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School of English and Drama

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


Professor of 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 HeritageLois 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.

Professional Activities

  • I have examined 10 PhDs in the UK and Australia since 2011.
  • I have served as an External Examiner for the BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Education, Central School of Speech and Drama, (2013 -18), BA Theatre Studies, Birkbeck (2014 -17) and the BA Theatre Studies, University of East London (2008-12)
  • I have been the External Reviewer for revalidation of programs including Performance and Creative Enterprise, Barbican/Guildhall School of Music and Drama (2019); BA Theatre and Performance, University of Leeds (2014); BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Education Central School of Speech and Drama (2008)
  • I have reviewed journal articles and books for Research in Drama Education, Performing Ethos, New Theatre Quarterly and Contemporary Theatre Review and book proposals and manuscripts for Bloomsbury, Routledge and Intellect.

Undergraduate Teaching

I have taught on:

  • DRA116 Making Theatre and Performance
  • DRA123 Power Plays
  • DRA220 Making Contemporary Theatre
  • DRA251 Theatre for the People
  • 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 socially engaged theatre and performance. I have a particular interest in performance and prison, theatre practice with and about criminalized women, intergenerational arts practices and the documentation and evaluation of socially engaged arts practices.

An examination of the politics of punishment and the performance of justice shaped my doctoral research working with People’s Palace Projects on Staging Human Rights with Paul Heritage, Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw and has continued to inform my research since. My book, Theatre & Prison (2011), 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.

Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System (2020) is a collection of twelve essays and interviews by international practitioners and scholars and offers unprecedented access to theatre and performance practice in carceral contexts and the material and political conditions that shape this work. Each of the contributions reveal a panoply of practice: from cross-arts projects shaped by autobiographical narratives through to fantasy-informed cabaret; from radio plays to film; from popular participatory performance to work staged in commercial theatres. Extracts of performance texts, developed with Clean Break theatre company, are interwoven through the collection.

Clean Break: Women, Theatre Organisation and the Criminal Justice System, is a two-year project, led by academics in theatre and performance studies and work and employment relations to develop new understandings about Clean Break’s impact on contemporary British theatre, its distinctive organisational practices and how this practice can inform policy and practitioner discussions about organisational leadership in arts and criminal justice. The project has been awarded £303,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). I am the Principal Investigator and the project team are Dr Deborah Dean (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick); Prof Anne-marie Greene (School of Business, University of Leicester); Dr Sarah Bartley (Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading); and Anna Herrmann, Joint Artistic Director, Clean Break theatre company. The project is supported by Women in Prison and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance. The project runs from September 2019-August 2021.

My research attends to the cultural politics of socially engaged practice and collaborations with artists, arts organisations and academics. Performance and Community (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 addresses 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.


Phakama is an approach to making participatory, collaborative performance that has been developed and shared for more than two decades by a network of artists and arts educators across South Africa, India, the USA, Ireland and the UK. The book, Phakama: Making Participatory Theatre (2018), co-written and co-edited with Lucy Richardson and Fabio Santos draws together the voices, experiences and reflections of a network of artists, participants, academics and cultural producers critically reflecting on this participant-centered practice through a polyvocal form.



Regional editor for ‘Performances of Age: United Kingdom’, Volume 2, Part 5 of The Routledge Companion to Applied Performance, ed Ananda Breed and Tim Prenti (London and New York: Routledge, 2020).

Applied Theatre: Women and the Criminal Justice System (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

Co-written and co-edited with Lucy Richardson and Fabio Santos, Phakama: Making Participatory Theatre (London: Bloomsbury, 2018)

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

Theatre & Prison (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) (Arabic translation, المسرح والسجين Cairo: National Centre for Translation and Publishing, 2019)

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 - 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. 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:

‘Something About Us: Clean Break’s Theatre of Necessity’ in Michelle Kelly and Clare Westall (eds), Prison Writing and the Literary World: Imprisonment, Institutionality, and Questions of Literary Practice (Routledge, 2020).

‘Clean Break: A Practical Politics of Care’ in Amanda Stuart Fisher and James Thompson (eds), Performing Care: New Perspectives on Socially Engaged Practice (Manchester University Press, 2020), 123-138

“Bad Girls, Monsters and Chicks in Chains: Clean Break’s Disruption of Representations of Women, Crime and Incarceration” in Ashley Lucas (ed), Prison Theatre and the Global Crisis of Incarceration (London: Bloomsbury 2020)

‘If the new theatre is to have meaning, the audience too must play its part’: Chekhov Technique in Applied, Therapeutic and Community Contexts’ in Cass Fleming and Tom Cornford (eds), Michael Checkhov Techniques in the Twenty-First Century (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

Anna Herrmann and Caoimhe McAvinchey with contributions from Lucy Edkins, Jennifer Joseph, TerriAnn Oudjar, Jade Small, Deborah Pearson and Stacey Gregg. ‘Inside Bitch: Clean Break and the ethics of representation of women in the criminal justice system’ in The Applied Theatre Reader (Second Edition), Nicola Abraham and Tim Prentki (eds), London and New York: Routledge, 2020.

Sheringham, O., Platun, J., McAvinchey, C., and A. Blunt, "Globe's encounters and the art of rolling: home, migration and belonging", Cultural Geographies Vol 26, No. 4: 2019, 415-434

‘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, 2017), 139-155.

‘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, 2017), 217-222.

‘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),  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), 359-373.

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

The LIFT Living Archive in ‘Mapping the Archives Series’, Research in Drama Education, Volume 18.3 (2013), 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),  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),  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), 216-227

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

    • Emily Hunka, ‘The Way to Optimistic Land: the role of attunement and theatre in reducing child and adolescent mental distress’ (2020). Co-supervisor with Prof Kam Bhui (Wolfson).
    • Mojisola Adebayo, ‘Afri-Queer Theatre: Challenging Homophobia, Re/presenting Black Lesbians and Creating Performance Spaces for Black Queer Togetherness’ (2017). Co-supervisor with Dr Catherine Silverstone.
    • Sarah Bartley, ‘Art Works: Participatory Practice and (Anti)Work Politics’ (2017), QMUL Strategic Studentship. First supervisor Prof Jen Harvie.
    • Helen Gush, ‘The World Theatre Season: Internationalisation and British performance culture’ (2018), AHRC CDA. Second supervisor with Prof Maria Delgado and Kate Dorney (V&A), co-first supervisors.
    • Christine Twite, ‘Cultures of Spectatorship: The Relationship between Dramaturgy, Site, Outreach and Audience in the work of Actors' Touring Company’ (2017), AHRC CDA. Second supervisor with Dr Bridget Escolme, first supervisor.
    • 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-supervisor with Dominic Johnson.

    Public Engagement

    Recent collaborations and events related to Arts and Criminal Justice include:

    • 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 14thOctober 2015).
    • Contributor to Arts Council England all-staff event on Arts and Criminal Justice (May 2019).
    • Contributor to National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance think tank (2019-)

    And with Clean Break theatre company,

    • Women, Theatre and the Criminal Justice System: International Perspectives and Practice (QMUL, June 2017), supported by the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA) and Women in Prison. The symposium included research presentations and workshops from artists and academics from Australia, South Africa and the UK; a staged reading of Blis-ta Touch by Sonya Hale and a Long Table discussion. The event brought together 80 artists, academics, policy makers, and professionals working in criminal justice and women’s services to consider the distinctiveness of theatre practices that engage directly with women affected by the criminal justice system and training opportunities for professionals working in arts, education and criminal justice. 10% of the audience included women with experience of the criminal justice system.
    • As part of Clean Break’s 40th Anniversary Programme, I hosted a public interview with Lucy Perman MBE, Executive Director of Clean Break (1997-2018) at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute for a general public audience of over 100 addressing issues of leadership and arts and criminal justice (October 2018) and hosted the Long Table post-show discussion for Inside Bitch at The Royal Court (March 2019).

    Globe (2015-), a practice-based collaboration with Leverhulme Artist in Residence in Geography, Janetka Platun, and Dr Olivia Sheringham (Geography) and Prof. Alison Blunt (Geography) explored questions of home and belonging in the context of an increasingly ‘hostile migration milieu’ (Hall 2017). It did this through the creation of a mobile globe-like sculpture that rolls through streets, inviting the public’s engagement to develop new understandings of home, migration and the relationships between them. The project, supported by a Leverhulme Artist in Residence Fellowship (2016), ACE and QMUL Centre for Public Engagement applications, facilitated research with participants at Torridon Primary School and Mulberry School for Girls in London and residents of Shrewsbury and Delhi (in collaboration with OP Jindal Global University).  Public events and exhibitions of the globe sculpture and films have been hosted at the Royal Geographical Society, Geffrye Museum of the Home, the National Maritime Museum and Tate Modern. For more information see