Professor Alice O'Grady

Professor Alice O'Grady


I am a Professor in Applied Performance and Head of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries. Within the broad field of applied theatre my expertise lies in exploring performance as a means of facilitating social agency, engagement and expression. My research is concerned with different forms of participation across a range of contexts and investigates how participatory practices are mobilised as embodied tools for engaging with and problematising processes of research, resistance and representation.  The majority of my research is situated within the field of electronic dance music culture and transformational festivals where play, performance and participation are encouraged to flourish as primary modes of embodied experience. I am Co-Investigator on the AHRC funded project, Fabulous Feminities: Extravagant Costume and Transformative Thresholds. Led by my colleague Dr Jacki Willson, this project will explore how theatrical femininities are performed by and for women within alternative burlesque club culture. Over the next three years we will develop a new critical framework for understanding costume as an embodied performative and political tool in collaboration with burlesque performers, club goers and partner organisations. 

Alongside this work I am also interested in how playful methodologies and insights can be transposed to health settings, investigating how participatory performance might contribute to the well being agenda for both individuals and communities of practice. I have a long standing collaboration with the School of Dentistry at the University of Leeds, utilising practice based drama methodologies to engage young people in research on oral health. I am currently working with colleagues in the School of Medicine and Health to evidence how theatre techniques can address relationship dynamics and enable shared decision making in General Practice, resulting in more effective patient centred care delivery. What links these two strands of research is a core commitment to playfulness as a practical tool for facilitating collaboration and shared meaning making.

Having worked in secondary schools and Further Education colleges as a Drama and Theatre Studies teacher for over ten years, I took up my post at the University of Leeds in 2003 and completed a PhD on the topic of interactive performance and underground club culture in 2010. During my time at the University of Leeds I have fulfilled a number of leadership roles including Admissions Tutor, Programme Leader for the MA in Applied Theatre and Intervention, Director of Student Education and now as Head of School. I am a member of the University's Cultural Institute Steering Group and also a member of the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence. I mentor a number of colleagues from across the University, including those in senior leadership positions, and have contributed to the Aurora Programme as a keynote speaker, supporting women in leadership roles in Higher Education. 

I am a long standing and senior member of the editorial team of Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture and have written extensively on festival performance, event cultures and psytrance communities. My most recent publication looks at the topic of older women within club culture and was co-authored with psychologist Professor Anna Madill, also of the University of Leeds.

For a number of years I was Creative Director of the performance company ...floorSpace... This company was formed during the practice based elements of my PhD. As a company made up of undergraduate students we went on to create interactive walkabout performances for contemporary music festivals and underground club spaces for over 8 years.

I am committed to the development of new and emerging artists. I mentored TaleGate Theatre Company ( as part of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries' incubation scheme. I have also worked in close conjunction with Urban Angels Circus ( to develop 'The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste' as part of the Beyond Text Small Grant award. I was chair of the Board of Trustees of Urban Angels for several years and now act as their patron.


  • Head of School

Research interests

My research is concerned with open forms of participation, play and performance within a range of contexts. I have written extensively on popular music festivals and underground club culture as well as more broadly on participatory practice.

My latest book was published by Palgrave in 2017 and is called 'Risk, Participation and Performance Practice: critical vulnerabilities in a precarious world.'

My research interests include:

  • Participatory performance and risk;
  • Critical pedagogies;
  • Interactivity;
  • Applied performance and social engagement;
  • Applied performance and health;
  • Sub-cultures and the performance of identity;
  • Festival performance and festival cultures:
  • Underground club culture and performance;
  • Play theory;
  • Compositional strategies for context-specific performance;
  • Relational performance;
  • Aesthetics of psychedelic trance and participatory cultures.
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD Underground Club Spaces and Interactive Performance
  • MA Drama Education and Cultural Studies
  • PGCE Drama and English
  • BA (hons) English Literature and Theatre Studies

Professional memberships

  • International Association for the Study of Popular Music
  • Creative Industries Federation

Student education

My teaching is located within the field of Applied Performance and Intervention. I have taught extensively on the BA Theatre and Performance degree and also contribute to the programme MA Applied Theatre and Intervention. I also supervise a number of PhD students including three White Rose scholars.

My teaching specialisms include interventionist and applied theatre, participatory practice, community and educational drama, theatre for social change, prison theatre, festival performance and interactivity.

My teaching has seen students engaged in various practical projects across the region working in collaboration with a diverse range of external groups and agencies. All projects use performance and participation for social agency and engagement and include work with primary and secondary schools as well as community groups, OAPs, asylum seekers, young offenders and adult prisoners. I have been involved in educational research, training and consultancy for many years and have worked in close collaboration with HMP New Hall, HMP/YOI Wetherby and Priory and Springfield PRUs (Pupil Referral Units).


Research groups and institutes

  • Theatre at Leeds

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="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>