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Founder & Creative Director

Running an applied theatre workshop with participants, 2017.

Nicola Hollinshead

I'm an applied theatre facilitator, theatre director, project manager and activist. I worked for over twenty years as a professional actor, and have over ten years experience facilitating groups with applied theatre and drama practices. I've also worked as a producer in both theatre and independent film, as well as producing large scale creative arts events.

Background & early influences

A working-class woman originally from Liverpool, with a background in professional theatre, my first encounter with theatre was as a member of Liverpool's Everyman Youth Theatre (EYT), with punk theatre director & performance artist Roger Hill. Here we were introduced to a range of innovative practices in community and participatory theatre-making including using improvisation and devising methods to create theatre, performing our shows in the main house. Initial involvement with political theatre with EYT was acting in a devised CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) Street Theatre with giant puppets of bombs and the CND symbol, which we performed in a shopping centre and then in Williamson Square in the city centre. I also worked on Suffer The Children, a devised production based on the Toxteth riots that took place in the city in 1981.

Suffer the Children Poster, Liverpool Everyman Youth Theatre, 1981
Suffer the Children poster, Liverpool Everyman Youth Theatre, 1981.

Early theatrical influences include John McGrath's socialist theatre company 7:84 (7% of the population own 84% of the wealth), having seen their original production of One Big Blow, about the miners strike, at the Everyman in 1981, witnessing first hand how theatre could be used as a platform for social change.

7:84 Theatre's production of One Big Blow, at Liverpool Everyman, 1981.

My first professional production at the Everyman as an actor, was Neil Oram's epic, ten-week long original production of The Warpdirected by the maverick theatre director, Ken Campbell, who revolutionised theatre at the time with his radical and innovative approaches to theatre-making.

The Warp!
Neil Oram's epic odessey The Warp had it's debut at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool in 1980, directed by the radical, maverick theatre director Ken Campbell & which revolutionised theatre-going at the time.

In 1982 I was cast in Alan Bleasedale's award-winning television drama, Boys From the Blackstuffa hard-hitting portrayal of the consequences of unemployment on working-class communities in Liverpool, struggling to survive under Thatcher's Conservative government.

Alan Bleasedale's award-winning drama, Boys From the Blackstuff, 1982.

After studying for a BA Hons at Goldsmiths College, London University in Drama & English and a post-graduate acting course at Arts Educational Drama Schools, I started a career as a professional actor, working for over twenty years in a wide range of theatre including; children's theatre, Theatre In Education, rep, community theatre, devised theatre, London & Edinburgh fringe theatre, smalI, middle and large scale touring, No. 1 touring and one-woman shows.

Seconds Out Theatre Workshop, Liverpool

My work with Seconds Out Theatre Workshop, based at Unity Theatre, involved working for two years as Theatre director and Acting Skills tutor, with over a hundred long-term unemployed participants. The aim of the project was to engage participants with the arts to regain confidence & learn new creative skills with a view to improving the opportunities for re-entering the workplace. One of the productions directed with the group was the award-winning play Road by playwright Jim Cartwright, about a disenfranchised, marginalised community living in a Northern town. The production had a successful short run at the Studio Theatre at Liverpool Playhouse Theatre and a short tour of the North West.


Cast of Road by Jim Cartwright, Seconds Out Theatre Workshop at Unity Theatre, Liverpool, 1990.

Applied Theatre

Alongside my work as an actor, I began training as a drama facilitator, gaining more work experience, initially with young people in drama schools & stage schools such as Pauline Quirke Academy, Dramavision and Jigsaw, then with adult community groups. To consolidate my practical work and theoretical knowledge of the field I took an MA in Applied Theatre at The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, graduating in 2017.

Subsquently as an applied theatre practitioner and drama facilitator, I have worked with a wide range of groups with complex needs including;

  • adults in addiction & recovery
  • women on parole
  • female survivors of domestic abuse
  • male inmates
  • mental health service users
  • adults who have experienced trauma and homelessness
  • dementia residents 

The work has taken place in a variety of settings including community centres, treatment centres, approved premises, prisons and care homes. 


My training has been extensive and includes working with the following leading companies in the field of applied and participatory theatre:

Geese Theatre - The Other Side of the Wall facilitation training for working with offenders and those at risk of offending

Collective Encounters - Creating Political Theatre with Communities/Dementia practitioner training

Cardboard Citizens - Forum Theatre training/Joker training masterclass

Safe Ground - Our Own Stories training for working with women with experience of the Criminal Justice System

Clean Break - Safer Spaces training for working with women with experience of the Criminal Justice System

Spare Tyre - Participatory masterclass for working with people with dementia

Unlock Drama - Working in prisons facilitation training

Tony Cealy- Breaking Barriers

My methodology includes a range of applied theatre practice including improvisation, devising, writing, method acting, physical theatre, verbatim theatre, legislative theatre and forum theatre.

Recoverist Theatre Project 

The original Recoverist Theatre Project  was created during my MA in Applied Theatre at Central in 2017 and run in conjunction with Action on Addiction, based at The Brink in Liverpool, the UK's first 'dry bar' and creative centre, to work alongside adults in recovery. I presented a paper about the project ‘From being in recovery to becoming a recoverist’ at the Recovery and the Arts conference, organised by JMU in Liverpool:  Recovery and the Arts Conference | Liverpool John Moores University (

An updated version of the project was created and run in 2022, engaged over thirty adults in the borough and had excellent feedback and outcomes for the participants - see the blog for six of the project Case Studies.

Recent work

Recent work has been with Leeds University Arts and Humanities Outreach Team on their Skill Up in Theatre and Performance programme and with the award-winning charity Safe Ground on their Our Own Stories programme working with women with experience of the Criminal Justice System. Additionally I worked as Community Participation Officer for twelve months with Reading Rep Theatre on their Engage programme, delivering weekly applied theatre sessions with women on parole, adults in recovery and addiction and dementia residents in the Reading area.

SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE: Dementia project: working with adults with early on-set dementia & their carers

Other work has been with Southwark Playhouse as a co-facilitator with adults with a diagnosis of early onset dementia and their carers. The project was originally a co-production wtih Southwark Playhouse & Arts4Dementia, part of Southwark’s ‘Social Prescribing’ policy and started in January 2020, continuing online with weekly sessions from March 2020.

Southwark Playhouse's new theatre opening late 2021.

You can read about the project here:

Inside the 'fantastic' social prescribing revolutionising London's healthcare (

As of January 2022, after meeting for weekly applied theatre drama sessions both online and off for two years, the project has now come to an end. I'll really miss this lovely bunch. They've done some great work along the way!

Final session after two years with the Southwark Playhouse group, January 2022 


You can read more about my work with the group in Southwark Playhouse's publication on their participation programme here 


A final evaluation report on the project produced by Arts4Dementia - A.R.T.S for Brain Health, Social Prescribing transforming the diagnostic narrative for dementia: From Despair to Desire, can be viewed here

Freelance work - 2022

January - June 2022

I am currently working as a freelance facilitator with Safe Ground on their new six month community programme, Make Your Mark, with women with experience of the criminal justice system, across three London boroughs.

Unlock Drama, May 2022

I have also recently worked again as a co-facilitator with Unlock Drama, delivering a drama based programme around reducing reoffending with male inmates at HMP Leeds. We worked over 4 days with the participants, using applied theatre & drama practice to enhance confidence, agency and team building skills, resulting in the creation of a 20 minute piece of theatre 'Two Peas in a Pad', based on two stories around the issue of re-offending, which was performed to staff and inmates.

Islington People's Theatre projects 2022 - two new projects for the company

2022 marked the official launch of IPT. I project managed a new version of Recoverist Theatre Project throughout April to July. I then co-produced and co-facilitated a new project Sheroes from July to October working with vulnerable women who work with Pause Islington.

You can view testimonials here from various companies that I have worked with as a freelance facilitator including; Southwark Playhouse, Safe Ground, Leeds University, Reading Rep and Unlock Drama:


You can see information on Recoverist Theatre Project on the link below:

Recoverist Theatre Project

For information on other past freelance projects click below:

Past Freelance Projects

Full facilitation work can be seen here & CV can be available on request


Liberal artists work with communities to try to improve an individual’s own life chances and perhaps try to improve aspects of the system; the radical practitioner, on the other hand, understands the wider and deeper political context of the work and seeks ways of working with communities to challenge and change the systems that govern us.

                                             (Cohen-Cruz, J. 2005, p. 91)