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Applied and community theatre

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Research interests

My investigations of applied theatre and performance connect academic research with theatre companies and artists who operate in community engaged, participatory practices, seeking to inform understanding and development of socially engaged work. I created a proposal of responsivity as a way to articulate the expertise of applied practitioners, providing a vocabulary for their specialist blend of artistic, social and relational skills and qualities. I designed reflective dialogue research methods for collaborative, participatory analysis, reflecting values and objectives of the work. Current concerns with co-creative collaborative practices are addressed with an investigation of applied theatre methods. My research aims to inform practitioner development and training as well as applied theatre pedagogies.

I have a background in making theatre that responds to political issues and social contexts, as an actor and workshop leader in community and youth theatre and Theatre in Education. I have continued to work with community groups in creative collaborations and performances, including schools and care homes, Hancock Museum, York City Archive and Mystery Plays, and Equal Arts Creative Friends intergenerational exchange. Out of Her System, a verbatim performance about girls and education selected for GiFTed at Gateshead International Festival of Theatre. A project with Graeae Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey explored UK/Russian co-production with D/deafblind actors In Touch at National Theatre's Dorfman venue (see chapter in Sealey, J. 2018, Reasons to Be Graeae, Oberon Books).

Symposia organisation includes:

Do Young People Really Need Drama?  Northern Stage/Northumbria University 2015,

Future of Fringe in Newcastle/Gateshead, an industry/research collaboration symposium with AHRC funding at Northumbria University 2015

Alchemists at Work conference at York St John University 2012.

Invitations to present include:

The Applied Theatre Artist: Responsivity and Expertise in Practice: research using new framework of responsivity to look at the work of applied theatre practitioners. University of Portsmouth Seminar Series 2021.

Opening the Space: Naming Responsivity in the Expertise of Applied Theatre Practitioners, Art and Social Engagement conference, Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Vilnius, Lithuania 2017

Creative Feminist Action, Festival of Feminist Ideas and Action, Newcastle 2015



Dr Kay Hepplewhite has been a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University since 2013 and is a Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy. She teaches in the subject area of theatre and performance at all levels, supervising PhD researchers. She is a co-convenor of the Theatre and Performance Research Association, Applied and Social Theatre Working Group. Her PhD was awarded from University of Manchester in 2017.

Her monograph The Applied Theatre Artist: Responsivity and Expertise in Practice was published by Palgrave 2020.  As a researcher of applied theatre, Hepplewhite makes connections between the contexts of academic research and theatre makers who engage with communities and participatory performance. Publication includes RiDE Journal of Applied Theatre, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, PRAXIS (NYU) and chapters in the Bloomsbury Applied Theatre edited book series.

She has a background in performing and making theatre that responds to political and social issues. Recent creative collaborations include projects in community, health and education contexts including schools and care homes.

Education/Academic qualification

Drama, PhD

1 Sept 2017 → …

Award Date: 1 Sept 2017

Theatre and Performance Practice, MA

1 Jan 2014 → …

Award Date: 1 Jan 2014


1 Jun 1992 → …

Award Date: 1 Jun 1992


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