BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Social Acts: Applied Theatre and Engaged Arts Practice

Unit code DRAM21272
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module will explore arts practices that put questions of place, participation, people at their heart. Students will learn how artists have responded to local and global challenges related to migration, health, environment and development through a range of contemporary and historical examples of socially engaged practices. The module asks students to read widely in this diverse and wide-ranging field of arts practice, and critically interrogate its aesthetics, ethics and politics. The interdisciplinary approaches typical of this field means that students will have an opportunity to explore music, dance, film, live and visual arts projects, alongside theatre and performance initiatives. Students will draw on selected social and cultural theory, and arts and cultural policy, to examine the field of practice.


In a structured process at the core of the module, students will develop a proposal for an arts project. The proposal will respond to a live commission set in advance by a local cultural partner. The development process will provide opportunities to learn more about the rich socially engaged arts scene in Manchester and its city region.


·         To provide students with an opportunity to examine the complexity and richness of contemporary and historical socially engaged arts practice

·         To give students experience of engaging with ‘real life’ situations in arts and culture

  • To give students a solid grounding in understanding the ethics, politics and aesthetics of arts work that intervenes in the social realm


Indicative syllabus:

Week 1: Introduction to the module: mapping the field of practice

Week 2 - 4: Working with practical examples that demonstrate the historical range and contemporary reach of this practice; examination of the aesthetics and ethics of specific cases, the politics of ‘participation’, and theories of ‘art’ and ‘community’

Week 5: Receiving the brief

Week 6 - 8: Working on the brief. Teaching input will include an introduction to funding landscapes, project planning and management, research for professional practice, partnership working, equality & diversity, budgeting, pitching and presentation, and evaluation.

Week 9: Presentation of the proposed project to the ‘commissioner’

Week 10: Working on feedback from the commissioner

Week 11: Final presentation of the brief

Week 12: Plenary session


NB. This is an indicative syllabus and may change in relation to student interest and/or opportunities to view live work.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered through practical workshop tasks, simulation and role play exercises, structured discussions and presentational materials. In addition, there will be a relationship with a company, venue or artist who will set up a commission for an arts project that students will work to fulfil.


Knowledge and understanding

·         Describe and account for a wide range of contemporary socially engaged arts practices

·         Understand the roots of these practices and how those influence contemporary work

  • See how they might develop their own set of practices in real life contexts

Intellectual skills

·         Demonstrate a critical understanding of the historical underpinning of contemporary socially engaged arts practices

·         Account for, evaluate and discuss certain political and ethical debates that emerge from these practices

  • Develop a set of critical approaches to the analysis of these practices

Practical skills

·         The ability to plan arts practices in response to a professional brief

·         The ability to revise and develop proposals in response to feedback from peers and experts

·         The ability to present idea clearly and coherently to a non-specialist audience

·         Demonstrate clear and accessible interpersonal communication across a range of constituencies

  • Demonstrate confidence in handling professional relationships

·         demonstrate creative and practical skills (e.g. problem-solving, thinking innovatively, drawing on creative approaches of others, evaluating creative approaches of others, giving and receiving feedback, time-keeping, working to deadline)

  • perform with confidence and precision for specific audiences/contexts, making use of diverse creative approaches and media

Transferable skills and personal qualities

·         demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively with others about intellectually demanding concepts, topics, materials

·         demonstrate an ability to draw with accuracy, focus, detail and precision on complex materials in independent work

  • demonstrate an ability to effectively present – through discussion and in writing – complex topics, drawing convincingly on oral, written and visual media as appropriate to the topic

Employability skills

Analytical skills
¿ an ability to develop detailed, planned and multi-layered approaches to tasks
Group/team working
¿ an ability to work productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex challenges
Problem solving
¿ a good level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills
¿ an enhanced ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to different audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Portfolio 60%

Feedback methods

1. Written feedback on the brief

2. verbal feedback on the presentation

Recommended reading

Bishop, Claire. 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso.

Hughes, Jenny, and Helen Nicholson, eds. 2016. Critical Perspectives on Applied Theatre. Cambridge¿; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, Shannon. 2011. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. 1 edition. New York: Routledge.

Jeffers, Alison, and Gerri Moriarty, eds. 2018. Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art: The British Community Arts Movement. S.l.: Methuen Drama.

Kester, Grant. 2013. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Revised edition. Berkeley Los Angeles London: University of California Press.

Nicholson, Helen. 2015. Applied Drama: The Gift of Theatre. 2nd ed. 2014 edition. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire¿; New York, NY: Palgrave.

Thompson, J. 2009. Performance Affects: Applied Theatre and the End of Effect. 2009 ed. edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thompson, N. 2012. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. New York, N.Y.¿: Cambridge, Mass.¿; London: MIT Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 36
Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alison Jeffers Unit coordinator

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