Helen Nicholson

Helen Nicholson

Professor, , Associate Fellow, Homerton College, University of Cambridge, Visiting Professor, University of Stockholm

  • TW20 0EX

Personal profile

Research interests

I came to Royal Holloway in 2000 from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, where I lectured in drama on the BA and PGCE courses. My research is focused on contemporary theatre and applied performance, which means that it takes place in multiple settings, including schools, in care homes for the elderly, in day centres for people with head injuries, in prisons, in hostels for the homeless, as well as in theatres. My research raises fundamental questions about equity and inclusion, relevant to all forms of theatre, questioning how far innovative theatre and performance practices are compatible with learning, community engagement, and civic participation. My book, Theatre, Education and Performance: The Map and the Story was awarded the Distinguished Book Award by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 2012, and my edited collection with Anna Harpin, Performance and Participation, was shortlisted for the TaPRA editing prize in 2018.                      

My research into theatre in non-metropolitan spaces and community performance has led to an interest in amateur theatre. This research, undertaken collaboratively with Professor Nadine Holdsworth (Warwick) and Professor Jane Milling (Exeter), was funded under the AHRC Connected Communities Scheme. It investigated the social and cultural significance of amateur  theatre as a craft, as creative practice, as entertainment and as heritage.  We are honoured that our book, The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre (Palgrave, 2018), was awarded the David Bradby Prize for outstanding research in 2019 by TaPRA. 

My most research project, with Professor Jenny Hughes (Manchester) and Dr Louise Ashley investigated the civic role of theatre in towns. Funded by the AHRC, the research to explored the value of theatre to towns and its townspeople. Towns have been overlooked; cities are widely regarded as creative centres in the global economy, dominating public arts agendas, defining cultural tastes, accounting for uneven distribution of employment opportunities, and taking greater advantage of public funding. Our research partners were The National Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange and The Little Theatre Guild, with activist company Tribe Arts as collaborators. Our co-authored book, Theatre in Towns (with Jenny Hughes, Gemma Edwards, Cara Gray) can be downloaded here: Theatre in Towns | Helen Nicholson, Jenny Hughes, Gemma Edwards, Cara (taylorfrancis.com)

Integral to my research are sustained partnerships with theatre-makers and the wider cultural sector. I have a long-term research collaboration with the National Theatre’s Public Acts Programme, where I have led the research since its inception in 2017: Public Acts | National Theatre. I also work closely with the Young Vic Taking Part department, and with Dr Yvonne Robinson, led research on their INNOVATE programme in schools: INNOVATE | Young Vic website. Locally, I work closely with Slough’s creative communities, including leading research on creative careers.

I was co-editor of the leading international journal in applied theatre and drama education, RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, published by Routledge (www.informaworld.com/crde) from 2004-2018. I remain particularly interested in encouraging publication of research from underserved academics and early career researchers. 

My interest in the role of the university in contributing to social justice informed my work as Vice Principal for Research Impact and Interdisciplinarity (2017-2021), where encouraging partnerships within and beyond the academy. I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy,  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Associate Fellow of Homerton College, University of Cambridge and Visiting Professor at the University of Stockholm. 


I continue to enjoy teaching at all levels, and I have introduced many new courses into the undergraduate curriculum that are associated with my research interests. These include courses in theatre for young audiences, theatre education, performance of memory, contemporary theatre-making and devised theatre. Many of these courses involve placements in different settings. 

My recent PhD students have researched different aspects of applied theatre and contemporary performance. I welcome inquires from potential PhD students in my research areas.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or