Defining Moments: Leadership and Learning Disability Theatres

  • Susan Caudle

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is written from a practitioner-researcher perspective and explores leadership within Learning Disability Theatres, focussing on a series of moments captured within the education and outreach programme of DIY Theatre Company, Salford, UK. The researcher presents a dialogical view of research within which knowledge-production is viewed as dynamic and processual rather than mobilised by the search for a single truth or one prescriptive method of working. Emerging from research undertaken as political activity the thesis engages with, and attempts to disrupt, dominant, normative agendas of power and knowledge which limit our notions of leadership and result in people with learning disabilities all too often being viewed as too disabled to carry out leadership roles. The thesis highlights the challenges and potential for research undertaken collaboratively with disabled co-leaders to be viewed through frameworks of Applied Theatre, Critical Disability Studies and Critical Leadership Studies and articulates a methodology-in-the-making with the potential to inform future research, practice and policy within all three disciplines. Methods include observations, arts-based Inclusive Research and interviews. Descriptions of moments of practice, written from a phenomenological perspective, offer insights into the highly relational nature of leadership practice in Learning Disability Theatres. The researcher suggests it is in such moments of practice, only visible and present in the making that new ways of thinking about and carrying out leadership in participatory theatre can be located. A critical and relational perspective opens up alternative ways of negotiating and describing leadership by and with performers and theatre-makers with learning disabilities. The term workshop-in-the-making has been coined to introduce a view of the drama workshop as an extension of improvised artistic practice within which improvisers work with light structuring, are heedful, generous, able to accept offers and to respond in the moment. Development and research of dialogical leadership are political acts which challenge normative, ableist perspectives and offer significant opportunities for development of practice, research and policy within and beyond Learning Disability Theatres. This thesis does not seek to define a single model of leadership, but highlights the value of a relational perspective in exploring the nuances, shifts and complexities of roles within leadership-in-the-making and, as a result, reveals the rich range of leadership practices often masked by more hierarchical approaches.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlison Jeffers (Supervisor) & Jennifer Hughes (Supervisor)


  • Learning Disability
  • Learning Disability Theatres
  • Applied Theatre
  • Relational Leadership

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