Module Insight: Applied Theatre – OurWarwick

Module Insight: Applied Theatre

Olivia Kershaw | Theatre & Performance Studies Contact Olivia

The first term of my third year is drawing to a close & as expected it is absolutely flying by. As a finalist there is certainly a lot to adapt to as you move into the last months of your degree – and this term has been a huge learning curve; with plenty to juggle but also lots of exciting new adventures and challenges! I’ve been having the best time getting underway with my research dissertation (more on that to come in another post!) and delving into this year’s array of optional modules. Today I wanted to give you all a bit of insight into ‘Applying Theatre: Histories, Geographies, Practices,’ a brand new module in the Theatre department, which has been running this autumn term…

Why did I choose this module?

As well as pursuing topics or areas of existing personal interest, I think your undergraduate degree is a brilliant opportunity to try out something new, perhaps something you’ve never even thought about or had experience of before. Every year I always try to pick at least one module that fits the bill in this way, because I think it’s the best way of broadening your experience overall – the best way to do this is often to get right out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to start from the ground up learning something new! This year, I chose Applied Theatre for that very reason. I had zero experience of this strand of practice & was excited by the ‘blank page’ open to me as a result.

What is ‘applied’ theatre?

Applied theatre is something of an umbrella term for a variety of practices, so it is difficult to define. However, in a general sense, I would suggest that this field uses drama and performance in contexts outside a conventional theatrical space, often engaging with specific communities and being socially motivated. This often involves a more participatory aspect where audiences are actively involved, rather than just spectating. For example, in the module we have explored different types of applied work, such as Theatre in Education (TIE) working in schools, theatre with disadvantaged communities, working in specific contexts such as care homes, prisons or hospitals and Theatre for Development (TfD) working in poverty-stricken nations around the globe. All these settings come with their own sensitivities, ethical dilemmas and challenges for the practitioner, which we’ve considered throughout the module.

What is my favourite thing about the module?

No week is quite the same! Which reflects the many, many different types and ‘ways’ of doing applied theatre. Our module tutor is an experienced applied theatre practitioner who has worked in many different contexts around the world, so it’s been great to work with someone who has been out there in the field and has first hand experience. We have also had the opportunity to take part in workshops with visiting applied theatre practitioners, giving us some different perspectives. Last week, we worked with Dr Anne Smith, who took us through a session exploring her methods of working with refugee/migrant communities. This was a really fun and inspiring class, because through experiencing it ourselves, we realised that there are lots of ways drama/music can be used to overcome language barriers where a roomful of people perhaps speak different tongues.

How are we assessed?

Our first assessment is on the last day of term (next week!) so I’m in the thick of preparations for that at the moment. Over the last few weeks we’ve been individually researching and developing our own applied theatre project, which we will have to pitch to the rest of our class (as if they were potential funders/backing organisations for the project) through a 10 minute presentation. Apart from developing the idea itself, we’ve got to think it through and identify any possible challenges or ethical issues.

We’ve had free scope to take any angle we wish with this project, and it has been incredibly exciting to think about and plan something as if it were really going to take place. I am developing an idea surrounding ‘hospital theatre,’ using drama workshops to work with children who have long-term illnesses. As I had a long term health problem growing up, this matters hugely to me – and it has been amazing to have the chance to create something that I can relate so much and put a bit of myself into. The project I will be pitching is something I would definitely like to make happen in reality if ever I get chance!

Our second assessment will be a 3000 word essay; thinking more critically about a specific issue in the field of applied theatre. Although this is a written essay, we’ll be basing our work on case studies of applied theatre work. I will be working on this over Christmas – so wish me luck!



Overall, I have really enjoyed this module & found it an exciting new challenge. I have learned so much and am really excited to pitch my own project idea next week. I can’t encourage upcoming students enough to take full advantage of their time at university to jump straight in and try something new. The beauty of the Theatre department at Warwick is the chance for optionality; there is so much for us to choose to study through our time here. Lots of students even discover their future career or vocation by doing this. You never know till you try!

Olivia Kershaw | Theatre & Performance Studies Contact Olivia

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