Dr Emma Bennett

Dr Emma Bennett


I am an artist, researcher and teacher specialising in performance in its expanded sense.  I have been working as a solo performance practitioner for more than ten years in a diverse array of settings: I have collaborated with a composer to create vocal scores for concert halls, with a poet to devise shouting performances for gigs, and as a solo artist making mixed media work for theatres and galleries. Before that I was a founder member of devising company These Horses, making improvisational dance performances in Berlin and London. All of my work centres on the act of speaking - something that can make us feel, by turns, powerful, vulnerable, awkward, relieved, connected, irritable, detached, and all sorts of things in between.

Between 2014 and 2016 I was a member of Hubbub, an international team of scientists, historians, artists and broadcasters exploring rest and its opposites in a major project funded by the Wellcome Trust. This experience spurred my interest in the politics of labour, especially as it plays out in the urban service-driven economies I've participated in all my adult life. I continue to be interested in the role of speaking, and role-playing, in work situations.

I worked for many years with young people with learning difficulties, mainly in school settings, and this challenged me to think about communication differently. I now consider teaching to be an integral part of my work as a performance maker: teaching is a way of thinking about thinking, asking questions about what we know and how we know it - that's why it's exciting, and sometimes scary.


  • Access to Leeds Tutor

Research interests

My enduring interest is speech: speech is something we do everyday, it is complicated and difficult, often funny, fraught with conflicted feelings. Speech is the medium through which we live our lives with one another. My PhD thesis, 'Just Joking: Speech, Performance and Ethics' was completed in 2016. It considered the relationship between speech and the idea of 'a performance' by looking at stand-up comedy performance. I was interested in what happens when someone speaks onstage, appearing to address their audience directly, saying things that are framed as 'just a joke'. I wanted to speak back to the many men who stand up on stages of power from a feminist perspective, looking at the body that speaks, deconstructing the casual humour that can be used to make patriarchal authority seem 'natural'. I found that this work led me to rethink what I understood as the boundaries between theory and practice, in ways that pushed me right up against feelings of incomprehension. I was finding unexpected resonances between the rhetorical performances of comedians, philosophers and performance theorists, and I learned that, often, the most interesting areas of research are those that make you feel the most 'stupid' as a researcher.

I am currently working on two key areas of research: a practice-led enquiry into the relationships between birdsong and human speech, and a study of the comforting pleasure of online 'ASMR' role play videos. Both are concerned, in some sense, with what we might call 'escapism'. In a world fraught with various anxieties, how do we seek respite, comfort? Both of these projects emerged from ideas explored in my performance work: Slideshow Birdshow, commissioned by In Between Time Festival in 2013, and WHAT MATTER, commissioned by Hubbub for Wellcome Collection in 2016.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD in Drama and Performance
  • MA Performance Writing
  • BA Drama and Theatre Arts

Student education

My teaching expertise is in the broad area of contemporary performance. I am interested in the politics of identity, 'performance' as an important concept in critical theory and philosophy, and in the relationship between 'high' and 'low' culture. I encourage students to think critically and creatively about the relationships between what they see and hear on social media, on TV, and what they study in class - the plays and performances, the critical and historical texts. I also focus on research methodologies and critical thinking skills, and supervise practice-based and research projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.


Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>