Prof. Gilli Bush-Bailey, BA, M.Res, PhD

Job title

Professor Emerita in Women’s Performance History


My first career as an actress began when I was twelve years old. I trained at Arts Educational (London) but left school at fifteen to make the televised film series Here Come the Double Deckers (1970) going on to more work in television and then theatre. My academic training, therefore, started rather later as a mature student at Kingston University in (BA English) where I returned as a part-time lecturer to work with a team founding a new drama degree programme (2000).  My postgraduate degrees were undertaken in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London (MA in Research,1997; PhD, 2000), where I then took up my first full-time lectureship (2001). I taught theatre and performance history, creating undergraduate courses in Restoration Theatre, West End and Commercial Theatre, Melodrama, and Comedy, that revived and revised the stories of women and performance practice from 1660 right up to contemporary stand-up performance. I was Director of Graduate Studies for four years and Head of Department for a further three years, during which I took a leading role in delivering the department’s landmark Caryl Churchill Theatre.

I am interested in looking at the histories of theatre in terms of archeologies of performance: the excavation and uncovering of the methods and forms in which we frame stories about past theatre and performance events. I am particularly interested in the way we tell stories about women as performance practitioners and how such stories are made and told by today’s practitioners. My work as a child actress on British TV is the subject of a chapter in Entertaining Children. The chapter in Women and Comedy and the collection of monologues included in Plays and Performance Texts by Women 1880-1930 further my ongoing research in the cultural politics of women’s performance work on stage and screen. I have new research on writer and comedienne Mabel Constanduros, currently in publication process with Manchester University Press, extending the reach of my work to the pioneering broadcast performers in the first decades of B.B.C. Radio.

I am the Chair of the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA), an honorary life member of the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments (SCUDD), I am a member of the peer review college for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and a member of Equity.

Being at Central enables me to explore and share the value of theatre histories and performance research directly with theatre industry partners. I am the Principal Investigator with a Central research team working in collaboration with Tonic Theatre’s gender equality project, Advance. You can read about the work with theatre companies in 2014 and see more about our work as academic partners with the 2016 cohort of organisations which includes a short video and links to articles authored by the research team.

Research Areas

  • Theatre Histories, commercial theatre and popular performance
  • Women and professional theatre practice from 1660
  • The one-woman show and contemporary stand-up comedy

PHD Supervision

I have supervised students working in eighteenth-century drama; nineteenth century popular theatre; cross-Atlantic performance and cultural exchange; late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Gaiety girls as ‘new’ women. I am currently supervising students working on private collections and the public archive; actor training for the musical theatre performer.

Key Publications

2014. ‘Shifting Scenes: The Child Performer and Her Audience Revisited in the Digital Age’, in Entertaining Children edited by Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 111-127

2013, ‘The Gerbini Letters; or a Tale of Two Mothers’, in Stage Mothers, edited by Laura Engel and Elaine McGirr (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press), pp. 233-249

2013. ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds Her’, Women and Comedy, edited by Peter Dickinson (Madison, Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson University Press), pp. 133-144

2012. ‘Re: Enactment’, in the Cambridge Companion to Theatre History edited by David Wiles and Chris Dymkowski (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 281-298

2012. ‘Women Like Us’ (special edition) Comedy Studies, 3.2. pp. 151-159

2012. Plays and Performance Texts by British and American Women from the Modernist Period 1880-1930, edited by Maggie B. Gale and Gilli Bush-Bailey (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

2011. Performing Herself: AutoBiography & Fanny Kelly’s Dramatic Recollections. (Manchester: Manchester University Press).  

2006. Treading the Bawds (Manchester: Manchester University Press).


I have given many public talks about women and theatre including specific talks on Restoration actresses and playwrights Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre. I have also been invited to lead practice research workshops on nineteenth-century melodrama in Boulder Colorado, London Ontario, Santa Cruz and at King’s College London. My book about actress/manager Frances Maria Kelly includes a previously unpublished text of her 1832 one-woman show Dramatic Recollections. I have given auto/biographical performance lectures in Cardiff, Utrecht, Manchester, Vancouver and most recently at Chawton House Library juxtaposing Kelly’s stories of being a child performer on stage with my own re-membered experiences of being a child performer on television in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

Register of Interest

Nothing to declare.