Professor Nicola Shaughnessy
Professor of Performance
Director of Research
- +44(0)1227 827516
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).
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.back to top
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
My teaching specialisms are contemporary performance, applied and socially engaged theatre, autobiographical and documentary drama. In 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.
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 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 in Imagining Autism (contemporary performance, puppetry, interactive digital media). For further information see www.imaginingautism.org.
Accidental Collective: Daisy Orton, Pablo Pakula, MDrama Contemporary Performance Practice, 2006).
- Little Bulb: Alex Scott, Claire Beresford, Dominic Conway, Shamira Turner (Graduates from MDrama’s Contemporary Performance Practice specialism, 2008-2010)
- Kristin Fredrickson (Beady-Eye), MA PaR 2009)
- Paul Hurley (live artist) BA2001
- Veronica Needa (True Heart Theatre, Playback practitioner, MA PaR, 2009)
- Paul Sutton, (Director/practitioner; founder of C&T PhD, 2007)
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My work is connected through interests in five interacting themes:
- Identity in and through performance (gender, autobiography, neurodiversity);
- Performance engaging with psychologies (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
- Performing Psychologies: Imagination, Creativity and Dramas of the Mind, with Philip Barnard, edited collection for Methuen Performance and Science series (publication in 2019)
Playing A/Part: Investigating the experiences of autistic women, girls and marginalised genders through drama, digital media and participatory arts (AHRC 2018-2021).
Externally funded activities/networks
- Autism Reimagined: Creative Resources for Schools and Communities (AHRC Follow-On funding, 2018). See https://imaginingautism.org/
- 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
- ‘Affective Performance and Cognitive Science is a deft exploration of the kind of cross-disciplinary work that promises to contribute to a fundamental shift in the way we think about performance. Still, it progresses in considered, purposeful steps and remains quite accessible to those with little experience in the sciences. The essays provide both an effective entry point into cognitive studies for those rooted in the arts, as well as suggestive maps for future work, collaborative or otherwise. Shaughnessy illuminates the complex and fruitful space created by challenging binary separations of art and science, then she invites us to dance across it too’ (Robert J Vrtis, Theatre Journal
- “At the beginning of writing, there is a loss, what cannot be said” (de Certeau, 1984, 195); Applying Performance: Live Art, Socially Engaged Theatre and Affective Practice (2012), by Nicola Shaughnessy, manages to say quite a lot about applied theatre, performance, cognitive science and affective theory. In fact, whether performances are viewed as decomposing presences moving toward memorable absence, whether they are meaningful social practices in educational, social or community contexts, whether they are inter-subjective, liminal spaces challenging traditional structures and frameworks, Shaughnessy uses her expert authority to prove that performance matters, and that it matters in an enormous way. yko-Head, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts. 14(2).
- '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 between useful and aesthetic theatre." Bruce McConachie, Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, University of Pittsburgh)
- '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)
- 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)
- Playing A/Part: Investigating Female Autism through Drama, Interactive Media and Participatory Arts, AHRC, 2018-2021, £645, 180 (£806,475fEC).
- Autism Re-Imagined, Creative Resources for Schools and Communities, £29,033.75, AHRC Follow-On Funding award, 2018.
- ‘The Changing Faces of Autism: Filming Futures.’ University of Kent Public Engagement with Research Award, 2017-2018, £1942
- ‘Beacon Institute: Illuminating Arts and Science, University of Kent 50th Anniversary Beacon Award, 2014-16, £97,450.
- Now I see the World: Imagining Autism experimental film documentary (co-investigator, Sarah Turner) 1st September 2012-December 31st 2013, £10,000
- ‘Imagining Autism’, AHRC, Principal Investigator (Co-Investigators: Dr Melissa Trimingham, Dr Julie Beadle-Brown, Dr David Wilkinson) October 1st 2011-September 30th 2014, £344,187 grant (total project cost £429,277.06)
- ‘Puppetry and Play as Interventions for Autism’, Ideas Factory, 50% contribution (co investigator Dr Melissa Trimingham) September-March 2009-10, £8,875
- ‘All the World’s a Stage: Communication and Performance Techniques for the Workplace’, Ideas Factory, 35% contribution (co investigators, Dr Helen Brooks, Dr Daniela Peluza) September 2009-June 2010, £5,000
- ‘Beyond the Box: Creative Thinking and Innovation,’ Ideas Factory, 50% contribution (co investigator, Dr Helen Brooks) September 2009-June 2010, £5,000
- Canterbury Blitz Community Project, National Lottery, 20% contribution (Co-investigator John Batchelor, Engineering and Digital Arts) September-March 2006-2007. £20,000
- THES Shortlisted Research Supervisor of the Year 2018
- Research Supervisor of the Year, 2018, University of Kent
- University of Kent, Faculty of Humanities Research Prize, 2015
- Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA): shortlisted for David Bradby TaPRA Award for Research in International Theatre and Performance (2014)
- University of Kent, Innovation Project of the Year, 2011 (with Dr Melissa Trimingham for Imagining Autism)
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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
Key terms: contemporary performance, live art, neuroscience, cognition, creativity, autobiography, autism, gender, well-being.
Prospective students would become members of the Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance.
In 2018, I was selected by Kent Graduate School for their inaugural award for Research Supervisor of the Year.
University of Kent
- Hannah Newman (2018): Reimagining Autism: how Drama environments can aid the diagnosis of autism (PhD studentship, jointly supervised between the Tizard Centre, Psychology and Drama with external supervision from Dr Yvonne Parkes, Consultant Paediatrician, Kent NHS).
- Robbie Wilson (2018): Towards a Ludic Ecology: Popular Participatory Peripatetic Performance (Kent GTA).
- Astrid Breel (2016): Conducting creative agency: the aesthetics and ethics of participatory performance (Kent GTA).
- Christopher Dingwall_Jones (2014): "Antic Dispositions?": The Representation of Madness in Modern British Theatre, (Kent GTA).
- Roanna Mitchell (2013): The body politics of acting in the context of training and the performance industry: perspectives from contemporary Britain’ (Kent GTA).
- Deborah Leveroy (2012): Enabling Performance: Dyslexia and Acting Practice (Kent GTA).
- Paul Sutton (2005): The Dramatic Property: a new paradigm of applied theatre practice for a globalised media culture
- Amanda McDowell: Performing a womens’ mental health archive: traumatise texts, haunted voices and diasporic visions. Co-supervision Between SoA and Fine Art, (CHASE funded).
- Philippa Strandberg-Long: The self-conscious actor: A study into Meisner technique, cognition and attention in actor training (Kent GTA).
- Annette Foster: Autism, Performance and Identity: Articulating women and trans/nonbinary people’s experience of Autism through live art (Kent GTA).
- Isla Hall: Performing Power: A Feminist Post-structural Discourse Analysis of gender-blind casting practice and performance choices in Julius Caesar.
- Luke Allder: English Language Acquisition through Performing Arts Practice (Co-supervision between SoA and Language and Linguistics, CHASE funded).
- Carmel Sammut: Reading empathically: how young adult readers cognitively and emotionally connect with fictional characters. Co-supervision between SoA and English Language and Linguistics).
Other PhD Completions
- Paul Johnson, (2006) Quantum Performance: Scientific Discourse in the Analysis of the Work of Contemporary British Theatre Practitioners. PhD thesis, Coventry University in collaboration with University of Worcester.
- Huw Bucknell (1998), Radio Comedy Drama, University of Coventry in collaboration with University of Worcester.
- Marilyn Panayi, 2018, University of Westminster, Life Sciences, Cognition in Action: Re-thinking Gesture in Neuro-atypical young people.
- Karen Dainty, 2018, Bishop Grosteste, University of Leicester, Educaton, Empathy and Sympathy in Applied Theatre.
- Dawn-Joy-Sau Mun Leong, 2016, University of New South Wales, Fine Art, Scheherazade’s Sea – autism, parallel embodiment and elemental empathy,
- Petronilla Whitfield, 2015, University of Warwick, Education, ‘Towards accessing Shakespeare’s texts for those with SPLD (dyslexia): an investigation into the rationale for building visual constructs.
- Jennifer Lawson, 2011, University of Leeds, Theatre and Performance, Playing with the Domestic Goddess: Performance Interventions into Contemporary Food Culture.
- 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, University of London, 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 Shortlisting Panel for AHRC/Wellcome Trust Health Humanities Medals
- 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
Professional Associations and Memberships
- AHRC Peer Review College member, 2014-20
- Standing Conference of University Drama Departments (SCUDD) 2008-12, Executive Committee Member (including Executive Committee representative for REF Working Party, 2010-11)
- Imagining Autism Residency, Beacon School, November 2018
- CPD workshops, Beacon School, Spring 2018
- Autism Day, Festival of the Brain, Folkestone, May 2018
- Presentation for Kent Multi Agency Autism Group (MAAG), NHS Community Health, June 21 2017
- Residency at the Atkinson Arts Centre, Southport, March 6-16. Programme of training and workshops for schools with participants across the spectrum, aged 6-18.
- Training events: Imagining Autism for Professionals (Atkinson & schools, March 8/14)
- Autism Cafes (for families and carers) Atkinson & schools, March 13/16)
- Screening of "Now I see the World" for Festival of the Brain, Quarterhouse, Folkestone, May 28 2016
- "Imagining Autism: Extraordinary Aesthetics", London, June 2013 "Lifting the Curtain" Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, April 2013
- The Funny thing about Autism" for "Lifting the Curtain" Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, April 2013)
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 www.imaginingautism.org.
For National Autistic Society (NAS)
- Invited speaker for NAS conference, on 'Understanding and Supporting Challenging Behaviour.'Presentation on 'the importance of play-based approaches for children with autism'. Reading, June 25 2015
- Poster, presentation and workshop demonstration of "Imagining Autism" for NAS Professional conference, Harrogate, 2013
- Programme of workshops for teachers in NAS residential schools: Sybil Elgar, Robert Ogden, Broomhayes, Radlett Lodge (January- December 2013)
- Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise (ICE), University of Kent
- '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), March 5 2012
- Beyond the Box: Creative Thinking and Innovation,' (with Dr H.E.M.Brooks) Ideas Factory, September 2009-June 2010 Four part raining package: 'Collaborative strategies for team communication', 'Succeeding in the spotlight', 'Realising your creative potential' and 'Setting the scene for change'. Training courses profiled through presentations for 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
- Invited Presentation: ‘In sickness or in health? Creativity, well-being and performance in the work place’ for Arts, Humanities and Well-Being, UEA 23 May 2016
- Collaboration with "Extended Mind"
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