BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Contemporary Theatre-Making

Unit code DRAM32001
Credit rating 40
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores current trends in theatre-making, whereby performances are often created flexibly and holistically (e.g. solo practitioners writing and performing their own work; ensembles devising material work from scratch). Students will be trained in compositional methods enabling them to work in various creative modes, and will explore different options for presentation - from end-on staging to site-specific or durational practice. Working solo or in small groups, they will develop new performance pieces from inception to execution over the duration of the module.

Teaching will be as responsive as possible to the emerging concerns of students, as they begin to generate their own work. Students will engage critically with key performance questions around liveness, uses of space, spectatorship, etc., and will be encouraged to consider how their work might operate within actual production contexts. A key stage in the module will be the ‘pitch’, in which students present their emerging performance ideas – including short work-in-progress extracts – to a panel of potential ‘production partners’, who will then provide formative feedback.


Pre-requisite units

Any L1 Drama Study or Practical core option


Any L2 Drama Study core option - Practitioners in Context 1; Practitioners in Context 2; Screen, Culture and Society


At least one 20 credit L2 Drama practical course


Co-requisite units





  • To explore a range of theories, modes and methods for contemporary theatre-making.
  • To develop new theatre pieces, whether solo or collaborative works, which build on students’ personal creative strengths to inform compositional strategies.
  • To highlight and explore the inter-relation of form and content in contemporary practice.
  • To foreground key dramaturgical and theatrical questions around the structuring of time; the uses of space; the relationship between performer(s) and spectator(s); decisions about the use (or non-use) of lighting, sound, objects, etc.
  • To provide students with ‘dry run’ experience of framing and discussing works-in-progress with potential producers and partners.
  • To use critical reading and visits to live performance events as stimuli for creative practice


This first-semester, 11-week module will be taught in three main stages:

  1. Initial group workshop explorations and training in compositional strategies (Weeks 1-3).
  2. Development of early work-in-progress ideas, by individuals or groups (Weeks 4-5), towards “producer’s pitch” event in Week 7 (following Reading Week).
  3. Further development of works-in-progress towards final performance presentations (Weeks 8-12). Includes liaising with technical and building staff to address any logistical issues arising.

Students will also, where possible, view a variety of performances being presented live at Manchester venues such as Contact, HOME and the Royal Exchange Studio, where contemporary performance pieces are regularly part of the scheduled programme.  Critical reflection on the performances viewed, supported by relevant reading, will then feed (whether directly or indirectly) into the students’ creative processes.

Students will normally spend two and a half days per week in group workshops and/or developing their separate performance ideas. The course tutor, supported by a liaising academic mentor, will work primarily in “teaching delivery” mode during the initial workshopping phase before switching to a more responsive role of supporting, critiquing and further stimulating students’ work, as they embark on developing their projects. The tutor will also periodically bring the class back together, for sharing of ideas, troubleshooting of concerns, and critical reflection on live performance visits, etc. During the final phase of the course, considerable emphasis will be placed on student autonomy and independent working, even as the tutor continues to support this work in appropriate ways. 


Recommended performance texts as examples of methods for scripting/scoring contemporary theatre work:


Smith, Andy, The Preston Bill, Oberon Books, London, 2015

Pearson, Deborah, The Future Show, Oberon Books, London, 2015

Rackza, Lula, Some People Talk About Violence, Oberon Books, London, 2015

MacLaine, Sue, Can I Start Again, Please?, Oberon Books, London, 2016

Stenhouse, James & Paintin, Gemma, Action Plans, Oberon Books, London, 2015

Ontroerond Goed, All Work And No Plays, Oberon Books, London, 2014

Teaching and learning methods

The tutor will employ a flexible range of teaching and learning methods, including but not limited to:

  • Practical workshops
  • Seminar discussions
  • Task-setting and problem-based learning
  • Assigning fieldwork or research visits
  • Structured feedback discussions of work-in-progress
  • Informal feedback and mentoring discussion

The course will conform to Blackboard minimum requirements.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand some of the theoretical and practical issues that arise in the making and promotion of small-scale contemporary theatre.
  • Identify and analyse some of the key methods and modes of contemporary theatre practice.
  • Utilise this understanding in the making of original works of theatre which build on personal areas of creative strength and critical interest.
  • Participate in self-reflexive debate on strategies for theatrical composition.
  • Identify key issues in the production and presentation of contemporary practice

Intellectual skills

  • Explore and test various approaches to theatrical composition, through critical examination of spatial, temporal and performer-audience dynamics.
  • Bring together critical thinking and creative research in the development of new performance work.
  • Identify appropriate textual, visual and theatrical strategies for the development and presentation of varying types of narrative and non-narrative content.
  • Work collaboratively and responsively with peers to critique and enhance each others’ creative development.

Practical skills

  • Utilise creative research methods in the development of new theatrical material.
  • Conceive and devise new performance work that builds on personal strengths and concerns.
  • Identify appropriate compositional strategies for the content one wishes to explore.
  • Work effectively with considerations of space, time, spectatorship, theatrical objects, etc. 
  • Articulate the potential impact and appeal of one’s own work while it is still in development.
  • Responsibly incorporate oral testimony and local actors into the performance process.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Work collaboratively as part of a team.
  • Communicate effectively with creative partners and potential producers.
  • Plan the logistics of a public event, including negotiating production details, promotion, and space usage, etc.
  • Articulate their own areas of strength (whether textual, visual, choreographic, etc.) as critically-reflexive theatre-makers. 
  • Navigate some of the logistical and presentational issues that arise in seeking to engage potential producers with new theatre work.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
¿ Development of a professional identity and skills/knowledge base to inform further professional practice, training and learning
Group/team working
¿ Ability to work independently and as part of a group to conceive, plan, undertake and evaluate original, well-developed projects that involve complex and unpredictable scenarios
¿ Advanced skills in group-work, leadership, reflexivity, planning and project management
Project management
¿ Understanding of and adherence to industry-level professional and ethical standards in practical work
¿ Ability to develop informed critique of professional practice (own and others), drawing on understanding of high quality standards

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Oral assessment/presentation 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Presentation – written and verbal


Performance – written and verbal


Reflective essay - written



Recommended reading

Bishop, Claire, ed. Participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2006.

Tim Etchells, Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment (London: Routledge, 1999)

Freshwater, Helen, Theatre & Audience. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Heddon, Deirdre. Autobiography and Performance. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Mike Pearson, Site Specific Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Shaw, Peggy & Weaver, Lois, ‘MAKE SOMETHING: a manifesto for making performance about making change.’ Staging International Feminisms. Elaine Aston & Sue-Ellen Case, eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

White, Gareth, Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 187
Independent study hours
Independent study 213

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrew Smith Unit coordinator

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