I have worked in the fields of Applied Performance and Development Theatre for twenty five years, including twenty at both the Education Department of Glyndebourne Opera and now as Reader in Applied Performance Queen Mary, University of London, in what has over that period become the top Drama Department for research in the UK.
I am one of the leading exponents and adaptors of the techniques of my teacher and mentor the late Augusto Boal, the legendary Brazilian founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed movement.
My book The Theatre of the Oppressed in Practice Today: An Introduction to the Work and Principles of Augusto Boal was published in March 2019.
In 2018 I was made a Companion of LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) by Sir Paul McCartney, in recognition of my international contribution to the field of Applied Arts.
In 2017 I received the Centre of Public International Engagement Award with Ruksana Begum, in recognition of the contribution our Season of Bangla Drama Festival has made to artistic and pedagogical exchange between Bangladesh and London.
In 2015 I was presented with the Coat of Arms of the University of Dhaka by the VC, in recognition of my work with their Theatre School on the British-Council funded Shakespeare Shotok festival and my facilitation with the Head of Theatre, Sudip Chakroborthy, of ongoing exchange with QMUL and the Season of Bangla Drama Festival.
- At Augusto Boal’s Centre of the Theatre of the Oppressed; Rio de Janeiro
- With Sir Paul McCartney; Toyah Wilcox and Nile Rodgers; LIPA; 2018
- With Sudip Chakroborthy, the VC and Shahaman Moisin; Dhaka University
I use a workshop methodology to induct students in the techniques of practice-based research, with reflexive seminars and skills based sessions as appropriate. From Level 6 students increasingly conduct their own PBR through supervised placements in a wide range of community settings.
I am currently Director of Outreach; QM Drama.
(i) Undergraduate Teaching
I currently teach DRA 242 Group Practical Project (Level 2) and DRA 361 Drama and Education (Level 3).
Pic 4 Preparing with Applied Performance students for a performance of Tagore’s Tasher Desh; Octagon; QMUL; Season of Bangla Drama
(ii) Work with other HE institutions:
Visiting Lecturer (MA programmes): Goldsmiths; Brighton; Manchester; Leeds; Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (The Conservatoire); Richmond, the American University in London.
Mentoring and workshops for practice-based Arts postgraduates from across White Rose Group including Leeds, York and Bradford.
External Examiner: MA in Development Theatre, Leeds
PhD external examiner: Glasgow; Roehampton; Leeds
Accreditation for the Open University of all taught Theatre Syllabi at Richmond, the American University in London.
Residencies at Universities of Makerere (Uganda); Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro State (UNERJ & UNIRIO), Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Damascus Institute of Theatre; Theatre School of Dhaka University, Bangladesh; Bagamoyo College of Performing Arts (Tanzania).
Photos (from top)
- Preparing with Applied Performance students for a performance of Tagore’s Tasher Desh; Octagon; QMUL; Season of Bangla Drama
- Working with local children; Digambarpur; West Bengal
- Practice-based research into Health and Well-being that is client led and sustainable
- Templates for participatory consultation bringing users of public services into direct contact with providers to maximise impact on both research and policy making
- Development Theatre in Africa, South America and India: capacity building, Knowledge Exchange and dissemination of best practice
- Oral history and Intergenerational arts-based practice with Elders, students and children especially from marginal groups
- Exploring the links between Voice, Advocacy and Activism through embodied performative practices
Examples of practice-based research:
(i) Embodied Emotions:
A child-led, applied performance workshop to teach emotional literacy as part of the National Curriculum in Primary schools.
This AHRC Beyond Text project used interdisciplinary, cross-arts practices to interrogate the Government’s SEAL initiative (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) with Year 6 Primary school children as co-researchers. The research centered on the development of a child-led workshop template, X-Ray Eyes, co-created by school students in collaboration with historian Dr. Thomas Dixon (Centre for the History of Emotion @ QMUL) interrogating the top-down nature of prescriptive educational initiatives by involving the whole school community in a reciprocal dialogue with academics and policy makers. The practice-based research paralleled a series of interdisciplinary seminars at QMUL, exploring the concept of emotional literacy and theories of emotional expression in artistic, scientific, medical, historical, educational and performative terms.
(ii) Do I Have To Go?
Three-part training video extrapolated from the longer documentary of my child-led research project into best practice in Paediatric Dentistry. Used alongside a participatory template for the one-hour experiential induction of First Year Postgrad Dentists, deliverable by a non-Arts trainer.
The Theatre of The Oppressed in Practice Today: An Introduction to The Work and Principles of Augusto Boal (London, New York, Oxford, New Delhi, Sydney: Methuen Drama, 2019)
Anansi: (monograph; play) SuperScripts series; Nelson Thornes (1999)
Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company: The Politics of Making: in Performance and Community. Ed: Caoimhe McAvinchey; Bloomsbury Methuen 2014 pp 75 - 104
Taking a journey: project report for The Childrens’ Fund by Richard Ings and Caoimhe McAvinchey on the Isle of Wight children’s rights project (2007)
The Cockerel and the King’s Ear: with Jane Plastow, in African Theatre: Youth. Ed. Martin Banham et al; Leeds University Press (2007)
Image and Imagination, in Making Space Conference Publication. (Stranmillis Press 2003)
Falling or Flying? A Meeting between Forum and Opera (pp 39 – 49) and Questions from Rio (pp 109 – 119) in Contemporary Theatre Review/Vol 3/Without Boal. Ed: Frances Babbage. Harwood (1995)
Reinventing the Wheel in: Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism. Ed: Shutzman & Cohen-Cruz; Routledge (1994) pp 53 - 63
Six Songs For Paul in forthcoming Routledge Applied Performance collection (UK editor Caoimhe McAvinchey). An account of my dramaturgical work on the latest project from the UK’s foremost Learning-Disabled led theatre company. Full film of the project below:
I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research. I currently supervise Postgraduates at Royal Holloway, Leeds, Glasgow and Goldsmiths in aspects of applied performance and mentor colleagues and students across Queen Mary, University of London in the application and customising of practice-based research in Geography, Medicine, Law, Electronic Engineering and Dentistry.
I continue to develop the role of Outreach Co-ordinator (Drama); researching ways to embed Public Engagement training for Arts and non-Arts researchers across faculties and curricula. I have run pilot workshops for Prof Alison Blunt (Geography) for postgraduates and local policy makers (as part of the AHRC Connected Communities Diaspora and Transnationality project) in addition to my ongoing work with Dentistry and have devised with Prof. Alan Dignam a Legislative Theatre project on Human Rights for Laws.
Public Engagement events curated by myself have included my CPD and dramaturgical work on ten years of performances every November across six East London venues for the Season of Bangla Drama Festival, co-directed with Ruksana Begum (Tower Hamlets Arts) and culminating in a sold-out performance of East Side Story (November 2019) supported by the Centre for Public Engagement and in collaboration with two major Youth Dance Companies, Bollyflex and IMD Legion, bringing a capacity audience of local youth and their families into the Great Hall of the People’s Palace for the very first time in my 20 years at QMUL.
Partner companies such as Daedalus Theatre have participated in the CPE’s Festival of Communities, piloting their Mobile Incitement Unit before its touring of the UK, incorporating participatory activities co-devised with QM Drama students and tested with a wide range of local community groups.
An important mode of dissemination in my public engagement work is film. I briefly summarise below three examples of these, each of which is designed to impart a co-devised participatory template as part of ongoing experiential training of non-Arts practitioners such as teachers, health practitioners, NHS commissioners and social workers seeking to make their work more client centred, empowering and inclusive.
I run experiential performance training which brings artists and marginal groups together in education outreach work for many major cultural institutions including The British Museum; ENO Bayliss Programme; Glyndebourne; RFH; Tate Modern; Chichester Festival Theatre and many leading orchestras including the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields and the City of London Sinfonia. I have worked as Dramaturg for both GRAEAE and Lawnmowers, the UK’s leading professional companies for Disabled and Learning-disabled artists respectively.
I work with London Boroughs and LEAs to bring performance and visual practice into training settings, working with non-professionals to bring about social change: co-devising with Turkish/Kurdish refugees training for Hackney Housing staff; working on Advocacy awareness with People First (learning disabled adults) and carers from LB Newham and Redbridge. I am currently creating a peer-led advocacy programme with the Black and Ethnic Minority Community Care Forum and a child-led resource for PhDs in postgraduate Paediatric Dentistry intended to transform training for new inductees. This work has been nominated for a Guardian Higher Education Award and my community-based performance work won a Podium Award for London University’s cultural contribution to the 2012 Olympics for A Living Map, a project using performance to change perceptions of the local area as part of consultations across Tower Hamlets leading to transformation in the built environment.
My public engagement work overlaps with my research in that I am primarily focussed on strategies to empower community participants to be co-creators of the research design, as much as contributing through performative activity to its content and outputs. Examples of this work (below) show how my collaborative framing of research questions and negotiation of the appropriate media with which to explore and evidence them are as much the focus of the research as individual outputs, important as these are. Across generations and focus groups with their wide diversity of membership and interests, my overarching aim is to generate co-created templates for participant-led research that maximise community ownership and model ways that transferable templates for grassroots activism can be extrapolated and disseminated by Community Multipliers themselves .
(i) Respect and Dignity
An Intergenerational project investigating how to apply the National Health Service’s Respect and Dignity initiative to the daily workings of community care.
(ii) The Backstory
A project featuring a session led by young people from two West Sussex schools at a teachers’ conference using Forum to identify the issues adults miss.
(iii) Short films about co-created templates for participant-led research in diverse communities
These show participants talking about how and why they have chosen to use Applied Arts techniques as part of a range of projects exemplifying what I term Artivism. Whether there is a site-specific event or a piece of visual making, it is the quality of the participants’ ownership of both form and content that exemplifies what I mean by co-creation.
(iv) Good Food/Bad Food
This groundbreaking student led project was rolled out across a large Secondary School in West London and funded by the Health Department of LB Hammersmith and Fulham. Young people working with dieticians researched what could be improved in their daily diet and created an evidence-based, peer-led campaign to promote healthy eating, including this film to be screened in canteens across the Borough. The project won the Drapers’ Award for excellent in teaching and was co-delivered by Queen Mary students as trainee facilitators.
- East Side Story with IMD Legion and Bollyflex; Great Hall of the People’s Palace; Season of Bangla Drama 2019
- Receiving a CPE Award for International Engagement with Ruksana Begum (Director; Season of Bangla Drama
- Dramaturgy workshop for a Season of Bangla Drama with Akram Khan.
I was trained and mentored by the legendary Brazilian theatre activist Augusto Boal and remains one of the key exponents of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed movement working today. He has adapted Boal’s techniques of Forum and Image theatre across a broad range of groups and contexts in Europe and Africa.
I have worked in the fields of Educational, Community and Development Theatre for twenty-five years, applying, customising and adapting the key techniques of Forum and Image Theatre not just for but with marginal groups: notably, physically- and learning-disabled companies and those who work with them.
I have prioritised the use of TotO for 30 years with children and young people (and those who teach them) at all levels of the education system, with a specific focus on teacher-training, broadening beyond Drama to include Personal, Social, Emotional, Health and Sex Education (including AIDS awareness).
My Forum play Poor Ted, originally commissioned by the Redgrave Theatre, Farnborough and exploring substance abuse, was researched and co-devised with Primary School children across West Sussex and subsequently seen by over half a million children in the following decade. As Artistic Director for ten years of BREAKOUT T.I.E., I secured Arts Council (ACE) funding for Can We Talk? (1985) the first Forum play to raise the issue of AIDS in Secondary Schools in the UK. His Forum piece Akatale (The Market) was the first AIDS Education piece to be co-devised with performers and Health workers in Uganda (1990) and the same training/devising model led to his creating for the British Council (1995) six Forum pieces on the same subject, each in a different mother-tongue, for and with the arts and health NGO ATOBA in Malawi. I was awarded the Winston Churchill Fellowship medal by the Queen on his completion of the work in Uganda.
I have also brought the more generative techniques of Image Theatre to the devising of large-scale community events and performances, including 20 years’ work out of the Education Department at Glyndebourne Opera. This culminated in the creation with over 700 local community members of In Search of Angels in Peterborough with the composer Jonathan Dove: to date the largest community opera to be devised in the U.K. The whole piece was shaped using what Boal called the prospective techniques, whereby a community uses Image Theatre to tell on its own terms the story it most wants to share with the world.
I have worked for 20 years in the prison system, using performance in the service of educational and rehabilitation programmes aspiring to include experiential learning in highly compromised settings, often with functionally illiterate groups. I have trained (with the Unit for Arts and Offenders) a generation of new practitioners alongside this work, usually through their immersion in the research and devising processes underpinning educational projects.
As a named Artist for Culture and Development (ACD) for the British Council in Sub-Saharan Africa I have created AIDS Education programmes in Uganda, Malawi, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Eritrea, Burkina-Faso, Nigeria and other countries seeking to build local capacity in effective participatory education. All of this has required the documentation, evidencing and dissemination of templates for participatory, performative education designed for maximum impact and sustainability.
As Artistic Director of BREAKOUT T.I.E., my work from 1985 - 1995 with children and teachers within the UK Education system demanded that I translate, test, critique and co-design accessible performative workshop formats, using Boal’s techniques to the greatest and most appropriate effect across a very wide and challenging range of contexts and settings.
Most recently I have used Forum Theatre to create with a group of Year 6 Primary School children in Whitechapel, London a training film, Do I Have To Go? (The Dental Detectives) (2) bringing children, as a research team, into collaboration with Post-doctorate Paediatric Dentists from the London School of Dentistry to co-design induction training for all new Postgrads and enacting the principles of best practice from a child’s point of view. The film (see above: research) and the accompanying template for child-led participatory training are being rolled out for use in the induction curriculum for new Paediatric Dentists entering the School’s Post-doctorate programme and are the most recent example of my customising of Boal’s Legislative Theatre for specific groups, maximising its impact on educators and policy-makers beyond the Arts.
Photos (from top)
- Working with children from village communities on the Golan Heights; Syria; 2005
- Receiving the Churchill Fellowship Medal for my AIDS Education work in Uganda; 1990
- The Peterborough Community Opera In Search of Angels (1995) with Jonathan Dove
- Training a troupe of Community Multipliers in Zomba District, Malawi
- Creating a Labyrinth in the Augusto Boal Auditorium with Jana Sanskriti Theatre Co., Badu, Kolkata.