Dr Emma Creagh Ruth Willis

PhD, University of Auckland

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Senior Lecturer


  • Senior Lecturer in Drama

Research | Current

  • Contemporary theatre and performance studies
  • Theatre and ethics
  • Spectatorship
  • Tourism and memorial studies
  • Dance theatre
  • Dramaturgy
  • Theatre and performance of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Feminist performance

My research lies at the intersection of contemporary performance and dramaturgy, spectatorship and ethics, encompasses creative and scholarly practices and is interdisciplinary in character. Broadly, I investigate the roles that theatre and theatricality play in our negotiations of subjectivity, community and responsibility in contemporary life. 

Ethics is a strong theme in my scholarly research.  My 2014 monograph, Theatricality, Dark Tourism and Ethical Spectatorship: Absent Others, was an interdisciplinary study of theatrical performances and tourist sites that examined how we attend to the sufferings of others through performative practices.  Across a range of examples, I considered how theatricality enables us to 'hear' the voices of the past in ways that call us to account in the present.  Subsequent journal publications (Theatre Journal, Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, Australasian Drama Studies, Performance Research) have continued my research into the ethical dimensions of performance.  I am particularly interested in performances that engage with violence and trauma. 

I am currently the principal investigator for a collaborative interdisciplinary project entitled Agencies of Kindness, which responds to the currency that the concept of kindness has in the contemporary political environment.  We are especially focused on the particularities of the Aotearoa context, and in the power of concepts such as manaakitanga and atawhai as points of social orientation and commitment. The research asks how kindness might promote social transformation at both the individual and institutional level, and in how networks of kindness might build resilience. 

Additional to my interest in ethics, my scholarly research engages with the interface between theatre and the community.  I have published writing on the role of the creative arts in responding to the Christchurch earthquakes (Australasian Drama Studies, Ekfrase: Nordic Journal of Visual Culture); the civic role of arts festivals (Illusions); a community performance project made in response to New Zealand public service job cuts (Letting Space); and have theorized how performance is capable of providing models of community (Text and Performance Quarterly).

Theatre and performance in Aotearoa New Zealand is an important component of my research profile.  I have written articles on specific theatrical productions and performance art works as well as New Zealand theatre historiography (Australasian Drama Studies, Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics).  I am currently working on an article that applies a performance studies lens to analyse public and political responses to the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch.

I have a background in devised theatre practices and a strong interest in contemporary dance, particularly dance-theatre, and dramaturgy for dance.  I am an artistic associate of Movement of the Human and have collaborated with New Zealand choreographer Malia Johnston since 2007 as a dramaturge for productions Dark Tourists (2007-8), body / fight / time (2011), Amanimal (2013), and Meremere (2016-19).  I have published written reflections on my works with Johnston (in Theatricality, Dark Tourism and Ethical Spectatorship, Testimony Between History and Memory) as well as written on the work of Jerome Bel and Erika Vogt (Text and Performance Quarterly).  I am currently co-supervising two PhD projects in Dance at the University of Auckland.

Feminist concerns span my research.  In 2018 I published an article on the subject of acting methodologies, gender and power (Theatre Research International) and in 2019 I am coediting a special issue of Performance Paradigm on “Southern Feminisms.”

Teaching | Current

DRAMA 100: Taking the Stage: Performance and Presentation Skills

DRAMA 302: Performance Skills

DRAMA 718: Playwriting

Postgraduate supervision

Currently supervising candidates across Drama and Dance, both scholarly theses and PhDs with Creative Practice.


Postgraduate advisor for Drama

Areas of expertise

Drama, theatre, dancetheatre

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Willis, E. C., Pearson, J. S., & Wake, C. (2020). Editorial: Performing Southern Feminisms. Performance Paradigm, 15, 1-6.
  • Willis, E. (2020). No Exit: Performance Failure in the Global Mall. Global Performance Studies, 3 (2).10.33303/gpsv3n2a4
  • Willis, E. (2019). Balancing Acts (Meta)theatricality and violence. Performance Research, 24 (4), 20-27. 10.1080/13528165.2019.1641319
  • Willis, E. (2019). On the Grounds of… Performing the civic body in Aotearoa New Zealand. Paper presented at Performance Studies International 25 Elasticity, Alberta, Canada. 4 July - 7 July 2019.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/52724
  • Willis, E. (2019). Artistic Ecologies in Neoliberal Times. Paper presented at ADSA 2019: Festivals and Performance, University of Tasmania, Australa. 25 June - 28 June 2019.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/52780
  • Willis, E. C. (2019). Staging Trauma: Bodies in Shadow by Miriam Haughton [Book Reviews]. Irish University Review, 49 (1), 195-198. 10.3366/iur.2019.0392
  • Willis, E. (2019). Staging the ethical transaction: metatheatricality as a device for scrutinizing theatre’s ethical obligations. Paper presented at MLA Convention 2019, Chicago, USA. 3 January - 6 January 2019.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/52723
  • Willis, E. C. (2019). ‘It’s just not right’ : Performing homelessness in Kalisolaite ‘Uhila’s Mo’ui tukuhausia. In P. Eckersall, H. Grehan (Eds.) The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics (pp. 143-146). London: Routledge. 10.4324/9780203731055

Contact details

Primary office location

ARTS 1 - Bldg 206
Level 6, Room 639
New Zealand