Devising Theatre and Performance (Book)

Curious Methods

This book makes a major contribution to the fields of theatre and performance studies, devised performance practice and practice-based research. The authors provide a treasure trove of performance exercises that will be invaluable to performance-makers, educators and students as they develop their creative practice. 12 colour illustrations.

For more information about Curious and sample exercises, please visit this page: Curious Workshop.


Devising Theatre and Performance is a hands-on guide for artists, students and teachers of performance at any stage of their practice. It offers a wide range of creative prompts and pathways enriched with critical thinking tools and questions, a hybrid approach Hill and Paris call ‘Curious Methods’.

This is a welcome addition to the field, created and curated by two experienced artists who have operated at the international interface of academia and professional practice for over three decades.

The collection is packed with fun, creative, thoughtful exercises distilled from over twenty years of running interdisciplinary artist workshops and teaching both devising and performance making. As well providing numerous exercises and suggestions for devising, composing and editing original works, this book offers tools for giving and receiving feedback, critical reflection and framing artistic work within academic research contexts.

Readers can choose to dip in and out, to follow the book as a course or to work section by section, focusing on organizing principles such as working from the body, working with site, working with objects or performance activism. The book includes a detailed production workbook and a practice-based research workbook you can tailor to your own projects. The 'Curious Methods' approach encourages users to take the time and space their practice deserves while offering tools, nourishment and encouragement and inviting them to take risks beyond their comfort zones. The exercises are carefully described so that they can easily be tested out by readers, and are well contextualized in relation to vivid examples from contemporary performance practice and relevant political contexts. This compelling approach goes beyond many other books on theatre devising, which merely provide performance recipes; they do so by repeatedly highlighting the vital cultural relevance and potential personal impact of the experiments that they invite us to undertake.

The primary audience for this important new book will be academics, instructors and students in courses on devised theatre, improvisation, performance art, experimental performance and practice-based research. It will be essential for classroom use, for students of theatre and performance and live art – undergraduate, postgraduate and Ph.D., teachers and all those needing strategies for getting started.

It will also appeal to readers from the broader arts, humanities and social sciences who are seeking resources for integrating creative methods into their research.

Leslie Hill is a professor of theatre and performance making at the University of Roehampton London and artistic director of Curious. She is interested in the intersections of theatre and live art with politics, activism and social justice movements. She is author of several books, including Sex, Suffrage and the Stage: First Wave Feminism in British Theatre, which was published for the UK suffrage centenary in 2018 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Helen Paris is an award-winning artist and artistic director of Curious, a London-based performance company that has shown work in 17 countries. Paris is currently artist-in-residence at Canterbury Christ Church University. Paris has published widely, specializing in somatic and immersive work and interdisciplinary research through her collaborations with the biological and ecological sciences. Her debut novel, Lost Property, is published by Penguin Doubleday.

Curious ( has produced over 50 innovative works for theatres and festivals, including the London Cultural Olympiad, the Edinburgh Festival, Centre Pompidou and Sydney Opera House. Frequently edgy, often humorous and always authentic, Curious ploughs a furrow between theatre, live art, installation and research. Curious combines rigorous dramaturgy and community outreach with performance-making to create impactful work that has been called ‘as smart as it is seductive’ (Irish Times). Curious delivers an international programme of workshops and mentoring alongside award winning publications and research. Curious is produced by Artsadmin.

List of Illustrations


1.         Curious Methods

2.         Pep Talk

Daily Practice

Outfoxing the Censor


A Time and a Place
Failing Better

3.         Working from the Body

Arrivals and Departures
Begin Again


Body Map

Body Memory

The Sense of Smell


Olfactory Portraits

Fight Flight Freeze

Gut Feelings

Secret Duets

Inheritance Tracks

Family Traits and Mannerisms


Walk This Way

Building a Persona

4.         Working with Objects

Tactile Memory

Exquisite and Mundane

Inherited Objects

Box Stories

‘The Lovers’


5.         Working with Site

Give and Take

Ghost Library

Ghost Duets

In Search of a Gesture

You Are Here
Map Making, Three Ways

Blurring Time and Place

Things ain’t what they used to be

Best Foot Forward

Marks and Scars

Dancing Place and Space

Private, Keep Out!

Taking Up Residence

Infinitesimal Detail

Fifteen Quick Freewrites on Place

Autotopographically Speaking

Silent Stroll

Closing Thoughts

6.         Working with Pairings

Failure & Text

Desire & Proximity
Ritual & Object

7.         Activism


Impulse Manifesto

Make Manifest

Lending and Borrowing


Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

On Location

Stand Up, Speak Out

Living Newspaper

Ripped from the Headlines


Choose Your Battles

Verbatim Theatre

Explosive Material – a Journalistic Exercise

Explosive Compounds – an Ethnographic Exercise

One-Minute Plays

Mix Tape

Produce, Adapt or Devise?

A Moment in History

Cross That Line

Closed Border

Open Border

Tactical Toolkit

Make a Spectacle


8.         Production Workbook

Operating Instructions

Kick-Starting Process

Realm of Concern

I’ve always wanted to be able to …
Feathering the Nest

Look Book


Space and Composition

Dream Island

Fleshing It Out

Dancing the Dynamics


Index Card Storyboard

Dear Dead Darlings

Remember the Audience

Dear Audience


Three Adjectives

Performance Response

Brief Hauntings

Companion Piece

Invited Guests




Pen Pal

Favourite Performance You Never Saw

9.         A Practice-Based Research Workbook

Performing Knowledges

Back Stage

Escape Velocity

Glorious Manifestations

Generative Research

Mapping Your Practice

Diagrammatic Praxis

Secret Fear

Abstractions on Secret Fears

Defining Your Dramaturgy

Signatures of Practice


Love Letter

Artist-Scholar Family Album



Doing a Phenomenology

Phenomenological Journal


Project Descriptions in 1st and 3rd

Specialist Knowledge

Autoethnographic Journal

Keeping a Lab Notebook

Designing Bespoke PBR Exercises – Two Case Studies

Gut Feelings


Sowing from Seed

PBR Evaluation and Critique

Bespoke Evaluation Rubric

Amalgamated Evaluation Rubric

Bibliography and Further Reading


'Curious’s methods are at once tender, lyrical, soul-stirring, and politically charged. To practise their methods with them is joyous and inspiring.'

Jen Harvie, Queen Mary University of London

'For the student/teacher/creator of performance practice, this work is a gift from the gods. The original gods - the muses - where creation takes shape from within the body and the body politic (the necessary “I” and “we” of it). If you imagine you don’t need this book, you especially need this book. The very reading of this text brings the reader’s body into being and we are suddenly prompted to get up and create in response. The best advice: “Start with a question.” This, the first step, in the journey of original work that Paris and Hill invite us to return to with every new day as artists and scholars; and, they have created a compelling cartography of design to guide us along the way. I am deeply grateful for their wisdom.'

Cherrie Moraga, University of California Santa Barbara

'A deep dive into creative practice, Curious Methods makes available a generative range of excellent ideas, prompts, exercises, and inspirations for bringing forth performance as research, as experience, as finely crafted art form, as surprise. Working with this book, whether alone or with others, will help harness the power of the impulsive and open doors marked non-linear to expand the boundaries of creative possibilities in as yet unimagined directions. This is an invitation to your own artistic journey! Pack light. Hill and Paris help you find what you need all along the way.'

Rebecca Schneider, Brown University

'This is an essential resource for both artists and scholars and I can't think of anyone better placed to make this offering than Helen and Leslie and their incurably curious minds.'

Lois Weaver, Artist, Activist, Split Britches

'Curious Methods offers an invaluable resource that brings insights, at once practical and profound, into methods of performance making. The pragmatic wisdom that illumines this book is vital for anyone making creative work, from the beginner amateur to the seasoned professional. The thoughtful and meditative quality of these exercises will enrich not only your creative work, it will also attune you to glimmers of everyday redemption and enable you to cultivate a joyful ethic of practice.'

Jisha Menon, Stanford University

'This inspiring, energizing, and curiosity-inducing collection of exercises, lessons, and prompts will activate performance-based artists at all levels. Whether building a daily creative practice or making a performance, readers of Curious Methods will quickly become participants in Hill and Paris’ generous and generative project.'

Stacy Wolf, Princeton University

'One of the most compelling aspects of the book is Hill and Paris’s offer of “companionship” - encouragement to test out, to dream, to fail spectacularly, to seek out and be receptive to deeply personal discoveries with these generous, vibrant, and compassionate artists.'

Laura Levin, York University, Toronto

'This beautifully executed and crafted book is the ideal companion for anyone working in the field of contemporary performance and theatre-making. This is a very generous offering of a resourceful and inventive toolbox from one of the most prominent performance duos working in Live Art. I can very easily imagine delving into it on a regular basis to feed my practical pedagogy as well as my own creative processes.'

Chloé Déchery, University of Paris 8, France

'What a gorgeously tasty, seductive, and inventive set of invitations to create new performance fill this remarkable book. The "curious methods" of Leslie Hill and Helen Paris help us follow our noses into the myth and memory that live loud in devised work. An invaluable user's manual for being human!'

Tim Miller, solo performer and author of A Body in the O
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