Fiona Macbeth

Senior Fellow HEA

Student engagement

Name Fiona Macbeth
Position Senior Lecturer in Drama

College of Humanities

Engaging students through 'praxis'

Fiona Macbeth specialises in Applied Theatre; “community and socially engaged practice and performance”. With a background in youth work, Fiona continues this work with at-risk youth and theatre projects with care-leavers, often involving Masters students in these ventures. Fiona believes that the key to engaging Drama students from the starting point is by “finding out what it is that they feel like this module’s going to give them, in terms of their futures”. Applied Theatre modules are chosen modules, so students already embark on the course with an interest in developing their skills in this area. “The way of engaging students with teaching is to frame things, in terms of the challenges and the opportunities that they’re getting through that teaching and learning, as directly useful for them, for whatever they’re going on to do."

Drama at the University of Exeter is known for its successful combination of theory and practice; “we look at research and theory, and practice, as being separate, but actually they’re completely interlinked, which is what we call ‘praxis’”. In terms of Applied Theatre, Fiona believes it is crucial to not only practically create work but also research around how to create work, in order to be better-informed when it comes to working with young people, representing the audience within the performance and creating a piece that is more meaningful.

Although research is significantly important, Drama emphasises the need for practical engagement rather than simply learning from textbooks. Fiona contextualises this concept within applied work, such as truly understanding the people you are working with. “You have to be there; you have to be in the room to feel what it means to facilitate a creative process, because a creative process, by its very definition, is going to be full of complexity. The complexities are going to be determined by who those people are in the room, and they can’t really ever be pinned down onto paper.”

Interdisciplinary work between Drama and the Medical School

Fiona is a co-founder (alongside David Evans and Sandy Akerman) of the RAP project; Respect and Protect, a sex and relationships education programme in collaboration with the Medical School for young people who have experienced a disrupted education. The sessions were peer-led by “young people who had been in that setting themselves, so they were in a really good position to recognise the kind of behaviour that those young people were displaying.” The programme has evolved since its establishment in 2005 but is still running, and is delivered in Pupil Referral Units throughout the South West region. The project has had many people involved in “generating the experience of interaction” within the group sessions, using the discipline of Drama to inspire the exercises without it becoming a drama-focused programme.

Aim 1: Talented, Active, Engaged Students
To increase levels of proactive student engagement with their academic studies

Engaging students with the community through Applied Drama

"Once you engage… there’s a reciprocity in a good process of community engagement…"

Using drama to recruit medical staff

"… the discipline of acting and theatre is less important in that situation than the discipline of teaching and facilitation."