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Dr Sarah Bartley

Lecturer in Theatre and Performance 

Areas of interest

I am a community arts practitioner and have developed performance projects in a range of different social contexts over the past ten years including: health, employment, education, and criminal justice organisations. In my research, I examine the intersections of work, participation, and performance at play within socially engaged and applied theatre practices.

My work 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 examines 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. More broadly, I am interested in the economies of participation that operate across performance projects and civic practices.

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 am exploring the ways in which people’s theatres participate in a revisioning of community resources through practices including: solidarity economies, space sharing, re-purposing community sites, cooperative models of practice, voluntary and amateur labour and new kinds of public-voluntary partnership.

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.

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome enquiries from prospective postgraduate students, including fully written and practice-based projects, in any areas of my research, including proposals engaging with:

  • Applied Theatre and Socially Engaged Performance
  • Performance and the Welfare State
  • Austerity, Activism, and Community Theatre Practices
  • Arts in the Criminal Justice Sector
  • Participation and Labour
  • Intersections of Social and Cultural Policy
  • Peoples Theatres and Civic Performance 


  • Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practices
  • Devising Performance: Politics and Citizenship
  • Critical Issues in Contemporary Performance

Professional bodies/affiliations

  • TaPRA (Theatre and Performance Research Association), member
  • IFTR (International Federation of Theatre Research), member

Selected publications

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


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


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


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




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