Professor Alice O'Grady

Professor Alice O'Grady


I am a Professor in Applied Performance and served as Head of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries between 2015 and 2020. I now hold the role of Dean: Student Education (Quality and Standards) working across the whole institution.

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. 

Much 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 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 mentor a number of female colleagues across the University of Leeds and use transformational coaching techniques in my approach. 

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.

Recent Funded Research Projects

2022-2023 GPs Reaching Out Work (GROW)

Led by Principal Investigator Dr Jess Drinkwater, NIHR GP Clinical Lecturer at University of Manchester


The NHS wants general practitioners (GPs) to work differently with the public. GPs are being asked to work with voluntary and community groups to improve the health of people and communities. This is particularly important in areas with the fewest resources, which often have people with the poorest health. However, GPs often feel they lack time and may be anxious about working with groups outside their surgery. This research aims to discover whether this new policy is realistic, by exploring how GPs feel when working with community groups. 

Aims of the research

We want to find out what helps or hinders GPs working with local community groups, particularly the feelings and attitudes of the GPs. This project will;

  • Support a group of GPs to work with local community groups,

  • Ask these GPs to think about what they found helpful and unhelpful in doing this work,

  • Ask the GPs to think about the effect of this work on themselves, their clinical work, how their GP surgery is run, and the community groups they work with.

How we will do this:

We will work with up to 20 GPs who all work in deprived areas. These GPs have paid time to take part in further learning one day a week for one year. They will use some of this time to work with existing community groups on local projects. The GPs will keep diaries and will be interviewed about this work.  Every 2 months they will meet as a group to talk about what they have learned.  We will use a pre-designed theatre workshop to set the tone for the first meeting. These meetings will be recorded and a group of members of the public and researchers will comment on their discussion.  These comments will help the GPs think about changes they can make to improve how they work with their local community groups.

Funding is from the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. £49,911

2019-2022 Fabulous Feminities: Extravagant Costumes and Performative Thresholds

Fabulous Feminities will seek to understand the way that resistant feminine identites are performed by burlesque club-goers via specific DIY approaches to costuem. The ethnographic study will focus on a range of participants who identify as women (biologically born women and male to female transsexual women) in order to document, understand and theorise the transformative threshold between the everyday self and the extravagant spectacle.

The project will explore this transformative element of costume in order to understand the way costume performs and politicizes alternative embodied versions of 'womanhood'. The objective of the research is to develop a new crtical framework for understanding costume as an embodied performative and political tool.

The project will be collaborative and participatory both in its design and in its methodology. It will be led by Dr Jacki Willson (Leeds) as Principal Investigator and supported by Professor Alice O’Grady (Leeds) and Dr Claire Nally (Northumbria) as Co-Investigators.

Arts and Humanities Reserach Council, Standard Grant £600,000.

2020-2021 The PAR3TY project – PAR3 with Teens and Adults with cancer

Each year in the UK approximately 2600 adolescents and young adults (AYAs) are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer in AYAs coincides with major life transitions such as getting a job, going to college or leaving home. The new onset of serious illness at this time of life presents unique medical and psychosocial challenges for AYAs and yet the needs of this group remain largely unmet.

This project seeks to engage AYAs in Leeds in a participatory arts process that sees them take an active role in conveying how their care can be improved by sharing their lived experiences and insights with cancer care allies through performance (e.g. families, policymakers, healthcare professionals, organisations).

This pilot project will integrate three distinct yet complementary research methodologies: participatory action research, performance as research and patientactivated research (PAR3) and actively engage stakeholders in an evaluation of the approach and its findings. 

The project will be conducted in collaboration with Dr Cheryl Heykoop, Associate Professor in Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC in Canada and wiht Dr Will Weigler, Applied Theatre Practitioner and independent scholar, also from Victoria, BC in Canada. 

British Academy/Leverhulme, Small Research Grant £9990.

2019 Whose Decision is it Anyway? Forum Theatre to facilitate reflection on meaningful patient involvement in general practice shared organisational decision-making.

Led by Jessica Drinkwater, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow at the School of Medicine (Leeds Institute of Health Science) and in collaboration with Prof Alice O’Grady and Delia Muir, Patient and Public Involvment Officer at the University of Leeds, this project looks at how applied theatre techniques can create space for critical reflection, highlighting issues of power, and generating dynamnic practical solutions within public patient groups in General Practice.

Working in partnership with NHS Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning groups, a network of 71 general practices and PPGs, this project will develop and pilot a training package where patients and staff will consider their roles and relationships using drama as a vehicle for expresssion and exploration.

ESRC Impact Acceleration Award £14,903.

NHS England £15,000.

2019 Peer2Peer: Understanding “Raised in Yorkshire”: understanding its influence on health and life opportunities.

RAISED in Yorkshire (RiY: Research Activity in Schools Evaluating Dental health) is a peer-led oral health education intervention which has been running for 4 years in West Yorkshire schools. RiY was co-designed by academics, dental students, school children and teaching staff to give 16-18 year old pupils the skills to deliver oral health interventions to pupils aged 7-8 in local feeder primary schools. The prevalence and severity of dental decay is an indicator of health and social inequalities.

RiY has gained national interest because of its novel, inclusive and co-production approach to oral health improvement and wider educational impacts. It builds upon a growing body of  evidence for health promotion and disease prevention with a recent systematic review finding that group-based interventions that use peers as educators or group facilitators commonly improve knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions; peer educators also commonly improved social health/connectedness and engagement.

The White Rose Collaboration will bring together early career researchers, experts in the field and all stakeholders involved in RiY to understand what effects it is having on those within the intervention and what are the ‘metrics’ of what success could look like.

The aim of this project is establish a White Rose Universities collaboration to understand the impacts of the RiY intervention on health and life opportunities.

Led by Dr Julia Csikar and Dr Karen Vinall-Collier (Dental Public Helath) and overseen by Professor Sue Pavitt (Translational & Applied Health Research), this project involves a multidisciplinary and cross institutional team with expertise in oral health, clinical research, education and outreach, theatre and performance.

White Rose Collaboration Fund £9855.

2019-2020 Translanguaging Performance Pedagogy for Adult Migrant Learners

This project brought together approaches from intercultural education, applied theatre and applied linguistics to pilot an innovative methodology at the intersections of research, pedagogy, engagement and impact.

It drew on leading-edge work in intercultural education applying performance to develop new understandings of our multiple ways (embodied, affective, material, unconscious) of learning and communicating. 

Colleagues from the School of Education, the School of Performance and Cultural Industries and A Quiet Word theatre company delivered a ten-week series of drama workshops for adult migrant language learners (AMLLs) at St Vincent’s Support Centre in Leeds, the city’s largest provider of free ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages). The workshops explored how the complexity of AMLLs’ communicative resources and lived experiences can be engaged and supported in their English-language learning.

University of Leeds, Sadler Seminar Series £7,000.

2017-2019 RAPID project [Rehearsals And Performances In Dentistry – a cross faculty student enhancement and schools engagement programme]

This collaborative project between the School of Dentistry and the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, explored how process drama can be developed as a research methodology to explore the causes of dental anxiety in children.

The project employed two student interns for the duration of the project, one from dentistry and one from performance, who worked together to deliver particpatory drama workshops with primary school children in the Bradford area, building on the work developed during the Cohesion pilot.

The RAPID project drew on the expertise of Jinous Tahmessebi, Associate Professor in Paediatric Dentistry, and Alice O’Grady, Professor in Applied Performance to create a novel approach to public patient invovlement and participatory arts-based research methodologies with children.

University of Leeds Footsteps Fund £7,000.

2015-2016 The COHESION Pilot [Colloborative Hub 4 Engagement across arts and Science to add impact and dissemination]

This collaborative project explored how theatre might be used to disseminate oral dental research for young people and those affected by oral health issues.

The project brought together postgraduates from the School of Dentistry and undergraduate and postgraduate students from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries to create a new play called ‘Don't Smile'. Directed by Nigel Townsend of Theatre of Debate,the play has been described as 'a love story with a dental theme'.

It showcases the world leading genetic research on Ameliogenensis Imperfecta highlighting Prof Jen Kirkhams’ and Dr Alan Mighell’s research from the School of Dentistry, as well as weaving in some important public health messages on managing dental trauma. The play was premiered at stage@leeds and then toured to local schools in the West Yorkshire region. The project won a public engagement with research award, and went on to win the 2016 National Coordination Center for Public Engagement NCCPE Awards in the category ‘Engaging with Young People’.

Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund £10,000.

University of Leeds Footsteps Fund £21,384.


  • Dean: Student Education (Quality and Standards)

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
  • Theatre techniques for Public Patient Involvement (PPI)
  • 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
  • Participation

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>