Dr Helen  Iball

Dr Helen Iball

Lecturer in Theatre Studies

Programme Leader QW34 BA English Literature and Theatre Studies

+44(0) 113 343 5004

Summary: contemporary British theatre and live art; mental health and contemporary culture; socially engaged arts; theatre audience; autobiographical performance, diary drawing and graphic memoir.

Dr Helen Iball BA; MPhil; PhD (Wales) 

Research Interests

My longstanding teaching and research interests are in contemporary theatre and live art. Recently, I have extended this work to address prose fiction, drama, and essay collections (part memoir, part literary criticism) that share an impulse to represent the psychological damage done by contemporary culture, whilst at the same time identifying hope in human compassion. I am teaching and writing on texts by Robert Holman, Duncan Macmillan, Colum McCann, Lucy Prebble, Rebecca Solnit, and Elizabeth Strout. This study has grown from my research project Theatre Personal: audiences with intimacy (launched 2009 and at www.theatrepersonal.co.uk) which explored contemporary nuances of the term ‘audience participation’ through workshop collaboration and conversation with key UK theatre makers including Tim Crouch, Ellie Harrison, Adrian Howells, Rajni Shah, a smith, Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker.

One of my core research methods is dialogue with practitioners. It underpins my essays on playwright and auteur Howard Barker, as do meetings with actors and directors for my study of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, and with Bobby Baker for my essays and performances in response to her work. Inspired by Bobby Baker’s performances and drawings, a recurring theme in my research is autobiography and, particularly, its manifestation at the interfaces of visual art, writing, and theatre. This has engaged me in exploring diary drawing and graphic memoir alongside autobiographical and confessional live art practices. I am currently writing about Lynda Barry’s “graphic memoir how to” genre.

I welcome enquiries from prospective postgraduate students of contemporary theatre and/or literature, particularly in the following areas: mental health and contemporary culture; philosophies of hope and socially engaged arts; audience studies and audience participation; autobiography in performance, diary drawing, and graphic memoir.

Recent Activities

'"Sharpening the Gift of Living": C21st mindfulness practices and the legacy of 1960s-70s Flux Objects' IFTR (International Federation of Theatre Research), Stockholm (June 2016)  

'The Compassion Imagination: things that bring emotional intelligence to life' (June 2016) Wellcome Trust funded speculative workshops with UK-based project partners from archeaology, arts, and healthcare. 

'Crying with Artists' keynote talk, Emotional Resources, Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art (November 2014)

Rosana Cade's Walking:Holding, WROUGHT Festival, Sheffield (October 2014). Performer/facilitator in 27 One-to -One performances. See: video documentation Walking:Holding Sheffield

'The Compassionate Imagination: performative interactions and therapeutic alliances' (May 2014) facilitation of a speculative workshop day in Bethnal Green, London with UK-based project partners from arts and healthcare.  

'Articulating Artistic Research' Seminar, Canadian Association of Theatre Research Annual Conference, Brock University, Ontario (May 2014) 

'Catching Tears: questions of empathy in contemporary "intimate theatre"', Not a Dry Eye in the House: Tears in Performance, Paris-Sorbonne University (March 2014)

'The Compassionate Imagination: performative interactions and therapeutic alliances' (March 2014) facilitation of a speculative workshop day with Leeds-based project partners from arts, health, education, spiritual and community organisations. 

'The choreography of empathy in the compassionate imagination', Crossing Borders public lecture series, Independent Dance, London (October 2013) 

'Towards an Ethics of Intimate Audience', in Performing Ethos 3.1 (2013)

‘“Listen in…” is a radical invitation’, Beyond Glorious: the radical in socially engaged artistic practices, a symposium at Birkbeck and Artsadmin, London (May 2013)

‘Come Closer: confessions of intimate spectators in one to one performance’, co-authored with Deidre Heddon and Rachel Zerihan, in Critical Live Art: Contemporary Histories of Performance in the UK, ed. Dominic Johnson (London: Routledge, 2013)

'Being Well Quietly: on audience, resonance and a bigger "intimate theatre"', TaPRA (Theatre and Performance Research Association) Annual Conference, University of Kent (Sept. 2012) 

'An Audience with The Oh Fk Moment: applying cognitive and psychotherapeutic models to interactive theatre', Affective Science and Performance, Inaugural Conference, University of Kent (Sept. 2012) 

Preliminary training in the Sesame Approach to Dramatherapy (Introductory course, May 2012)

An invited seminar paper on Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings, Sharp Kisses and Box Story for CIDRA/ICP seminar series, University of Manchester (Feb. 2012)

'My Sites Set on You: site-specificity and subjectivity in "intimate theatre"', in Performing Site-specific Theatre: politics, place, practice, ed. Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

'Come Closer: confessions of an intimate spectator', co-authored with Deirdre Heddon and Rachel Zerihan, Contemporary Theatre Review special issue: Live Art in the UK, ed. Dominic Johnson (2012)

'A Mouth to Feed Me: reflections inspired by the poster for Tim Crouch's The Author', in Contemporary Theatre Review 21.4 (2011)

'Research Methods in Scenography', co-authored with Joslin McKinney, in Research Methods in Theatre Studies, ed. Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011)

Foundation certificate in Gestalt Counselling and Psychotherapy 

British Academy Small Grant for Theatre Personal: audiences with intimacy, 1990-2010 funding interdisciplinary workshops and interviews



Making Spectators, 1960s-present 
Quiet Rebels and Unquiet Minds: writing to contemporary anxiety 


MA Theatre and Global Development