Prof Aylwyn Walsh

Prof Aylwyn Walsh


I am a South African scholar-activist working on performance and social change as researcher and applied theatre practitioner. I am predominantly interested in feminist approaches, critical ethnographic methods and my research spans social, political and activist performance, radical pedagogies and intercultural performance as well as arts and mental health. Having worked between academia and professional practice since 2009, I conduct socially engaged research on place-based struggle and the value(s) of participation to intervene for social change.

At Leeds, I am the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies in the shool of Performance and Cultural Industries and former programme leader of the MA in Applied Theatre and Intervention. My approach to teaching, research and work prioritises an ethos that is collaborative, feminist and queer. I have an interest in ethical practice. 

I have a practitioner background in arts in criminal justice (in SA, Greece and the UK), foregrounding co-creation, and interdisciplinarity. My current research addresses the role of creative arts activism against ‘organised forgetting’. I’ve led on arts and urban change in the ‘crisis’ context of Greece, street art, and protest in my co-edited book Remapping Crisis: A Guide to Athens (Zero Books, 2015). My most recent book Prison Cultures, maps performance, resistance and desire in women’s prisons (2019). I am currently working on a monograph on the interplay between harm and repair in contemporary South African performance. 

Practice research

In the past several years I've developed practice-led research in women’s prisons and probation settings in the UK, and in psychiatric hospitals. I regularly practice in communities including with partners in criminal justice, as well as mental health contexts, alongside activist training in ‘disobedient theatre’. My collaborative artistic work has been exhibited in ‘Deviant Women’ (SMOQUA festival, Croatia).


My trajectory from criminal justice has formed my recent tranche of work to activism and arts-based political education in a range of contexts, including 40+ films on environmental activism (Karoo, SA), environmental governance (Mexico) and Majority World youth activism (Cape Town, SA).

In 2019/20, I was Principal Investigator on ‘Imagining Otherwise: Transforming Spaces of Community through Arts Education’, with collaborators in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a project funded by Changing the Story [AHRC/GCRF]. In 2022, we expanded on impact with POW, a living archive project.

In 2018/19 I was co-convenor of the Sadler seminar series 'Activist Tactics: Performing Geographies of Social Change' with Prof. Paul Routledge, and co-investigator on 'ilizwi lenyaniso lomhlaba': a South African participatory youth-led project also funded by AHRC/GCRF project Changing the Story. 

In 2023/24 I am a collaborator on the Sadler Seminar Series ‘Writing the Now’, led by Dr Laura Swithenbank.


I co-convene the Theatre and Performance Research Association Working Group ‘Performance, Identity and Community’. In PCI, I have co-convened the Participation Research Group since 2017. 


In addition to leading trainings in arts activism, I have served as board member of TIDAL in Leeds, working to support activism in Leeds to be more effective in achieving social, economic and environmental justice, as part of national and international movements for change.


  • Director of Post Graduate Research Studies
  • Faculty of Arts Humanities and Cultures Research Ethics Committee

Research interests

My research draws on performance that inflects wider social and political contestation. Over the past 15 years, I have been focused on work related to prison, cultural criminology and theatre in and of prison, culminating in my monograph Prison Cultures: Performance, Resistance, Desire, published in 2019 with Intellect.

Other recent publications have included work on youth activism in RIDE: Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance; women in prison for Crime, Media, Culture and Contemporary Theatre Review, on arts in healthcare for the Journal for Applied Arts and Health; on street art in Journal of Arts and Communities and about violence in Cultural Studies-Critical Methodologies. I also co-edited Remapping Crisis: A Guide to Athens, published by Zero Books (2014).

More recently, I have also engaged with South African performance and its intsersections with social change, which I have developed in projects with collaborators and organisations related to decolonisation, land rights and activist performance.

In Leeds until 2022 I ran weekly arts and mental health workshops driven by methodologies of participatory arts and social change. I am also interested in radical pedagogies, performance ethnography, co-production and artistic/ learning processes.

Practice based research

My artistic work has been hosted across Europe, including Croatia, Germany, Greece, Finland, and in Mexico, the USA, Brazil, as well as Zambia and South Africa. I have worked on a wide range of freelance projects as evaluator, lead artist, and have taught in both South African and UK universities.

My performances have been staged internationally, including at the Royal National Theatre Studio, South Africa's National Arts Festival and at the Berlin Biennale. I have worked with activists in Mexico, UK and South Africa on activist training, creative processes and theatre as method.

I am recipient of the IFTR’s Helsinki Prize (2013) and the TaPRA PG Essay Prize (2012), and was shortlisted for the David Bradby Monograph Prize (TaPRA, 2021). 

<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 (Northampton)
  • MA (Goldsmiths)
  • BA (Hons) (Rhodes)
  • BA (Rhodes)

Professional memberships

  • FHEA
  • TaPRA

Student education

In my role at Leeds, I lead practical modules in applied theatre; engage with critical theories of socially engaged performance and teach on research methods modules. I regularly teach aross PGT and UG programmes in the school, and on research training for PGRs. 

Prior to the role as programme leader for the MA in Applied Theatre & Interventions, I have convened undergraduate modules on:

  • reading performance
  • improvisation and devising
  • teaching drama
  • performance in social and community contexts
  • world theatre
  • MA modules in prisons, punishment and performance

I have taught at the Universities of Lincoln, Northampton, UEL and Goldsmiths in the UK and Rhodes University (UCKAR) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. 

Research groups and institutes

  • Participation
  • Centre for Practice Research in the Arts
  • 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>