Dr Rebecca Hillman
I started work at the University of Exeter in 2015. Before that I taught at the University of Reading, where I completed my PhD, and began to develop curricula on the relationship between activism and performance. I also worked as a lecturer at Kingston University London, and as a learning mentor at a pupil referral unit in Slough.
Work and housing precarity, street protest, and trade union organising were formative experiences that drove my research at that time. My PhD sought to reclaim the political value of dramatic art by identifying effective practice, paying special attention to theatre made by activists and trade unions in Britain since the 1960s. I also collaborated with Reading Trades Council to develop an experimental anti-cuts play that analysed the impact of privatisation and austerity measures on our community.
These issues and experiences continue to underpin my work. I have given papers on a wide range of issues concerned with performance as political activism at international conferences and public events. My recent publications re-evaluate the role of agitprop theatre as an important organising tool and analyse a recurrence of socialist and communist imagery in contemporary political movements. My script commemorating the centenary of the Huntley & Palmers' 1916 Women's Strike was performed by women from the GMB and UCU unions in 2016, and later that year my work with Banner Theatre, Reel News, Townsend Productions and the General Federation of Trade Unions came to fruition in the first of a series of events to build links between artists and the trade union movement. I am currently developing this strand of activity through a programme of international workshops and a publicly accessible database of performative approaches to grassroots activism. Meanwhile, teaching Activism and Performance, a module I created in 2016, enables me to examine in depth, with my students, protest and other activist tactics as they evolve around the world, through the lens of performance.
I have served as a trustee and advisor for Future’s Venture Radical Independent Arts Fund since 2016. I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and an adjunct faculty member of the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore. I am an active member of the Centre for Performance Histories and Cultures at the University of Exeter and the Political Performances Working Group of the International Federation of Theatre Research. I especially welcome PhD proposals from anyone interested in theatre and the labour movement and other intersections of performance, politics, and social justice.
· Activism and/as performance
· Theatre and the labour movement
. Workers' theatre
· Agitprop theatre
· Contemporary performance and representations of class
. Protest art
· Community theatre
· Theatre historiography
· Practice through research
Between 2013-2017 I worked with the General Federation of Trade Unions, Banner Theatre, Reel News and Townsend Productions on events to build links between radical artists and trade unions. We facilitated discussions between event 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 networking, the events also provided space for their creative collaboration. Our launch event was held in December 2016 in Bedford, and the next event over 3 days in Autumn 2017 in Exeter.
I am developing an impact case study to document that work: 'The art of trade unions: building an arts network for labour movement activists in the 21st century'. The work is also discussed in the following article: 'Rebuilding culture in the labour movement: collaborations for the future and celebrations of the past', and more deeply in a forthcoming chapter for a Festschrift remembering Professor Joyce Canaan: 'Art for the labour movement and everyday acts of political culture'.
I am in the process of developing this strand of activity through a programme of workshops and a publicly accessible database of performative approaches to grassroots activism with practitioners working in Brazil, India, and across the UK.
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.
Malavika Rao (NIAS Scholarship) Title of PhD thesis: Protest performances: Aesthetics and politics of visibility in public space. Co-Supervisor with Prof Carol Upadhya, NIAS Bangalore.
Roger Farrell. Working PhD thesis title: Collective creativity in childhood: exploring pathways between socio-dramatic imaginary play and the changing landscape of structured drama. Co-supervisor with Prof Kerrie Schaefer, University of Exeter.
Guy Elhanan (College Global Scholarship) Working PhD thesis title: Silence is Breached: Theatre making under pressures of the Israeli settler-colonialism. Co-supervisor with Dr Katie Beswick, University of Exeter.
Yingnan Chu (CSC Scholarship) Working PhD thesis title: Comedy, ethnicity and gender: what happens when Chinese perform stand-up comedy in Britain? Second supervisor with Prof Kate Newey, University of Exeter.
Helen Ayres. Working MRes thesis title: The cognitive and psychological effects of dance on the Practitioner. Second supervisor with Dr Sarah Goldingay, University of Exeter.
Research through practice
The Liberating Arts(2017) national research symposium and arts festival organised with Banner Theatre, Reel News, Townsend Productions and the General Federation of Trade Unions at the University of Exeter.
External impact and engagement
Online publications and talks
‘Rebuilding culture in the labour movement: collaborations for the future and celebrations of the past’, Culture Matters, November 2017.
‘Arcs of Change, Death and Renewal’, Tribune Magazine, August 2019.
‘Community theatre for building progressive political cultures’ - talk for a panel presentation with David Edgar, Steph Dale, Jenny Hughes and Julie Hesmondhalgh at Salford Community Theatre's fundraising event Communities and Building Political Cultures: What Can Theatre Do? Salford Arts Centre, 2016 (click on the title to listen)
Lecture-workshop to introduce a 3-day ‘DIY’ course on activism and performance, offering arts activism training and development for black and global majority young people. Theatre Deli, Broadgate Theatre London - delayed due to pandemic.
Panel discussion on Dramaturgy & Activism for the Kenneth Tynan Award with Sue Mayo, Zoe Lafferty and chaired by Nesreen Hussein, Soho Theatre London 2019.
Scenes from a Revolution: 50 Years of Making Political Theatre launch event, Foyles Bookshop, London 2018.
‘Activism and the Arts’ - a talk for Exeter Labour Party, Exeter Labour Part Head Quarters, 2018.
‘Building power in community: on community theatre and activism’ - a talk for the RSA event Power to Create: Exploring the Value of Creative Community and part of Exeter Art Week, Exeter Library, 2017.
‘Speaking to the power of political art’, a talk at The World Transformed, Labour Party Conference, The Black-E, Liverpool 2016.
Theatre in the Community
Sketches for the Centenary Picnic of the 1916 Huntley & Palmers’ Women’s Strike, written for a public celebration hosted by Reading Trade Union Council and performed as an open air performance in the King's Gardens by GMB and UCU Union members, Reading 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-36692861
Other Community Events
‘What is Socialism?’ a talk for Exeter Momentum with Dr Bice Maiguashca (University of Exeter), Marcus Barnett (RMT, Young Labour International Officer, Tribune Magazine, The Morning Star), Amber Mott (Exeter Socialist Students), New Town Hut, Exeter 2019.
Panel chair at the first national Community Plays conference in September, hosted by Dorchester Community Plays Association & Dorchester Arts, Dorchester 2018.
Workshop convenor with Dr Maiguashca on left politics at Exeter Respect Festival, Exeter 2017.
Workshop organiser for Brandalism and CoLab, Exeter 2017.
Facilitator at CoLab’s ‘Resilient Women Summit’, project launch for women in the criminal justice system in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, Exeter 2017.
Impact Case Study
Partnerships and Links
I have created links between the Drama department and multiple art and activist organisations including Art Not Oil, BP or Not BP, Brandalism, Banner Theatre, Townsend Productions, Reel News, Salford Community Theatre, Queer Tours London, Beautful Trouble, Manchester People’s History Museum, The Working Class Movement Library, Theatre Uncut, TerrorBull Games, Theatre Deli/Broadgate Theatre, as well as links between these respective organisations e.g. Brandalism and Unite the Union (‘Street Art 4 Corbyn’).
In 2019 I was invited to form a new cultural partnership tackling homelessness in Exeter with Colab, Exeter Phoenix, the Bike Shed/Boat Shed, and University of Exeter Medical School and Impact Innovation and Business.
I explore with students the benefits of critical thinking and collaborative work, 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 participation, and a keen awareness of issues of justice and power and our personal, scholarly and artistic connection with them. I am interested in critical pedagogical approaches, widening partication, and in fostering an environment of peer learning and support.
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. Since teaching at Exeter I have recieved excellent student feedback for modules I have convened and created, and have been nominated for teaching awards in 2017, 2018, 2019 and twice in 2020.