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Professor Elaine Aston


Elaine Aston

Lancaster University

The LICA Building



Tel: +44 1524 594912

PhD supervision

Elaine supervises PhD programmes of research in the field of feminism, theatre and performance.

Current Teaching

Contemporary British Theatre; Contemporary Theatre Practice; Dissertation.

Research Interests


Elaine Aston is Professor of Contemporary Performance at Lancaster University. She has a distinguished record of publication in the field of feminism, theatre, theory and performance. Her first monograph, a biography of the nineteenth-century star actress, Sarah Bernhardt, appeared in 1989, and was followed by Feminism and Theatre (1995); Caryl Churchill (1997; 2001); Feminist Theatre Practice (1999); and Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000 (2003). She is co-author of the highly influential text on theatre semiotics: Theatre as Sign-System (1989). Elaine has edited two collections of plays for the Women's Theatre Group (Her story Volumes 1 & 2, 1991), while other collections she has been involved with include the Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights (2000), and, more recently, with Gerry Harris, Feminist Futures?: Theatre, Performance, Theory, 2006.

Elaine is a founding member of the Feminist Research Working Group of the International Federation of Theatre Research (IFTR), and has co-convened the group with Professor Sue-Ellen Case (UCLA). With Sue-Ellen Case she has co-edited the group's first major essay collection: Staging International Feminisms (2008). Elaine now serves as senior editor of the IFTR journal Theatre Research International. With Bryan Reynolds (University of California, Irvine) she is co-series editor for 'Performance Interventions' (Palgrave Macmillan).

Recent Research

In 2007 Palgrave Macmillan published Performance Practice and Process: Contemporary [Women] Practitioners, co-authored with Gerry Harris. Like Feminist Futures? (2006), Performance Practice and Process arises out of the three-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council: Women's Writing for Performance (2003-6)

Both publications reflect Elaine's continuing interest in feminist theatre and performance, and, in particular, her concern to work with artists relevant to her research field (Bobby Baker, Sarah Daniels, Rebecca Prichard and Jenny Eclair, among them). Work on the Women's Project came to a successful conclusion: Elaine presented several talks about the Project to academics and artists in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia; in New York at CUNY and Purchase College, and at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

New Projects

Elaine's new projects includea third edition of Caryl Churchill for Northcote House & the British Council and work on popular feminism, theatre and performance for a new co-authored monograph with Gerry Harris - A Good Night Out, for the Girls.

Additional Information

Publications since 2001


Caryl Churchill, second edition, British Council/Northcote, 2001, pp. 143

Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp.238 ISBN 0 521 80003 x

Performance Practice and Process: Contemporary [Women] Practitioners, joint monograph (with Geraldine Harris, Lancaster), Palgrave Macmillan, 2007

Edited Collections

Feminist Futures?: Theatre, Performance, Theory, 2006 Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.243, ISBN: 13: 978-1-4039-4532-7 (hbk), co-editor Geraldine Harris

Staging International Feminisms, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, co-editor Sue-Ellen Case

Contributions to Edited Works Entries on Jean 'Binta' Breeze' (p.57), Yvonne Brewster (p.57), Maya Chowdhry (p.77), Jackie Kay (p.167), Vayu Naidu, (p. 211), Jaccqueline Rudet (p.267), 'Women Theatre Collectives' (pp.326-7) for Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture, A. Donnell, ed, London: Routledge, 2002

Entries on Caryl Churchill and Pam Gems in The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature, S. R. Serafin and V. Grosvenory Myer, eds, New York: Continuum, 2003, pp.186-7 and pp.395-97

Entries on Mrs Patrick Campbell and Lilian Baylis, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, on-line edition

'Imag(in)ing a Life: Adrienne Kennedy' in Auto/biography and Identity, Maggie B. Gale and Viv Gardner, eds., Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004, pp.58-75

'"A Licence to Kill": Caryl Churchill's Socialist-Feminist "Ideas of Nature"' in Performing Nature: Explorations in Ecology and the Arts, Gabriella Giannachi and Nigel Stewart, eds, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2006, pp.165-178

'"Bad Girls" and "Sick Boys": New Women Playwrights and the Future of Feminism' in Feminist Futures? E. Aston and G. Harris, eds, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp.71-87

'It is Good to Look at One's Own Shadow: A Women's International Theatre Festival and Questions for International Feminism', with G. Harris and L Simic, Feminist Futures?, pp.169-189

'"Studies in Hysteria": Actress and Courtesan, Sarah Bernhardt and Mrs Patrick Campbell', in Cambridge Companion to the Actress, M. Gale and J. Stokes, eds, Cambridge: CUP, 2007, pp.253-271

'A Good Night Out, For the Girls', in Cool Britannia?: British Drama in the 1990s, G. Saunders and R. de Monté eds, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, pp.114-130

Foreword to Feminism and Theatre, Sue-Ellen Case, reissued edition, Basingstoke, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008, pp.ix-xxiii.

Foreword to A Taste of Honey, Shelagh Delaney, London, Methuen Drama, 2008, pp.v-ix.

'Reviewing the Fabric of Blasted', in Sarah Kane in Context, L. de Vos and G. Saunders,eds, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010, pp.13-27


'Building Bridges: Life on Dunbar's Arbor, Past and Present', co-authored with J. Reinelt, Theatre Research International, 26:.3 (October 2001): 285-293

'Feminist Performance as Archive: Bobby Baker's 'Daily Life' and Box Story' Performance Research, 7: 4 (2002): 78-85

'The "Bogus Woman": Feminism and Asylum Theatre', Modern Drama,, 46:1 (Spring 2003): 5-21

'Making a Spectacle Out of Herself: Bobby Baker's Take a Peek!', European Journal of Women's Studies, 11: 3 (August 2004): 277-294

'A Critical Step to the Side: Performing the Loss of the Mother', Theatre Research International, 32:2,2007: 130-142

'Knowing Differently: Practice as Research and the Women's Writing for Performance Project', Nordic Theatre Studies, 19, 2007: 8-17

'Swimming in Histories of Gender Oppression: Grupo de Teatro's Hysteria', New Theatre Quarterly, XXVI, February 2010: 38-48


2010 'Feminism, Theatre and Performance - Critical Futures', Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

2010 'Creative and Critical Futures', Hochschule für Musik und Theater Leipzig, Germany

2009 'The Futures of Feminism and Theatre?', Deli, India, Indian Society for Theatre Research

2009 'Creative Futures', University of Brighton,'150th Anniversary', 2009

2009 'From Orlan to Bernhardt', Stockholm University, Sweden, 2009

2008 February, Camrbidge University, 'Re-Viewing Sarah Kane'

2007 November, Phoenix, Arizona, ASTR 'Escaping "America"': Performance Practice and Process of Curious (Leslie Hill & Helen Paris)

2007 7th March, Nuffield Theatre, In Conversation with Bobby Baker

2007 April, Thessaloniki, Greece, Symposium, 'Women: Theatre/Spectacle', invited paper

2007 July, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Feminist Research Working Group (convenorship)

2006 Chicago, ASTR 'Global Theory and Local Practices: Women's Writing for Performance Project'

2006 Artists' Forum, (co-organiser with Gerry Harris) Theatre Museum, Covent Garden, London

2006 Lectures on 'Women's Writing for Performance', Purchase College and CUNY, New York, USA

2006 Stockholm University, Sweden, 'Playing Politics', 'Practice as Research and the Women's Writing for Performance Project'

2006 Presentations on the 'Women's Writing for Performance' Project (with Gerry Harris) at Universities of New South Wales, Sydney & Melbourne Australia.

2006 'Women's Writing for Performance: Process and Practice', co-organiser (with Gerry Harris), three-day international symposium, Lancaster University .

2005 Toronto, ASTR 'Staging the Maternal in Contemporary Women's "Writing" for Performance'

2005 'Talking the Domestic', co-organiser (with Matt Fenton), one-day national symposium with artists working on domestic themes, Lancaster University.

2004 Las Vegas, ASTR, 'Performing Age & Gender in Female Stand-Up: Jenny Eclair and Rita Rudner.

2004 Graduate School, UC Irvine, '"Bad Girls" and "sick Boys": New Women Playwrights and the future of Feminism'

2004 St Petersburg, IFTR 'Roots in Transit: An International Feminist Theatre Festival and Questions for International Feminism' (with Gerry Harris)

2002 King's College, London, 'Sarah Kane: the "Bad Girl of Our Stage"'

2002 UWE, Bristol, 'Telling Feminist Tales: Caryl Churchill', 'In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama in the '90s'

2002 Amsterdam, IFTR 'Preserving the domestic: Bobby Baker's Counter-cultural Memory of "Daily Life"'

2001 San Diego, ASTR, 'The "Bogus Woman": Feminism and Asylum Theatre'

Select Publications in Detail

Performance Practice and Process: Contemporary [Women] Practitioners (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007)

This co-authored monograph is the final research outcome of the AHRC funded Women's Writing for Performance Project (2003-6). The monograph explores the practice and process of eight of the project's practitioners. It communicates new performance knowledge rooted in/through a practice-based methodology which argues for an understanding of an 'embodied knowledge' that is able to engage (resistantly) with gender 'matters' in more expansive and inclusive ways than gender theorising (post-Butler) has allowed for. The composition of the monograph allows for the artist-based chapters to reflect difference and diversity (of practices, genres, feminisms, sexualities, etc.) at the same time as it allows for points of connection and commonality. Overall, it 'speaks' primarily to those scholars, artists and artists-scholars with an interest in a practice through research culture. In selecting and structuring material it has been possible to link the monograph with visual documentation and output accessible either via the Project website http://www.lancs.ac.uk/depts/theatre/womenwriting/ or available on DVD (documentation of Split Britches and 'Performing Words' workshops). Papers arising out of the monograph have been jointly presented (with Harris) at the Women's Writing for Performance symposium (Lancaster University, April 2006); Artists' Forum (Theatre Museum, Covent Garden, London, November 2006), and Universities of Melbourne and New South Wales, Australia (September 2006, by invitation). Solo presentations based on monograph materials have been given at Stockholm University, October 2006 (Keynote, 'Playing Politics' Conference); CUNY and Purchase College New York (by invitation, October 2006), ASTR, Chicago (November 2006), and Thessaloniki, Greece (by invitation, April 2007).

Feminist Futures? Theatre, Performance, Theory (2006)

Feminist Futures? is a co-edited (50%) anthology that forms an interim outcome of the Large Grant AHRC funded Women's Writing for Performance Project (2003-6). It brings together a number of internationally acclaimed women practitioners and academics (several of whom took part in the Project) to interrogate the future possibilities of feminism as it intersects socially, culturally and politically with theatre, performance and theory. The co-introduction (pp.1-16; with Gerry Harris) began in embryonic form in a co-presentation made at the annual SCUDD conference at Leeds in 2003 where the idea of the anthology was first aired. A collaborative Chapter, 'It is Good to Look at One's Own Shadow' (pp.169-189) between Aston, Harris and Simic (Lancaster PhD involved in the Women's Writing Project) arose out of an AHRC funded international visit to 'Roots in Transit', 4th International Women's Theatre Festival, Odin Theatret, 2004. An earlier version of this chapter was given (by Aston & Harris) at the international feminist theatre working group, IFTR, St Petersburg, Russia (2004). The final contribution to the anthology 'Angry Again? - New York Women Artists and Feminist Futures' (pp.209-222) which brings together four differently situated artists (by genre, feminism and generation), was the result of a second AHRC funded international research trip to New York (2005).Elaine's solo-authored chapter, '"Bad Girls" and "Sick Boys": New Women Playwrights and the Future of Feminism' (pp.71-87) continues the research trajectory of Feminist Views by concentrating on emergent women playwrights at the Royal Court and Bush Theatres in 2003. A version of this paper was given by invitation to the Graduate School of Arts, California, Irvine (2004). Launched at the Women's Writing for Performance symposium (April 2006, Lancaster University), Feminist Futures? sold out of its first print run with a matter of weeks, and is in a second print run, with a paperback edition agreed and due for October 2007.

Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp.238)

Published in the series Cambridge Studies in Modern Theatre, Feminist Views was originally conceived as a project in 'feminist recovery'. It sets out to challenge the 'post-feminist', backlash legacy of the 1980s and argues a need to take issue with the 'renaissance' of angry young men on the British stage in the 1990s. To that end the monograph engages in a critical analysis of feminist directions in and about work by contemporary women playwrights writing for the English stage. Draft chapters were presented by invitation to 'In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama in the 1990s Conference' (UWE, Bristol, September 2002 - Churchill Chapter) and to graduate students of King's College/RADA, London, 2002 - Kane Chapter), while an early draft on Wertenbaker's theatre was presented at the Leicester/Pisa Colloquium, 'Collaboration' Leicester University (September 2001). The writing and completion of Feminist Views was made possible through an AHRC grant (Research Leave Scheme). The book's chapter detailing the work of Rebecca Prichard, was influential in bringing Aston and Prichard together in a research context, now consolidated by the appointment of Prichard as AHRC funded Creative and Performing Arts Fellow, from September 2007.

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