Man reading a play in dimly-lit theatre space

Applied theatre research

Explore our work in applied theatre research, one of our 4 areas of expertise in Theatre, Performance and Music

Applied theatre can be thought of as an umbrella term for the use of drama and theatre in an educational, community or therapeutic context.

Through our research in the subject, we're investigating the use of theatre as a tool for community engagement, conflict resolution, and social justice. It's often done in non-theatrical spaces, with participants who don't consider themselves to be artists. The work might take place in hospitals, prisons, youth settings, and other community contexts, such as with asylum seekers, refugees, or LGBTQ young people.

Applied theatre challenges participants and audiences to examine the experiences of others, It uses tools from drama and performance to create sites of sharing, community building, and civic practice.

We bring together academic staff with connections and professional experience across the globe. We have experts in puppetry and object theatre, expertise working in global contexts and with refugees, and researchers with experience working with veterans of the armed forces.

Through our work, we've seen the promotion of self-esteem in participants, including for trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people, veterans, asylum seekers and refugees. 

Our research explores the following topics

  • Theatre for Social Justice
  • Theatre within the Criminal Justice System
  • Theatre as Activism
  • Puppetry
  • Theatre for young audiences
  • Community based performance
  • Drama in education
  • Simulation acting and role play
  • Junk music as community music making

We use qualitative methods, such as ethnography and grounded theory, to explore ways in which theatre artists can respond to a number of different cultural sites with their practice. We also use theatre historiography and performance studies to understand applied theatre in a larger framework of performance methodologies. 

Partnerships and funders

We work in partnership with other institutions and organisations, including:

  • National Museum of the Royal Navy to create performance for underserved school children in the Portsmouth area
  • Journeys Festival to increase awareness of refugee situations
  • Royal Shakespeare Company to explore technologies that bring performance to greater parts of the population
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
  • Portsfest
  • Health Action Training – a company delivering role play and techniques for health staff 

We've also received funding of over £1.3m for our work from US Department of State, Innovate UK, Wellcome Trust, Pfizer, and the AHRC.

  • TransActing Project

    This project explores the issue of performer training for people who identify as trans or non-binary, and to give producers, directors and others involved in making TV, film, radio, theatre and other media, access to that talent.

  • The Veterans Project

    Since 2013, this project has staged performances with veterans of the USA and UK, from across different socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It gives space for each performer to use their own voice, and challenge established narratives around historical events, and experiences.

  • Integrating diverse values into sustainable management of marine resources in the UK
    Researching a step-change in the transdisciplinary capability of the UK marine policy stakeholder and research community to implement diverse values into decision making. This project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Project highlights

Research outputs

  • Applied puppetry – principles and practices

    Smith, M. (2022) "Applied puppetry – principles and practices", In L. Kroflin (Ed.), Applied Puppetry in Education, Development, and Therapy: Theory and Practice (pp. 13-28). UNIMA Education, Development and Therapy Commission.

  • Holocaust Memory and Youth Performance

    Hughes, E. E. (Accepted/In press) "Holocaust Memory and Youth Performance", Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

  • The Ballad of Jack and Poll

    Netter, L. (Author), and Smith, M. (Author). (2023) "The Ballad of Jack and Poll. Performance", University of Portsmouth, White Swan Building.

Our members

Erika Elizabeth Hughes Portrait

Dr Erika Hughes

Interim Head of School

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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George Edward Thomas Burrows Portrait

Professor George Burrows

Associate Dean (Research and Innovation)

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Matthew Roy Smith Portrait

Dr Matt Smith

Reader in Applied Theatre and Puppetry

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Discover our areas of expertise

Applied theatre is one of our 4 areas of expertise in Theatre, Performance and Music research – explore the other areas below.

Musical theatre

Our work engages with forms that articulate music with theatre, and explores the historical, social, economic and educational contexts underpinning shows on Broadway and the West End.

Close-up of tap dancer's shoes
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We're investigating music and sound and creating new tools to enhance performance and creativity.

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Performance Practices

We're discovering answers to political and philosophical problems, by investigating performance and its practices.

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Interested in a PhD in Theatre, Performance and Music?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Theatre, Performance and Music postgraduate research degrees page.