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We are world-leading specialists in the areas of inter and intra cultural performance practices (Hingorani, Ramos), site-specific practices (Chapman, Thomas), conflict management practices (Breed) and walking practices (Chapman, Sotelo).
Growth and development in the areas of performance and practice-based research at the UEL is evidenced by investment in a new multi-million pound Performing Arts and Media centre University Square Stratford in the heart of East London. The new venue in partnership with University of London, Birkbeck and Theatre Royal Stratford East consolidates significant partnerships that have been established since 2005 with East London Dance, Stratford Circus, Stratford Rising, and Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Our research is interdisciplinary and traverses four main research groups: Participatory Arts and Socially Engaged Performance, Performative Landscapes, Sound Art, and Creative Writing.
We have a resident theatre company, True Heart Theatre Company, linked to the Theatre Studies programme and housed at UEL. True Heart utilises Playback Theatre to build communities and international collaborations and Veronica Needa, the artistic director of True Heart, serves as a regular guest lecturer and hosts public performances to serve the UK Chinese community. True Heart and UEL collaborate on public performances and cross-cultural practices for students, staff and the surrounding Newham community. We have developed several research links with the Chinese Community through True Heart Theatre, including an inter-cultural performance symposium with David Henry Hwang based on his London premier of Golden Child (October 2013).

We are building international networks through the AHRC-funded Walking Artists Network (£49,000), Festival Route BR-116 and DRIFT International Residency (£20,000) funded by the Arts Council and British Council, and national networks through the Arts Council funded tour of Guantanamo Boy (£49,000) to engage new audiences and beneficiaries.  Our researchers have performed at the Cultural Olympiad, Hayward Gallery, London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), London 2012 Festival alongside partners including the National Theatre Wales and British Museum while extending practices to cultural policy making NGOs and IOs (Action Aid, IREX, UNICEF). These outward facing events and partnerships form a unique approach to our practice and research environment, providing a rich engagement with the creative industries and knowledge exchange opportunities that emphasise community engagement and the arts.

Examples of exemplary practice-as-research projects include: Ramos’ production Hotel Medea – an overnight dusk till dawn exploration of Euripides’ Medea enacted through Brazilian carnival, capoeria, cyber-performance and site-specific performance (including a boat trip from the O2 arena to the LIFT production at Trinity Buoy Wharf). Other notable projects includes Castelyn’s exploration of post-apartheid nationalism and the violence of AIDS/HIV discourses on gendered bodies through her choreography and autobiographical performances as a South African and Sotelo’s extension of intercultural performance to cartographies of walking in Bogota, Columbia – providing a space and place of encounter between indigenous and international narratives through autobiographical storytelling. All of the noted practices generate knowledge based on the theme of cultural locatedness and participatory art practices.

Research Strategy

We have developed a strategy to integrate the application of cultural locatedness alongside participatory art practices within the disciplines of Creative Writing (Atkins, McWatt, Nelmes), Dance (Castelyn, Thomas), Drama (Breed, Hingorani, Katsouraki, Qualmann, Ramos, Sotelo) and Sound Arts (Cawkwell, Chapman, Harries, Thomas). Examples include the application of conflict management practices from research in post-genocide Rwanda to the development of participatory practices in Kyrgyzstan and Indonesia based on the use of local cultural forms to address conflict issues (Breed), the development of sensory sound technology to recreate the architecture and environment of heritage sites (Chapman), and the exploration of local sites like launderettes and town halls to serve a site-responsive locations for contemporary storytelling and oral culture (Qualmann). The research and practice within our UOA has extended to linking performance and philosophy, with a Palgrave book series launched November 2013 and cross-institutional collaboration for several international and national conferences including What is Performance Philosophy: Staging a New Field 11-13 April at the University of Surrey as the inaugural conference for the recently founded international research association Performance Philosophy (Katsouraki). Our strategy is to generate further international and national networks to extend impact and the development of unique interdisciplinary performance practices. Researchers sit on editorial boards for journals like South African Dance Journal (Castelyn) and Screenwriting Journal (Nelmes), are convenors for colloquiums such as TaPRA Theatre, Performance and Philosophy and Performance Philosophy Research Association (Katsouraki) and have won prestigious awards including the Golden Nica Prix Arts Electronica in Digital Music (Thomas) and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Lopes).

Research Groups

Our four research groups bring together diverse and innovative projects based on cultural locatedness and participatory art practices: Participatory Arts and Socially Engaged Performance, Performative Landscapes, Sound Art, and Creative Writing.

Participatory Arts and Socially Engaged Performance explores the cultural, political, and practical applications of the performing arts. Breed’s research in the international exploration of drama in conflict resolution has been taken up in locations including Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Argade’s dance tours with the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, funded by bodies including the British Council, have explored ideas of public space and community in specific Indian cities. Castelyn uses dance to explore issues of body and identity in the post-apartheid political and national context of South Africa. Other research has explored the question of locatedness in different contexts, such as Hingorani’s work on Asian theatre in Britain, and Sotelo’s engagement with subjectivity, place and memory in the physical and spatial context of the walk. 

Testing and exploring the relation between performer and audience is a theme in the submission with Ramos’s research exploring the boundaries between audience and performer, disrupting the space of the theatre and bringing the audience into the play in both dramatic and spatial contexts. Hingorani’s work brings new and non-traditional audiences to engage with the theatrical process, involving them as actors, writers and audiences attracting significant funding from Arts Council England. Breed’s work with the gacaca courts of Rwanda explores the ways in which performance and audience participation can be used to transform fixed positions and relations. Thomas’s (Susanne) theatrical and choreographic work is focused on the relation between performance, technology, site and audience. An innovative use of social media characterises much of this work, including Ramos and Thomas. Finally Katsouraki engages with theories and methodologies of drama to reflect on the historical and political dimensions of theatrical performance, and on aesthetic and philosophical issues more broadly.

Sound Art is represented by a number of innovative musicians and electronic artists for whom experimentation with the possibilities of sound and its relation to space is a key activity.  An exploration of the possibilities of live performance in changing spaces is particularly significant in the work of Harries and Thomas, whose work incorporates site-specific performances and installations in a range of venues, including art galleries. Cawkwell’s range of recordings also explores the possibilities of electronic sound, while Chapman’s art installations often focus on the use of natural sounds recorded and reused in situ.  Thomas’ (Jo) Crystal was nominated for ISMC World Music Day by the British Jury (2012), Quartz for Alpha E82 (2011), and the Net Audio Award, Public Vote for Alpha Live (2011). Thomas has been listed on the top ten music list for Nature of Habit on a-musik. Her public art project Amber was written for Be Open Sound Portal in Trafalgar Square, commissioned by Sound and Music, Arup and Be Open. The work was presented to an audience of over 1 million over pedestrians on 18-21 September 2012.

Performative Landscapes extends notions of audience and participation to practices of community-based-arts through the practice of walking. The research highlights notions of agency through the mapping of physical terrain and geographic spaces – guiding walks that encounter memories, narratives, and histories – often outside the dominant or collective discourses. The performance and research practices developed by colleagues at UEL including Qualmann and Sotelo have fostered a relationship with other public practices across disciplines with ecologists, geographers, historians, cultural geographers, archaeologists, architects, ramblers, and other walkers for pleasure as a radical engagement with space and place.

Creative Writing integrates a range of ‘text as performance’ practices including a public reading of the poem ‘I Love the Rich’ as part of the Pussy Riot and the Art of Political Protest conference and book launch in the UK Parliament on 15 October 2012 (Atkins). Atkins established Onedit in 2000, which is currently at issue 17. Onedit has published internationally-renowned (and award-winning) authors such as Alice Notley, Clark Coolidge, Jackson Mac Low, and, more recently, the latest crop of new British writers. Onedit is archived as an ‘online journal of merit’ at the British Library, and has a very high reputation for its work and its design amongst readers in the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and Europe. While Atkins explores the poetic limits of translation, McWatt’s novel Vital Signs explores practice-led research in the area of narrative voice and the limitations of the text-based novel. Nelmes develops the critique of screenplay writing and methodologies through a series of monographs, journal articles and practice based screenwriting projects using archival materials from the British Film Institute (BFI).

Our research addresses community participation and action, ethics, social inequality and cultural politics. We are committed to performance practice as a means of transformation, as well as to communicating our research as widely as possible in other ways. Our researchers have hosted a number of conferences including The East End Seen Through Performance (2009), Archiving for the Future: using archives to enhance learning and teaching in drama and theatre studies (2010), Teaching Popular Dance in Higher Education (2010) and Making Theatre for Young Audiences (2011). One of CPAD’s founding projects - the East London Theatre Archive (ELTA), that later developed into a second project called Clustering and Enhancing Digital Archives for Research (CEDAR) –provided free on-line access to a digitised archive of over 20,000 materials (playbills, scripts, posters, designs, photos, news clips, etc) as primary source materials from East London theatres including Hoxton Hall, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Hackney Empire, and Theatre Venture.  UEL was awarded £500,000 from JISC for ELTA and £250,000 from JISC for CEDAR. Artists, historians, students and the public at large have access to the materials. Thus, CPAD engages the public not only in outreach through theatrical performance, but through on-line sources, workshops, art installations, and site-specific performances, publishing our work in non-academic and academic locations and contributing to the public dissemination of knowledge, both nationally and internationally.

We continue to foster high-quality traditional individual research outputs (i.e. books, monographs and journals) whilst also delivering practice-based and collaborative research projects, providing new and innovative approaches to creating, critiquing and addressing cultural materials.

Collaborations and contributions

CPAD works effectively with national and international collaborative partners including staff and student international exchanges established with the University of Colorado, Boulder (USA), Columbia College, Chicago (USA) and University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford (Canada). Several of our taught modules and corresponding research work in partnership with site-specific spaces and archival sources including Hackney Empire, Hoxton Hall, Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, and Theatre Royal Stratford East. Our researchers have achieved international recognition through fellowships with centres including Interweaving Performance Cultures at Freie University, Berlin (Breed) and BFI to develop a monograph from archival materials funded by an AHRC Fellowship (Nelmes). Additionally, an extension of best practices within the creative industries through artistic-led approaches to practice and international collaboration between Brazil and the UK for artists and technologists to develop performance and installation ideas in a collaborative environment (Lopes).

We collaborate in a number of different ways with a range of partners, both formal and informal. This might range from the two-year, multi-partner, JISC-funded ‘Online Theatre Histories Archive’ to a one-off masterclass from a Director at one of our professional partners, such as Kerry Michael at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Many of our partnerships are not held solely in teaching, or practice or research, but across all three, giving us multiple links and routes to partnership. An example of this might be Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, with whom we have co-delivered undergraduate and post-graduate teaching and successfully bid to JISC for the Online Theatre Histories Archive project; while also making use of the space as a rehearsal and performance location and as a base for Community Arts projects

Our contribution to the discipline is broad and covers a range of practices with a series of journal articles, journal guest editorships, monographs, teaching resources, international practice and performance-based research and international collaborative research bids currently in progress. Book and journal publications with Duke University, Intellect, Palgrave, Routledge and Edinburgh University show the regard and status in which our researchers are held. International invitations to deliver book tours, keynote lectures, theatre and music performances and practical workshops have taken staff across the globe in the last 12 months alone. Staff hold positions of influence and peer-regard including membership of the AHRC Peer Review College; Executive of the Standing Conference of Drama Departments (SCUDD), and Working Group Chair of the Theatre & Performance Research Association  (TaPRA). Many staff act as External Examiners and/or Advisors; more recently we have acted in a consultancy role for a series of projects focused within the realm of theatre and young people.

Collaborative seminars

Seminar series, workshops and symposia run with colleagues from other universities and partners include: Sotelo, Aiofe Monks, and Adrianne Marquez symposium ‘Participatory Arts, Patronage, and the Post Olympics’ at Stratford Circus in partnership with Birkbeck, London in June 2013. Katsouraki and Louise Owens symposium ‘Beyond Glorious: The Radical in Performance’ at Stratford Circus in partnership with Birkbeck, London in May 2013.

Breed’s colloquia series Community Engagement and the Arts in May, June, July 2013. Hingorani’s Performing Human Rights symposium organised in association with Amnesty International and Penguin Books. Hingorani’s Theatre for Young People conference for knowledge exchange between academia and professional practitioners making theatre for young audiences (8 June 2011) He provides workshops for emerging directors and designers titled ‘New Voices’ at the Young Vic. Qualmann runs a series of international artists network events entitled ‘Walkie Talkie’, most recently conducted in Ghent (Belgium) and Chelsea Theatre (London). Lopes’ partnership with LIFT, National Theatre Wales, Wales International, and Wooster Group for events including LIFT 2012 and Drift International Residency.

Academic networks

AHRC Peer Review College, Executive of the Standing Conference of Drama Departments (SCUDD), and Working Group Chair of the Theatre & Performance Research Association  (TaPRA), Screenwriting Research Network, and Walking Artists Network.

Journal editorial/advisory boards

Routledge journal Performance Philosophy edited by Katsouraki (under consideration and Palgrave book series to be launched November 2013. Thomas sits on the advisory board for the British Music Collection since 2012. Chapman sits on the editorial board for Screenworks since 2008. Castelyn sits on the editorial board for South African Dance Journal and has recently been invited to sit on the new Zimbabwean journal for Performing and Creative Arts Jibilika. And edited journal series: Intellect Books The Journal of Screenwriting edited by Jill Nelmes since 2010 and Onedit edited by Tim Atkins since 2000.

Other activities

Castelyn’s collaboration with the Flatfoot Dance Company Dune CD album is the origin of the collaboration between Hugh Hopper and Cawkwell (HUMI). Reddington directed/produced a songwriting project in collaboration with City and Hackney Carers and the Premises Studio Education Trust. CPAD staff undertake a variety of external activities, including membership of research council peer review panels; providing consultancy; writing publishers’ reports; writing reviews for academic journals; external examining including PhD examinations; giving invited talks and lectures.

Grant income

The nature of our work, with its focus on public engagement, has led to some notable successes in terms of grant capture over the last few years. In 2009, we embarked on CEDAR - ‘Clustering & Enhancing Digital Archives for Research’ - a £250,000 JISC-funded collaborative online archiving project, which brought partnership with institutions including Kings College London; Nottingham University; Royal Holloway, University of London; and Sheffield University, resulting in the Online Theatre Histories Archive (www.otha.org.uk). We have also had some notable successes in applications for practice-based research funding, including Arts Council England and the British Council. Individual researchers have also been supported by a wide range of sponsors.

Hingorani’s Guantanamo Boy project has attracted support from the Arts Council, Stratford Circus Arts Centre, the Stanley Johnson Foundation, the Unity Trust, and the Victoria Hall Foundation (£104,662). Qualmann received Creative Communities funding from UEL, Research Capability funding from London Metropolitan University (£28,550) and AHRC Network Scheme for Footwork: the Walking Artists Network as Mobile Community (£49,000). McWatt received external grant funding from arts support agencies and the Canada Council to write Vital Signs (£16,750) and advances from Random House and William Heinemann (£17,000), plus a commission from Screen Siren Productions ($23,500). Nelmes received support to research screenplays held in the special collections at BFI to complete monograph The Screenwriter and the Screenplay in British Cinema (£26,000). Lopes’ international residencies and knowledge transfer activities have been funded by Arts Council and British Council (£20,000). Chapman’s sound art project Re-sounding Falkland was funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (£5,000) and Creative Scotland for the Falkland Centre for Stewardship (£8,000), Reddington received funding from the British Academy and Leverhulme for the study of the invisibility of women producers in the British music industry (£4,940.59).

Thomas’s production Atalanta was funded by The Arts Council of England and supported by a series of partners including the South Bank Centre; Tate Modern; the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A); York Theatre Royal; Homo Ludens in Korea; and Teatre Municipal de Rosas in Spain (£23,920). Her project Like A Fish Out Of Water received funding from English National Ballet, Greater London Authority (London 2012), V&A Museum, Marangoni Institute, the London Boroughs of Richmond-upon-Thames, Hillingdon and Lambeth (£161,500). Her project “Atalanta” was funded and supported by the Cross Campus Initiative (GLA, Arts Council of England), Ashmolean Museum, and De La Warr Pavillion (£15,000). Cawkwell was funded by the Great Britain Sasakwa Foundation for the delivery of workshops in Japan with emerging artists (£4,000). Harries was funded by Kameroperahuis for the production of Two Caravans chamber opera (£30,000). Thomas was commissioned by Sound and Music (£4,600). UOA 35 researchers have been supported through internal and external grant income totalling £792,422.59 We intend to significantly increase our grant capture between REF 2014 and the next research assessment round and are currently developing international collaborative projects that we hope will contribute to this aim. Currently, researchers are submitting bids to enhance our research environment and funding including: £50,000 research fellowship proposal to Daad (Thomas), £67,000 proposal to United States Institute of Peace (USIP) for the development of interactive theatre practices linked to policy-making bodies in Rwanda (Breed), £350,000 proposal to Digital Research and Development fund to enhance applied and community practices using digital platforms  (Breed), and £250,000 proposal to AHRC for the Performance Philosophy Association’s partner institution activities and knowledge exchange (Katsouraki).

Infrastructure and facilities

University Square Stratford is the last major HEFCE-funded HEI building project, and is a collaboration between UEL and Birkbeck, University of London. Performing Arts will occupy the entirety of the third floor, with 3/4 specialist performance studio spaces, alongside a suite of music and multi-media recording and production rooms, rehearsal rooms and live ensemble/band recording and control rooms. These facilities are supported by full staff offices, seminar space, Mac labs, technical store and administrative offices. The campus' location in Stratford's Cultural Quarter, places UEL and its performing arts provision in close physical and intellectual proximity with key partners, including Stratford Circus Arts Centre and the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Between 2008-2013 UEL performing arts has delivered across three campuses that provide important performance facilities for practice-based research: Trinity Buoy Wharf (Dance Programme location) and Stratford Circus (Partner Arts Centre). Docklands Campus is home to three teaching rooms partially converted to rehearsal space; this includes secondary rubberised flooring, blackout blinds, curtaining and AV equipment. Trinity Buoy Wharf is the interim home of the Dance Programme. The main building houses two large dance studios, a student study room with multiple PCs with internet access, and a student ‘green room’. The second space at Trinity Buoy Wharf houses the staff office and teaching room. Stratford Circus is a purpose-built working arts centre with three main performance/rehearsal spaces. Circus 1 is a professional proscenium arch theatre with pit, full rig and control booth, and seating up to 280. Circus 2 is a ‘black box’ studio theatre with rig and control room, seating 90; Circus 3 is a large dance rehearsal space with full sprung floor, natural lighting, mirrors and bars.

Stratford Circus itself has a successful events programme within which UEL student work is programmed, and several of our researchers have strong performance links with the theatre; providing partial funding and the development, rehearsal and performance location for Hingorani’s Guantanamo Boy project. Additionally, we have valuable archival resources for research, including the JISC-funded Online Theatre Histories archive, the East London Theatre Archive, and the Hackney Empire archive.