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School of English and Drama

Professor Michael McKinnie, BA Hons (Guelph), MA (York, Canada), PhD (Northwestern)


Professor of Theatre



I grew up in Canada, in southern Ontario.  I studied Drama for my BA at the University of Guelph and English for my MA at York University in Toronto. I stayed in Toronto and worked in new play development for a few years, then moved to the United States to do my PhD in the Interdisciplinary Program in Theatre and Drama at Northwestern University, where I wrote my thesis under the supervision of Prof. Tracy C. Davis. I joined Queen Mary’s Drama Department in 2006, having previously worked at the University of Birmingham and Queen’s University Belfast.  


In my time at Queen Mary I’ve taught everything from first year undergraduate modules to PhD research seminars. I often convene the core first year module, London/Culture/Performance, which introduces students to studying Drama at Queen Mary and in London. I also usually teach on Written Research Project, which is the undergraduate written dissertation module. The module that draws most directly on my research is likely my final year undergraduate seminar, Show Business: Theatre and Capitalism. In this class, we explore the relationship between theatre and the wider economy in which it operates.  In a given year we might study nineteenth century railway plays, performance at seaside holiday camps, theatre financing, shows about financial crises, or labour disputes in the theatre (among other things). In my modules, we’re often exploring, together, the (often neglected) things that happen offstage in order for a show to appear onstage. Thinking about these things—some of which are theatrical, many of which are not—gives a fuller and more complex picture of what theatre is, and what it’s doing, in particular times and places.

Undergraduate Teaching

Undergraduate modules I’ve taught on include:

  • DRA114 London/Culture/Performance
  • DRA227 Staging Modern Ireland
  • DRA329 Written Research Project
  • DRA356 Making Site-Specific Performance
  • DRA360 Show Business: Theatre and Capitalism

Postgraduate Teaching

Postgraduate modules I’ve taught on include:

  • DRA7006: Theatre and Performance Theory
  • DRA7100: Performance Research


Research Interests:

My research focuses primarily on theatre economics and theatre’s role in urban development. I’m interested in theatre as a social institution embedded in political and economic relations, and how this plays out offstage as much as onstage. MMy latest book, Theatre in Market Economies, was recently published by Cambridge University Press. This book explores theatre’s intimate but equivocal relationship with the market, from the 1990s to the present day, in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and the United States. Taking an interdisciplinary, materialist approach that draws on political economy, geography, and cultural theory, Theatre in Market Economies reveals a theatre that is ambivalently taking up the mission of the “mixed economy”—to combine economic efficiency with social security, while promoting liberal democracy—during a time when the purchase of social democracy and the centre-left have declined within electoral politics, and the tools of the welfare state have been used to regulate ever more closely the lives of citizens instead of the operation of markets. Through a wide-ranging analysis of theatrical working practices, institutions, environments, and ideologies, Theatre in Market Economies depicts a theatre that is not only a familiar cultural institution but is, in many ways, an exemplary political economic one as well (though not in ways we might expect, or find entirely comforting). 

This book builds on my first book, City Stages: Theatre and Urban Space in a Global City (University of Toronto Press), which examines the relationship between theatre and urban development in Toronto since the 1960s. City Stages argues that theatre in Toronto has been increasingly implicated in the civic self-fashioning of the city and preoccupied with Toronto’s changing urban political economy. It considers how theatre has been used to justify certain forms of urban development, how property markets have influenced the ways in which theatre companies acquire and use performance space, and how the analysis of theatre as an urban phenomenon complicates dominant forms of Canadian theatre historiography. My longstanding interest in theatre’s spatiality is also reflected in my edited collection, Space and the Geographies of Theatre (Playwrights Canada Press). And I’ve published a variety of articles and chapters in leading journals and edited collections that explore the politics and economics of performance.  

Finally, I’m working on Theory for Theatre Studies: Economics (Bloomsbury). It’s about theatre, cultural theory, economics, real estate, financial crashes, and more. 

Research Interests

  • Theatre economics
  • Theatre and political economy (including performance and cultural industries)
  • Performance and space (including performance and the city and performance and urban development)
  • Cultural theories of performance
  • Interdisciplinary and materialist performance research



Theatre in Market Economies, Theatre and Performance Theory series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2021)  

Theory for Theatre Studies:  Economics, Theory for Theatre Studies series (London:  Bloomsbury, in progress)

City Stages: Theatre and Urban Space in a Global City, Cultural Spaces series (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007)  Winner, Ann Saddlemyer Award for Outstanding Book, Canadian Association for Theatre Research


Edited Collection:

Space and the Geographies of Theatre, Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English series (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2007)


Research Report:

with Louise Pearson, Visual Arts Organisations and Higher Education Collaboration: Developing Digital Priorities (London: London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchanges, 2009) Commissioned by Arts Council England-London and LCACE. 55 pp.


Selected Articles and Chapters:

"Institutional Frameworks:  Theatre, State, and Market in Modern Urban Performance,” in Kim Solga, ed. A Cultural History of Theatre in The Modern Age, edited Kim Solga.  Vol. 6 of A Cultural History of Theatre, edited by Tracy C. Davis and Christopher B. Balme.  (London:  Bloomsbury, 2017, pp. 17-34.


'Olympian Performance: The Cultural Economics of the Opening Ceremony of London 2012.'  Public, 53:  Mega-Event Cities (Spring 2016): 49-57.


‘Performing Like a City: London’s South Bank and the Cultural Politics of Urban Governance’, in Performance and the Politics of Space: Theatre and Topology, ed. Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wischutz (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 66-80


‘Rethinking Site-Specificity: Monopoly, Urban Space, and the Cultural Economics of Site-Specific Performance’, in Performing Site-Specific Theatre, ed. Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 21-36


‘Capital: Theaterkultur und Stadtplanung am Beispiel von Londons South Bank’, in Politik des Raumes: Theater und Topologie, ed. Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wischutz, trans. Thomas Stachel (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2010), pp. 109-120


‘Performing the Civic Transnational: Performance, Governance, and Citizenship in Contemporary London’, in Performance and the City, ed. D. J. Hopkins et al. (Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 110-127 


‘The State of the Nation’, Canadian Theatre Review, 125 (2006), 5-8 [Thirtieth anniversary issue]


‘Bees, Horseshoes and Puppets for the Elderly: The Local Initiatives Program and the Political Economy of Theatre in Canada’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 15.4 (2005), 427-39


‘A Sympathy for Art: The Sentimental Economies of New Labour’s Arts Policy’, in Blairism and the War of Persuasion: Labour’s Passive Revolution, ed. Richard Johnson and Deborah Lynn Steinberg (London: Laurence and Wishart, 2004), pp. 186-203

‘The State of this Place: Convictions, the Courthouse, and the Political Geography of Performance in Belfast’, in Modern Drama, 46.4 (2003), pp. 580-97 [Special issue, Space and the Geographies of the Theatre]


‘Canadian Theatre and Industrial Development’, Canadian Theatre Review, 114 (2003), pp. 16-20


‘Legacies: Richard Rose’s Vision for Tarragon Theatre’, Canadian Theatre Review, 113 (2003), pp. 29-33


‘Liberal Shakespeares and Illiberal Critiques: Necessary Angel’s King Lear’, in Shakespeare in Canada: A World Elsewhere?, ed. Diana Brydon and Irena Makaryk (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), pp. 212-230


‘Urban National, Suburban Transnational: Civic Theatres and the Urban Development of Toronto’s Downtowns’, Theatre Journal, 53.2 (2001), pp. 253-276 [Special issue, Theatre and the City]


‘Space Administration: Rereading the Material History of Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille’, Essays on Canadian Writing, 68 (2000), pp. 19-45 [Special issue, Canadian Materialist Criticism]


See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


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

I have supervised a range of PhD projects, investigating topics such as performance and social housing, the labour politics of performance workshops, and the performativity of political economy.

I have recently supervised the following successful PhD projects:

  • Philip Watkinson, “Making Space for Affect: Affective Materialism and Contemporary Performance.” (AHRC Doctoral Award) (awarded 2017)
  • Charlotte Bell, “Art, Performance and the Urban Social Housing Estate in the Contemporary Cultural Economy” (QMUL Principal’s Studentship) (2015)
  • Valeria Graziano, “Formats of Conviviality: The Organisation of Collective Agency at a Time of Impasse” (QMUL Principal’s Studentship, Co-supervision with Dr. Arianna Bove, School of Business and Management) (2014)
  • Sophie Leighton-Kelly, “The Barbican: Performance, the City and Civic Transnationalism” (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award) (2014)
  • Elyssa Livergant, “Workshops: The Cultural Politics of Theatre and Performance Labour” (University of London Vice-Chancellor’s studentship) (2014)
  • Timothy Edkins, “Feeling Productive” (AHRC Doctoral Award) (2013)
  • Sarah Grochala, “Seriousness, Structure and the Dramaturgy of Social Life: The Politics of Dramatic Structure in Contemporary British Playwriting 1997-2011” (QMUL Principal’s Studentship) (2012)

Public Engagement

Talks, Keynotes, and Conference Contributions (selected)


“Urban Performance, Productivity and the Spatial Fix.”  Seeing Like a City Conference.  Queen Mary, University of London (2014)

“Theatre, the City and Industry.”  Irish Society for Theatre Research Annual Conference.  Birkbeck, University of London (2013)

“Canadian Theatre and Industrial Development.”  Celebrating Canadian Plays and Playwriting Conference.  Stratford, Canada (2002)

Major Plenaries

“Mega-Events and the Performance of Public Investment.”  The Life and Death of the Arts and Culture after Mega-Events Conference, Simon Fraser University (2014).  Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“The Theatre of Rent.”  American Society for Theatre Research (2011)

“Capital: The Political Economy of Urban Theatre Environments in London.”  Conference on Theatre and Topology, Institut für Theaterwissenchaft, Freie Universität Berlin (2010)

“Citizenship, Monopoly Performance, and the Political Geography of Northern Star.”  Stewart Parker Commemorative Conference and Festival, Queen’s University Belfast (2009)

“Vegas as City Stage.”  State of the Profession Panel, American Society for Theatre Research (2004)

Additional Conference Presentations

Numerous papers delivered at major research events and organisations, including the American Society for Theatre Research, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Theatre and Performance Research Association, Performance Studies International, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the Royal Geographical Society, the European Society for the Study of English, the Canadian Cultural Studies Association and the Canadian Association for Theatre Research.

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