Professor Nicola Shaughnessy

Professor of Performance
+44 (0)1227 827516
Professor Nicola Shaughnessy


I am Professor of Performance with research and teaching specialisms in contemporary performance, autobiography, applied and socially engaged theatre. I founded Kent’s Research Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance,  and I am co-editor of Methuen’s Performance and Science series. I was Chair of the QAA Subject Benchmarking Review for Drama, Dance and Performing Arts (2014-15) and I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College (academic, international, strategic, knowledge exchange). I was Principal Investigator for the AHRC project, Imagining Autism (2011-2014), an interdisciplinary collaboration between Drama, Psychology and the Tizard Centre (University of Kent). This secured AHRC Follow-On Funding in 2018 (Autism Reimagined: creative resources for schools and communities). 

A further development from Imagining Autism was a pilot project in 2017, seed-funded by a public engagement research grant (University of Kent), working with community participants to explore autism and gender through a collaborative and creative approach. This resulted in a short film and led to a new AHRC grant for Playing A/Part, a project investigating the experience of autistic women, girls and marginalised genders through participatory arts practices. This is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Universities of Kent (Drama and Digital Arts) and Surrey (Psychology). 

My teaching and research integrates theory and practice, ethics and aesthetics within interdisciplinary contexts.  Throughout my career, I have worked across subject boundaries, with publications in literature, film and social science as well as performance studies and theatre history. My current research brings me into dialogue with psychologists and neuroscientists through projects using drama, media and participatory research practices to explore autism, dementia and mental health. Complementing this is an ongoing pursuit and evaluation of the role of creative practice as an embodied methodology and pedagogy. I am particularly interested in supervising PhD students with projects that might be facilitated through cross disciplinary team supervision (see Supervision).

A Joint degree in Drama and English and MA studies in feminist theory created the foundations for my future work and pursuit of 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 a long standing relationship with C&T theatre company and developed postdoctoral research, publishing articles on gender, theatre and autobiography.

In 1999 I was appointed at Kent where I introduced modules and programmes in Contemporary Performance and Applied Theatre and participated in the development of the postgraduate Practice as Research programmes and initiated Kent's Graduate Theatre Company Scheme. I've played a variety of leadership roles at Kent to include being Director of Drama (2004-2007) and Deputy Head of the School of Arts (2010-2012).

I was founder and Director (2010-14) of Kent’s Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance, based in the School of Arts with cross-faculty engagement, a rapidly developing network and a programme of interdisciplinary events. This was a platform for the development of the Methuen Performance and Science series for which I am co-editor (with Professor John Lutterbie at Stony Brook University). I participate in a range of national and international subject networks, including SCUDD (Committee member 2008-2012), TaPRA, IFTR and Cognitive Futures in the Humanities (see External Roles). I also contribute to funded networks and a series of public and community engagement activities in education, health and participatory arts contexts (see External roles and activities).

Research interests

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 research projects in education, health and workplace contexts.  As Principal Investigator for Imagining Autism, I worked with an interdisciplinary team of drama researchers, practitioners and psychologists, evaluating the the efficacy of a participatory drama programme with autistic children (7-12 year olds, using mixed methods). 

Adapting approaches derived from teaching contemporary performance practice (improvisation, puppetry and intensive interaction in multisensory immersive environments), we designed practical activities for primary schools, developed and delivered training for arts workers and teachers as well as a programme of public engagement (including producing an experimental film documentary). In this project, the dynamic interaction between teaching and research involved using techniques from live art, puppetry and interactive digital media. The work is continuing with residencies in arts centres, a series of autistic community cafes, a developing programme of work for families as well as training for arts workers, education and health professionals. 

My latest project, Playing A/Part (AHRC 2018-2021), is also an interdisciplinary collaboration (drama, media arts, psychology) working with autistic girls (aged 11-18), women and marginalised genders, to explore their experiences through participatory arts practices. The project responds to calls for more research and novel methods to understand more about these under-represented groups.

I continue to be committed to transdisciplinary approaches to research, moving beyond disciplinary boundaries through the integration of theory and practice in conjunction with qualitative, creative and empirical methods. Throughout my teaching and research I seek to demonstrate the value of the arts and their importance in society.  

My work is connected through interests in five interacting themes:

  • Identity in and through performance (gender, autobiography, neurodiversity);
  • Performance engaging with mental life and conditions of mind (e.g. autism, dementia)
  • Participatory and socially engaged performance (ethics, aesthetics and evaluation)
  • Interdisciplinary interactions between arts/science/health (e.g. cognitive approaches to theatre and performance; creative research methodologies
  • Practice and play-based pedagogies

Current Projects

  • Performing Psychologies: Imagination, Creativity and Dramas of the Mind, with Philip Barnard, edited collection for Methuen Performance and Science series (publication in 2018)
  • “The Changing Faces of Autism”:  Seed funded project exploring changing representations of autism, drawing attention to autistic creativity and the female experience of autism, through drama and digital arts (2017-2018)

Externally funded activities/networks

Imagining Autism: Drama, Performance and Intermediality as Interventions for Autistic Spectrum Conditions (AHRC 2011-14 with ongoing programme of research and public engagement).  Principal Investigator with Dr Melissa Trimingham (Drama, Director of Production; Professor Julie Beadle-Brown (Tizard Centre) and Dr David Wilkinson  (Psychology).

Dementia, Arts and Well-Being Network (DA&WN) AHRC network, led by Justine Schneider, University of Nottingham
Autism and Ethics Network, led by Kristien Hens, University of Antwerp


My teaching specialisms are contemporary performance, applied and socially engaged theatre, autobiographical and documentary drama.  Throughout my teaching I explore 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.

All my work integrates theory and practice through a commitment to embodied learning and creative practice. 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 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 cognition and play to engage students creatively and conceptually.

Modules developed/taught/convened at Kent include:

  • Contemporary Performance Practice (MA); Applied Theatre; Performing Lives (Autobiography, Documentary and Performance); New Directions (contemporary approaches to theatre directing).

In conjunction with the Imagining Autism project and with my colleague Dr Melissa Trimingham, we regularly run programmes for training practitioners in the methods we use for interacting with autism (contemporary performance, puppetry, interactive digital media). For further information see


I welcome applications from potential postgraduate students interested in pursuing research in my areas of expertise (to include PaR and interdisciplinary proposals):

  • Cognitive approaches to theatre and Performance
  • Applied and socially engaged theatre 
  • Identity in performance (gender, autobiography, neurodiversity)
  • Performance, psychopathology and mental health
  • Creativity research methods and pedagogy'.

Prospective students would become members of the Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance.

Current Supervision (examples of ongoing or recently completed projects)

Astrid Breel: Conducting creative agency: the aesthetics and ethics of participatory performance

Hannah Newman: Investigation of how participatory performance (play-based drama activities developed for “Imagining Autism”) can contribute to diagnosis in autism (Phd studentship, jointly supervised between the Tizard Centre, Psychology and Drama with external supervision from Dr Yvonne Parkes, Consultant Padeiatrician, Kent NHS)

Robbie Wilson: Towards a Ludic Ecology: Popular Participatory Peripatetic Performance

Amanda McDowell: Performing a women's mental health archive: traumatised texts, haunted voices and diasporic visions

Philippa Strandberg-Long: The self-conscious actor: A study into Meisner technique, cognition and the use of attention in actor training.

Annette Foster: Autism, Performance and Identity: Articulating women and trans/nonbinary people’s experience of Autism through live art and performance.


External examining

  • BA Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Warwick, 2016-20
  • BA Theatre and Performance, University of Leeds (2015-18)
  • BA Drama and Theatre Studies, Royal Holloway 2011-15
  • BA Drama, University of Northampton, 2009-13
  • FdA Performing Arts Bournemouth University, 2002-06
  • BA Drama Liverpool Hope University, 1999-2002

Other external roles

  • Chair QAA Subject Benchmarking Review for Drama, Dance and Performing Arts (DDP) 2014-15
  • Member of QAA 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, 2002-05.
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