School of English and Drama

Dr Sarah Bartley, BA (University of Cambridge); MA (Central School of Speech and Drama); PhD (QMUL)


Lecturer in Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies

Room Number: 3.08A, ArtsOne


I have been a community arts practitioner for over ten years, developing performance projects in different social contexts including: health, employment, education, and the criminal justice sectors. My research examines the intersections of work, participation, and performance at play within socially engaged and applied theatre practices.

More broadly, I am interested in the economies of participation that operate across performance projects and civic practices. I joined the Department of Drama at QMUL in January of 2020, having previously undertaken my PhD here (2014-2017), working at a number of institutions in between, most recently the University of Leeds.

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Research Interests:

  • Performance and the Welfare State
  • Austerity, Activism, and Community Theatre Practices
  • Participation and Labour
  • Intersections of Social and Cultural Policy
  • Applied Theatre and Socially Engaged Performance

Recent and On-Going Research

My research explores the politics of labour in contemporary performance, specifically how activist dimensions of socially committed performance operate in relation to the economic priorities of austerity. I am finishing a monograph entitled Performing Welfare: Applied Theatre, Unemployment, and Participation (contracted with Palgrave Macmillan; due to press in 2020). This book provides a timely examination of the aggressive erosion of the UK welfare system and critically reflects on the implications of this erosion for socially committed performance practices.

The project reveals how participatory performances of unemployment might reconstitute notions of work in socially constructive ways and asserts the important contribution performance can make to the recuperative representation of disenfranchised populations. As part of this strand of my work I have also produced two research articles, one examining how reproductive labour and gender manifest in resonant ways in the welfare system and applied performance practice; the other exploring strategies of making visible the labour of unemployment through performance practices.

I am also part of a team of researchers, led by Professor Caoimhe McAvinchey and funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant, examining the work of Clean Break Theatre Company. This interdisciplinary project runs for 24 months; during which we are exploring the history of the company in relation to its distinctive organisational practices, spatial geographies, and performance legacies.

I am cultivating a new strand of research that examines the emergence of contemporary people’s theatres in the UK. In particular I am examining why people’s theatres are being recuperated in a time of collective economic, political, and social crisis. As part of this work, I recently authored and article that examines the ways in which people’s theatres are being created as a revisioning of community resource, including space sharing, re-purposing community sites, cooperative models of practice, voluntary and amateur labour and new kinds of public-voluntary partnership.



Bartley, S. Performing Welfare: Applied Theatre, Unemployment, and Participation (forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan in 2020).


Bartley, S. ‘Gendering Welfare Onstage: Acts of Reproductive Labour in Applied Theatre’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 29.3 (2019), pp. 305-319.

Bartley, S. ‘Hard Labour and Punitive Welfare: The Unemployed Body at Work in Participatory Performance’, Research in Drama Education, 22.1 (2017), pp. 62-75.


Bartley, S. ‘Austerity, Gender and Performance: Conversations with Anna Herrmann and Katherine Chandler’, Interventions: Contemporary Theatre Review, November 2019.