56

Journal Articles

‘Perceiving Differently: The Neuro-Divergent Aesthetic and Contemporary Performance’, eds Bartleet, C and K Shepherd-Barr, commissioned for Interdisciplinary Science Reviews Special Edition: Experiments in Theatre:  New Directions in Science and Performance (December 2013)

‘Truths and Lies: Towards a New Methodology of Performance Applications’ for Research in Drama and Education, 10,2, 2005, 101-112

 ‘Theatres of Absurdity: pedagogy, performance and institutional politics’, Studies in Theatre Production, 13, 1996, 39-53

Other Works
Commentary on Simon Baron Cohen’s ‘The Empathising Systemising Theory of Autism’  for Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol 14, no 3, 2009,14-17

Reviews for Theatre Research International, New Theatre Quarterly, Research in Drama Education

Current research/in progress

Edited book

Historical Dictionary of British Theatre: Modern Period, Scarecrow Press (under contract, scheduled for completion December 2013)


'Dialogues between theatre and neuroscience', University of Rome, 6th and 7th June 2013

'Patterns of Thought: Teaching Aesthetics to Children and Families'  Liverpool, 21 and 22 June 2013

Presentation on 'Imagining Autism' for National Autistic Society Professional Conference, Harrogate, March 4th-6th 2013

Symposium on Applied Theatre and the Turn to Cognitive Science, Theatre and Performance Research Association Working Group Interim Event (featuring Applying Performance and Kinesthetic Empathy) as core texts for discussion

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My teaching specialisms are contemporary performance, applied theatre, autobiographical and documentary performance and performance theory (cognitive theory and performance, aesthetics, ethics, psychoanalyis).  All of my teaching explores a series of related themes: the relations between performer and audience, liveness and presence in performance; concepts of truth, fiction, authenticity and the ‘real’; identity and memory; documentation and archiving performance.

My teaching is research led and, to some extent, my research is teaching led as I continue to learn from my students. All my work integrates theory and practice through a commitment to embodied learning. I teach the concept of the ‘affective practitioner’ committed to making work which is transformational, moving and unique.

My lectures are performative so students are required to be present (physically and intellectually). The lecture is an event which does more than communicate knowledge; students are actively engaged as learners (rather than consumers) building on the lessons I learned from my research on Gertrude Stein: ‘to make a play the essence of what happened.”

In the lecture and in the studio we are in an open, liminal space where questions are explored, knowledge is created, understanding is deepened and perspectives change. My practical teaching draws on pedagogies of play to engage students creatively and conceptually.

Modules taught/convened: Contemporary Performance Practice (MDrama/MA); Performance Applications (MDrama/MA), Performing Lives (Autobiography, Documentary and Performance); New Directions (contemporary approaches to Theatre Directing).

Training the Trainers
In conjunction with the Imagining Autism project, I am running a pilot programme for training practitioners in the methods we are using (contemporary performance, puppetry, interactive digital media).

Previous students include:

Paul Sutton, (Director/practitioner; founder of C&T PhD, 2007)
Paul Hurley (live artist ) Devising, 2001
Helena Bryant (live artist, MA PaR 2008)
Kristin Fredrickson (performer, MA PaR 2009)
Veronica Needa (Playback practitioner, MA PaR, 2009)
Accidental Collective:  All graduates from MDrama’s Contemporary Performance Practice specialism, 2006: Rick Bolinger, Daisy Orton, Pablo Pakula, Laura Dean
Little Bulb: Graduates from MDrama’s Contemporary Performance Practice specialism, 2008-2010) Alex Scott, Claire Beresford, Dominic Conway, Shamira Turner

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Autism bookMy research has been described as 'wide ranging,' and takes me from archives in America (books on Gertrude Stein and Margaret Woffington) to performance installations in classrooms ("Imagining Autism"). My work is connected by my interests in identity in and through performance (gender, psychoanalysis, phenomenology); relational art and aesthetics (interactive and participatory performance) and cognitive theory and performance (spectatorship, affect, empathy). Key questions are the purposes of performance, how performance works and who it is for?


'A thoroughly compelling take on Susan Glaspell's 'disappearing subject' by Nicola Shaughnessy. In its thoughtful theorization of both the physical place of the playwright and the playwright's own preoccupations with place in her work…(Feminist Review, 84 2006)

'Shaughnessy's writing is clear, concise, and leads readers into the complexity of Stein's [work] …Standard critical problems such as Cubism, Stein's style and thematic preoccupations, and the dialogues in her later dramas are dealt with succinctly.. ' (Year's Work in English Studies 2010)

'Applying Performance is a timely and engaging addition to the field, extending the scope and possibilities of what defines applied theatre, and pointing to emerging trends and thinking.' - Michael Balfour, Chair, Applied and Social Theatre, School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University, Australia

'Nicola Shaughnessy's book establishes her as the leading international authority on affective cognition in applied performances. Building on insights from previous scholars, she understands that the turn to affect undermines the older, Kantian distinction betwen useful and aesthetic theatre." Bruce McConachie, Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, University of Pittsburgh and authot of Engaging Audiences: A Cognitive Approach to Spectating in the Theatre (Palgrave 2008)

Current Projects

I have recently published a book on contemporary performance practices in educational, community and social contexts (Applying Performance, Live Art, Socially Engaged Theatre and Affective Practice, Palgrave, 2012).

I am currently completing an edited collection for Methuen: Affective Performance and Cognitive Science: Body, Brain and Being  (2013)

I am also continuing to work on an interdisciplinary practiced based project (with Melissa Trimingham, Julie Beadle Brown and David Wilkinson) on Drama, Performance and Intermediality as Interventions for Autism
I'm also under contract for the Historical Dictionary of British Theatre: Modern Period, Scarecrow Press (completion 2013)

My next book project will be a collaboration with Dr Helen Brooks: Performing Identities

Research Funding
Puppetry and Play as interventions for autism: Ideas Factory, £8,875, Autumn 2009

ICE: Innovation, Creativity & Enterprise: Drama & Performance in business contexts
• Communication & Performance techniques for Business, £5,000, Autumn 2009
• Creative Thinking & Innovation, £5000, Autumn 2009

Drama & Business: Principal Investigator for training workshop commissioned by Pfizer, September 2009

Canterbury Blitz (collaboration between Drama, Multimedia and Canterbury Museum) co-investigator with Dr John Batchelor (2006) £20,000 (Lottery funding)

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I welcome applications from potential postgraduates and am particularly interested supervising in the following areas:
Cognition and Performance
Applied Theatre
Autobiographical and documentary theatre
Arts and Health

My current research students include:
Roanna Mitchell, MPhil/PhD:An examination of the British entertainment industry's increasing demand for the 'manufacture' of body and identity as product, and the impact of this demand upon students and the curricula at British Drama Schools’.

Deborah Leveroy, MPhil/PhD ‘The experience of the Dyslexic Actor.’

Christoper Jones: Representation of Psychic Distress in Contemporary British Theatre

Astrid Breel: Interactivity in Live Art and Performance

Sarah Fox, MA: ‘The Virtual Rehearsal Environment’.

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Drama in the Workplace (with Dr H.E.M. Brooks, Dr D.Peluza and Accidental Collective Theatre Company) workshop and performance, September 2009 with further outputs through lecture demonstration for Kent Enterprise, May 2010, paper for Theatre and Performance Research Association, September 2011 and presentation for CIDRA at Central School of Speech and Drama (HEA funded event on applied theatre and social enterprise), 5th March 2012

' Beyond the Box: Creative Thinking and Innovation,' (with Dr H.E.M.Brooks) Ideas Factory – September 2009-June 2010 – £5,000. Outputs in the form of a four part raining package: 'Collaborative strategies for team communication', 'Succeeding in the spotlight', 'Realising your creative potential' and 'Setting the scene for change', as well as the development of a framework for bespoke training for teams and organizations. Training courses profiled through demonstrations and presentations at two public events: the Kent Business-to-Business Expo (2010) and the ICE launch, April 2010

'All the World's a Stage: Communication and Performance Techniques for Business', (with Dr H.E.M Brooks and Dr D.Peluza) Ideas Factory – September 2009-June 2010 – £5,000. Outputs as above

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Last Updated: 03/10/2013