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Professor Jane Milling

Head of Department, Professor in Drama


01392 72 4592

My research focuses on popular and political performance in British theatre history in the long eighteenth century and the modern period. My work on political performance and the public sphere in the long eighteenth century has led me to publish on women dramatists, popular performers, and stage institutions. I am interested in questions of participation, community, and creativity in contemporary performance culture see my critical history of devising, with Deirdre Heddon, Devising Performance: A Critical History (Palgrave 2005; 2nd ed. 2015).  I have an ongoing interest in popular performance in the twentieth and twenty-first century, particularly pierrot troupes and popular seaside performance, and the cultural place of playwriting in the 1980s.

I am series editor with Graham Ley of Theatre and Performance Practices with Palgrave Macmillan. I am on the editorial board for the journals Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research. I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College.

I have been working on a series of AHRC-funded projects under the Connected Communities programme across the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and my current project looks at the representation of commoners in the long eighteenth-century, alongside a project looking at the history of drama in the global university. 

Recent grant activites have included:

Understanding Everyday Participation: Articulating Cultural Value, working with colleagues at University of Manchester, University of Leicester and University of Warwick, this project proposes a radical re-evaluation of the relationship between participation and cultural value. This research project brings together evidence from in-depth historical analyses, the re-use of existing quantitative data and new qualitative research to reveal the detail, dynamics and significance of ‘everyday participation’. Our aim is to generate new understandings of community formation and capacity through participation, which we will develop through collaborations with partners and participant groups to evolve better practice for policy makers and cultural organisations. Our approach promises new ways of capturing the contexts and processes of cultural valuation including the ways in which creative economies are underpinned by local practices and community identities. The project ran from April 2012 to July 2017.


Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space

This AHRC funded research project is the first major study to take amateur dramatics seriously. Amateur theatre has an active place in the social and cultural life of many communities, and a long history of community activity. Yet the term 'amateur' is often used disparagingly; academics have been conspicuously silent on the subject, and professional actors continue to deride amateur dramatics for their production values.  The project ran from July 2013-December 2016, led by Helen Nicholson (RHUL, Principle Investigator), Nadine Holdsworth (Warwick, Co-Investigator) and Jane Milling (Exeter, Co-Investigator).

Do see our co-authored volume arising from this grant The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre (Palgrave, 2018).

Past Connected Communities grant projects include:

Cultural Value and Voluntary and Amateur Arts Expert Workshop. Over 6 million people in the UK regularly actively participate in amateur and voluntary artistic creation across a wide range of art forms and cultural activities, yet this aspect of cultural engagement is frequently neglected. As part of the AHRC Cultural Value Project, led by Professor Geoffrey Crossick, this project brought together an expert panel of key academics, stakeholders, cultural policy makers, and funders who have been actively engaged in reflecting on modes of amateur cultural experience and engagement. The panel set out to assess both parameters for ways in which we might value the amateur and voluntary arts, and to examine syntheses with other modes of cultural valuation in the subsidized and commercial sectors. (PI Jane Milling;CI Angus McCabe, Birmingham). Report available here:

Taverns, Locals and Street Corners: Cross-chronological studies in community drinking, regulation and public space

This pilot study on tavern culture ranges from early modern Europe to the present day. It investigated whether today’s real and imagined patterns of drinking – people congregating in public spaces at night, sold alcohol and revelling – are recurring practices and representations of drinking and of competing communities. It looked at how public space is used, and how tavern culture produces places and social groupings; how these spaces are regulated in the name of order, morality and health; the rhetorics of drinking and taverns, of pleasure, harm and authority. The project asked if the performance of drinking, and ideas of spectacle and carnival, are still part of modern drinking culture, and if contemporary questions about public policy on drinking and ‘anti-social behaviour’ find resonances in the past. Working with Dr Fabrizio Nevola (University of Bath) and Prof Antonia Layard (University of Birmingham).

Participatory Arts for Well-Being: Past and Present Practices asked what is 'well-being' and examines a series of long-running community-led arts regeneration projects for social well-being.

Alcohol and Performing Community: Mapping representations of binge-drinking and community health examined how binge-drinking has been portrayed in drama and the media over the last 40 years, and asks how qualitative data on the social and performative aspects of binge-drinking can inform policy modelling.

The Role of Grassroots Arts Activity in Communities: a scoping study asked what amateur, voluntary, and participant-initiated arts activities do in communities. Report from this project available here:

Creative Participation in Housing and Planning looked at three mixed-income communities and investigates how innovative and creative participatory practices could be used to transform housing and planning law and policy throughout the UK.

Revitalising the Prom examined what made pierrot shows so popular with audiences at seaside resorts between the 1890s and the 1950s, and how they might be recreated for today’s holidaymakers.

I welcome enquiries from MPhil and PhD students interested in working on theatre history, particularly Restoration and eighteenth-century theatre, as well as students working on issues of gender, politics, participation, and popular performance related to twentieth-century and contemporary performance.

Research interests

Politics and popular performance; performance history from the 17th and 18th centuries; gender and theatre; devised performance; participation and popular performance in 20th and 21st century performance.

Research supervision

I welcome enquiries from MPhil and PhD students interested in working on British theatre history particularly of the long eighteenth century, as well as students working on issues of gender, politics, participation, and popular performance related to twentieth-century and contemporary performance.

Recent PhD students have looked at Crossdressing in Modern British Playwrighting, 18th Century Actresses, Gender and Performative Writing in Psycho-physical actor training, Masculinities in Contemporary British Plays, Hakka Women Theatre Directors, Mindfulness in Thai Theatre Training, Black British Playwrights, Ethical Practice in Applied Theatre, British Asian Women Dramatists, Thai Classical Dance and Pedagogy, Representing Madness in Contemporary British Playwriting.

Past PhD students are academics at Women's University Seoul, Kent University, De Montfort University, University of Nottingham, University of South Wales, Thammasat University.

Current students are researching Saudi Women Playwrights, Devising Theatre with and for Blind Young People, and Representing Masculinities in Regional  Performance 1890-1914.

Research students

Current research students and topics:

Aqeel Abdulla, The representation of Muslim women in contemporary British drama

Jon Venn, Representing Madness in Contemporary British Playwriting

Pawinee Boonserm, Classical Thai Dance and Pegagogy




Research through practice

  • 2001 Director of Gogl's The Government Inspector, in new translation by Dr James MacDonald, investigating Meyerhold's staging and actor-training, Exeter.
  • 1998 Director of Hamlet in Q1 text, Exeter.
  • 1994 Director, with Alison Findlay, of the first performance of The Conceal'd Fansyes by Jane Cavendish and Elizabeth Brackley (c1645), Bretton Hall.

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