School of English and Drama

Dr Caoimhe McAvinchey, BA Double Hons (Manchester) MA (NYU) PhD (QMUL)


Head of Drama | Reader in Socially Engaged and Contemporary Performance



I grew up in Northern Ireland and went to a state secondary school. Although there wasn’t an option to study drama there, my dad’s keen and eclectic interests in the arts generally and theatre specifically meant that I saw a wide range of work across Ireland. I completed a BA Double Hons in English and Drama at Manchester University and then, as a Fulbright Scholar, an MA in Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. During this time I became increasingly interested in applied and social theatre.

After my MA, I worked as a cultural producer staging a festival of new writing in NYC before returning to Belfast in 1998 where I directed the first Belfast Festival Fringe, programmed the Old Museum Arts Centre and ran the Drama Studio at the Lyric Theatre. After moving to London in 2000, I worked with the London International Festival of Theatre, particularly on learning and participation programmes, before working as a Research Assistant with People’s Palace Projects on Staging Human Rights with Paul Heritage, Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw.  This work became the impetus for my PhD at QMUL, focusing on the testimony and documentation of theatre with women in prison. I established and directed the MA Applied Drama programme at Goldsmiths from 2005 before returning to QMUL in 2009.

Undergraduate Teaching

I have taught on:

  • DRA116: Making Theatre
  • DRA337: Performance and Community
  • DRA229: Written Research Project

Postgraduate Teaching

I have also taught on MA Theatre and Performance:

  • DRA7003: Cultural Industries


Research Interests:

  • Applied Theatre and Performance
  • Prison, punishment and performance – particularly women and the criminal justice system
  • Performance and cultural policy particularly the politics and practices of evaluation
  • Documentation and archives

Recent and On-Going Research

My research is in applied and social theatre and performance. I have particular interests in performance and prison, theatre practice with and about women in prison, intergenerational arts practices and the documentation and evaluation of socially engaged arts practices.

My book, Theatre & Prison, analyses the ways in which theatre makers have staged critical questions about the role of prison in society, the economy of punishment, and the representation of criminal bodies. The book is part of an on-going enquiry about the politics of punishment and the performance of justice that began whilst working with People’s Palace Projects on Staging Human Rights with Paul Heritage and Lois Weaver. I am particularly interested in the representation of women with experience of the criminal justice system, on stage and screen, and how arts, criminal justice and voluntary organisations collaborate to address the social impact of women’s imprisonment. I am currently working on two related book projects. Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System is an edited collection drawing together, for the first time, a range of international artists and scholars who are working in this area. I am also collaborating with Clean Break, a theatre company with an independent education programme that has, since 1979, been pioneering models of theatre practice that explicitly engage with the issues raised by women, crime and the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. 

Performance and Community (London: Methuen, December 2013) is an edited collection of case studies and interviews that examines the work of artists, arts organisations and cultural producers committed to the aesthetic and political ambitions of performance in community contexts. The book offers unprecedented access to the work of The Grassmarket Project, the Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, London Bubble, Magic Me and the partnership between the artist, Mark Storor, and producer, Anna Ledgard. Interviews with Mojisola Adebayo, Bobby Baker, Sue Emmas, Tony Fegan, Paul Heritage, Rosemary Lee and Lois Weaver evidence how an ethical and political engagement in and with communities, challenges and innovates contemporary performance making practices.

Other research projects include:

  • Artful Measures, a collaboration with Bobby Baker’s Daily Life Ltd and Outlandish Ideas (a web-design company) to develop a series of digital case studies examining the relationship between arts practices that engage with issues of mental health and the documentation and evaluation practices that evidence and account for them.
  • I have an on-going relationship with Magic Me, a specialist intergenerational arts organisation based in East London. This collaboration has led to the development of research reports focusing on innovative models of intergenerational arts practice; the development of training for arts and professionals working in cultural collections; and print, video and web resources sharing good practice with specialist audiences, locally and internationally.
  • Since 2009, I have been working with Phakama, a youth arts organisation working with young people internationally, to examine and develop approaches to documentation, evaluation and collaborative pedagogical models between HE and the cultural industries. I am currently working with Lucy Richardson (London Metropolitan University) and Fabio Santos (artistic director of Phakama 2004-2013) on a publication about twenty years of Phakama practice with collaborators in countries including South Africa, India, Ireland and Japan.


  • McAvinchey2011
  • McAvinchey2013


Clean Break (Methuen Theatre Makers Series) (London: Bloomsbury, due for publication 2018)

Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System (London: Bloomsbury, due for publication 2017)

co-editor with Lucy Richardson and Fabio Santos), Phakama: Participatory Theatre in the Making (Methuen Theatre Makers Series) (London: Bloomsbury, due for publication 2017)

(editor), Performance and Community: Case Studies and Commentary (London: Methuen, 2013)

Theatre & Prison (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

Commissioned Reports:

Rooms with a View: Disrupting and Developing Narratives of Community through Intergenerational Arts Practice (London: Magic Me, April 2016)

Wild, Wild Women: Ten Years of Intergenerational Arts Practice at The Women’s Library led by Magic Me in collaboration with Mulberry School for Girls and local, older women (London: Magic Me, November 2013:)

Making an Invitation: Creative Engagement with the LIFT Living Archive (London: LIFT, 2010):

Our Generations: Report on a Three Year Programme on Intergenerational Arts Projects in Tower Hamlets, East London, April 2006-June 2009 (London: Magic Me, 2009):


Co-editor with Aoife Monks, Forum on ‘Performing the Peach Process in Northern Ireland’ in Contemporary Theatre Review, Volume 23.3 (2013) 278-356

Research Projects with outputs including web resources and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Training

Artful Measures -

Artful Measures (2012- ) is a series of digital case studies examining the relationship between arts practices that engage with issues of mental health and the documentation and evaluation practices that evidence and account for them. Developed in collaboration between the artist Bobby Baker and her company Daily Life Ltd, Artful Measures attempts to extend the ways in which arts practices that engage with mental health are framed and valued within cultural policy debates and arts and health evaluation practice. This was funded by QMUL’s Innovation Fund.

A Sense of Place (2013-14) was a collaborative research project with Magic Me, funded by the CreativeWorks, to research and develop intergenerational arts training for staff and artists in cultural collections. We asked:

  • What are the principles and practices of innovative intergenerational arts work in cultural collections contexts?
  • What do they reveal about the skills and capacities required by artists and organisations that wish to develop this work? (particularly around ideas of partnership making; the distinctiveness of intergenerational practice; cultural collections as catalysts for creative response and relationship building between participants; audience development).
  • What is an appropriate model of training to support this work?

Collaborative partners and participants in the CPD included British Museum, Horniman, National Archives, Geffrye Museum, Museum of London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Trust, South Bank Centre and Hackney Museum.

Chapters, Articles and Short Essays:

‘The Performance of Prison Theatre Practices: Questioning the Evidence’ in Applied Practice: Evidence and Impact in Theatre, Music and Art, ed Matthew Reason and Nick Rowe (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2017), pp. tbc

‘Bad Girls, Monsters and Chicks in Chains: Clean Break’s Disruption of Representations of Women, Crime and Incarceration’ in The Methuen Critical Companion on Prison Theatre, ed. Ashley Lucas, (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming) pp. tbc

‘Mad Gyms and Kitchens, Bobby Baker and Daily Life Ltd’ in Applied Theatre: Performing Health and Wellbeing, ed Katharine Low and Veronica Baxter, (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming), pp. tbc

‘What Tammy Needs to Know About Prison’ in The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver, ed. by Jen Harvie and Lois Weaver (London: Intellect Live, 2015), p. 276

‘Coming of Age: Arts Practice With Older People In Private And Domestic Spaces’, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre Research, Volume 18.4 (2013), pp. 359-373.

The LIFT Living Archive, in ARC Magazine: Archives, Records Management and Conservation. Taunton: Archives and Records Association, March 2013, pp. 11-12

The LIFT Living Archive in ‘Mapping the Archives Series’, Research in Drama Education, Volume 18.3 (2013), pp. 278-279

‘Together: The Practice of Participatory Arts’, in If I Were In Your Shoes Now, ed. by Tony Fegan (Dublin: Tallaght Community Arts, 2013)

Forward, Detail and Daring: Research into the Art and Craft of Intergenerational Work, Sue Mayo (London: Magic Me, 2012), pp. 8-11,

‘“Is This the Play?”: Applied Performance in Pupil Referral Units’, in The Applied Theatre Reader, ed. Sheila Preston and Tim Prentki (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 276-282

‘Ideas with Legs: Participatory Arts Recipes’, in Taking A Journey: From Consultation to Participation through the Arts, by Richard Ings (Isle of Wight: Children’s Fund, 2007), pp. 33-43

‘Unexpected Acts: Women, Prison and Performance’, in Drama as Social Intervention, ed. Michael Balfour and John Sommers (Concord, Ontario: Captus University Press, 2006), pp. 216-227

‘Theatre: Act or Place?’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. by Eamonn Jordan (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2000), pp. 84-88

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research. 

I have been part of the supervision teams for the following, recently successful, doctoral projects:

  • Sylvan Baker, ‘Creating a Movement: Cultural Warriors Leadership Through Art’ (2015), co-supervised with Paul Heritage.
  • Anne Smith, ‘The Possibilities and Limitations of Using Drama to Facilitate a Sense of Belonging for Adult Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants in East London’ (2013).
  • Helena Walsh, 'Irish Femininity and the Live Body: Between Rebellion and Conformity, Negation and Reproduction' (2013), co-supervised with Dominic Johnson.

Public Engagement

Engaging publics in research – as both collaborators and as audiences – is a key aspect of my work. Recent collaborations and events include:

  • Globe, a collaboration with Janetka Platun, Leverhulme Artist in Residence in Geography and Drama at QMUL. Globe is a film and sculptural collaborative art project exploring questions of home and migration in East London. For more information see
  • Guest speaker and workshop facilitator with Bobby Baker and Emma Cahill from Daily Life Ltd, ‘Artful Measures: The Expert Fruitcake Workshop’ at Love Arts festival and symposium about arts and mental health, York St John’s University, 3rd July 2015.
  • Guest Speaker at Our Country’s Good: The Transformative Power of the Arts, a symposium by National Theatre and National Association for the Arts and Criminal Justice, National Theatre, London, Wednesday 14th October 2015.
  • In collaboration with Magic Me, the development and delivery of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training about intergenerational arts practice for artists and staff working in cultural contexts (British Museum, Horniman, National Archives, Geffrye Museum, Museum of London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Trust, South Bank Centre, Hackney Museum)