Funded PhD opportunities

Finding Voice: Vocation, Vocality and Identity in Contemporary Youth Performance

  • Application end date: 11 February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK/International)
  • Department: School of Media and Performing Arts
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr. Erika Hughes, Dr. Matt Smith, Dr. Ben Macpherson

Project code: FMPA4390218

Project description

The act of creating performance is often a positive transformative experience for young people, cultivating confidence and facilitating identity development for a particular subset of society who, because of their age, do not yet have claim to full rights over their bodies or their own civic engagement (Etheridge Woodson, 2015). Youth theatre companies all over the globe provide a critical forum for young people to participate in the public sphere through artmaking, and tackle a range of political, sociological, and cultural issues that are relevant to their particular status as individuals with different legal rights and recourse than adults (Rohd, 1998). The genres of such performances range widely - from performances of canonical texts to works of immersive and applied theatre and new devising/playwriting. Yet such performances are the product of a working process that regards young people as equal creative collaborators, providing platforms of expression that exist both on- and offstage (Hughes 2017). Youth performance cultures offer a platform for young people to find their voice. 

Numerous qualitative and ethnographic studies have examined devising processes, detailed success rates of school and extracurricular theatre programming, and used the academy as a platform to advocate for the support of this critical social justice work (Nicholson 2011, Sallis 2014, Omasta 2015, Etheridge Woodson et .al. 2017, Afolabi 2017, Gallagher and Rodricks 2017). Recent scholarship has also examined the impact of performative techniques in vocal therapy for children (Mareneck 2017, Michelino 2017). Yet no study has yet examined the place and role of ‘voice’ in youth performance for the stage. As such, in this study the doctoral student will focus on ‘voice’ as it relates to youth performance and identity construction. We understand ‘voice’ both metaphorically and literally (Thomaidis and Macpherson 2015). We are interested in the ways in which the act of speaking out or performing leads to an embodied sense of awareness and contributes to the development of a sense of identity, rendering tacit knowledge into explicit awareness.

Aims & Objectives:

The project seeks to examine the process of ‘finding voice’ in adult-facilitated youth performance in Portsmouth. The doctoral student will investigate how the use of voice in performance can be used to develop a sense of identity for young people. He or she will look at how vocality is employed in performance practices in community settings and youth oriented spaces. The project will additionally investigate how this use of voice relates to a sense of vocation and purpose as these young performers and creators of performance ready themselves for the societal transition from ‘youth’ to ‘adult.’

Approach and Methods:

What does it mean to give voice – who has agency in such situations and can agency be given, traded, or otherwise exchanged? How do young people understand the process of speaking out, and what does it mean for them to articulate identity as members of society with different legal status than their adult counterparts? What is the impact of claiming voice on youth self-esteem, education, and decision-making processes? What are the limitations of giving voice amidst multiple considerations including socioeconomic conditions, familial relationships, and cultural codings? And how can practice-based theatre work encourage the development of youth identity?

To begin to answer such questions, the project requires a variety of research methods. Literature in theatre for youth, applied theatre, theatre of the oppressed, and devising original performance will offer frameworks for a survey of youth performance that engages youth as equal collaborators. Young people at sites including Priory School, Motiv8, and Portsmouth Music Hub will be interviewed and qualitative data about their experiences will be collected so as to create a strong sense of the landscape of youth arts engagement in Portsmouth. The doctoral student will also conduct practice-based and participatory research, e.g. in the form of devising a performance with young people in Portsmouth at the New Theatre Royal. This will generate insights into the ways in which young people work as collaborators, and the role of voice in all aspects of youth performance creation. 

Supervisor profiles

Dr. Erika Hughes

Dr. Matt Smith

Dr. Ben Macpherson

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr. Erika Hughes at (02392 843129) or Dr. Matt Smith at (02392 845341).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at 

When applying, please quote project code: FMPA4390218

Interview date: TBC.

Start date: October 2018

Funding notes

UK/EU students -  The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

International students - International students applying for this project are eligible to be considered for the Portsmouth Global PhD scholarships.

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