Staff profiles

Photo of Dr Rebecca Hillman

Dr Rebecca Hillman



01392 725307

I began working at the University of Exeter as a Lecturer in Drama in 2015. Before that I taught at the University of Reading, where I also completed my practice-based MA and PhD with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. My PhD focused on political performance from the 1960s – present, with a view to reclaiming the value in dramatic art for political change, and identifying effective practice for contemporary theatre-makers and activists. I am interested in the role of performance in social/political movements and workplace/community organising, and my research, teaching and theatre-making are informed by my work with grassroots political initiatives. Last year I wrote a module called Activism and Performance, which explores histories and current practices of art and performance in political struggle.

I write and direct experimental performances in conventional and found spaces, and formed theatre collective In Good Company in 2011 to devise a performance that analysed impacts of privatisation and ‘austerity measures’ on our local community. We made many of our rehearsals open to the public to encourage their involvement. Last year women from the GMB and UCU unions performed my script commemorating the centenary of the Huntley & Palmers' 1916 Women's Strike in Reading. Scripts from both performances will be published later this year in a GFTU/New Internationalist anthology of trade union plays. My research publications have examined the history and revision of agitprop theatre, and collective action and rioting. I am currently writing about political performance that is emotionally charged, and, separately, about a recurrence of socialist and communist imagery in contemporary political movements. I am working with Banner Theatre, Reel News, Townsend Productions and the General Federation of Trade Unions on a series of events to build links between political artists and the trade union movement – see:

I am a trustee for the Future’s Venture Foundation, supporting the work of radical artists making ethical work, and an adjunct faculty member of the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, India, as part of the Exeter/NIAS split-site PhD programme. I am an active member of the Centres for Performance Histories and Cultures at the University of Exeter, and a member of the IFTR’s Political Performances Working Group.

Research interests

·       Activism and/as performance

·       Theatre and the labour movement

·       Agitprop theatre

·       Contemporary performance

·       British political theatre

·       Theatre historiography

·       Practice through research


I welcome enquiries from research students on any of these topics or related fields of interest.

Research collaborations

I am working with the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), Banner Theatre, Reel News, Townsend Productions on events to (re)connect radical artists and the trade unions. This is based on my research into agitprop and other socialist theatre practice in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as my interest in the value of performance  for contemorary political movements. The events I am collaborating on with the GFTU and others facilitate discussions between participants on what's changed over the years for artists and trade unionists, and what's needed now to address current campaigning/organising needs. As well as offering a space for participants to network, there is also space for their creative collaboration. Our launch event was held in December 2016, and out next event will take place over 3 days in Autumn 2017. I am looking into a possible partnership between the GFTU and the University of Exeter, and am developing an impact case study to document the whole project.


Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any relevant subject given my research expertise. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in the fields of performance and activism, theatre and the labour movement, applied and agitprop theatre, and those interested in research through practice.

If you are intrested in working with me please send me a 500 word outline of your proposed research topic and a copy of your CV.


Research students

I am supervising Malavika Chnige, whose PhD explores the co-constitutive nature of politics of space and performance in relation to recent protests in India. (Co-Supervisor, Prof. Carol Upadhya, NIAS, Bengaluru, India)

Research through practice

The Pact (2011), a site-sensitive, mixed media performance on local impacts of the privatisation of public services, devised with In Good Company and members of the local community in The Coopers Arms, Reading. In collaboration Jelly Arts, Reading Save Our Services, The Ruby Kid and MisCreation. Funded by the AHRC; the South East Regional Trades Union Council (SERTUC) Young Members’ Network; SERTUC; Reading Trades Union Council; Unite; The Industrial Workers of the World.

N30 Script (2011), poems for a mass demonstration, performed with Emma Meade Chapman and Matt Van Niftrik, Forbury Gardens, Reading. In association with In Good Company and UNISON.

Instructions to Resist (2007), promenade performance, Bob Kayley Theatre, University of Reading, supported by the AHRC.

Damage (2005), mixed-media performance on institutionalised violence and the Iraq War, Myra McCulloch Theatre, University of Reading.



I explore with students the benefits of critical thinking and collaborative working, and encourage consideration of how those skills can be applied to not only question social and political frameworks, but to imagine and create them anew. I encourage self-reflexive and self-confident participation, and a keen awareness of issues of justice and power and our personal, scholarly and artistic connection with them.

My work as a teacher, academic and theatre-maker intersect. I draw on my research to develop new courses and modes of learning, and students influence my research through class discussion and practical collaboration. I use my practical experience to guide students in making original work at University and in broader community contexts. As well as teaching on the courses listed below, I have taught on the MA Research Project Development and Performance Practice Project modules. 

Prior to working at Exeter I taught in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television at the University of Reading, where I won an excellence award for my teaching in 2015. I have also taught at other universities, and as a learning mentor at a pupil referral unit in Slough.

Modules taught