Performance Design MA

Year of entry

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Start date
September 2024
Delivery type
On campus
12 months full time
24 months part time
Entry requirements
A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) in a relevant subject.
Full entry requirements
English language requirements
IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component
UK fees
£11,500 (Total)
International fees
£24,500 (Total)

Course overview

performance with lighting

The MA Performance Design course explores scenography and performance-making from various perspectives informed by current research and innovative practices including immersive and participatory forms of performance design, design-led performance, audience experience and contemporary spectatorship.

On this course, you will experiment with the creative application of design elements, including light, space, sound and costume discovering how to shape live performance and generate meaning for contemporary audiences. 

This course allows you to extend your own creative practice through developing an understanding of the theories and concepts of scenography and designing for live performance.

You’ll use our specialist facilities to explore the performance experiences that can be created with light, space, objects, costume, sound, projection and digital technologies like pervasive media and mixed reality, creating original performance work that is design-led.  

You’ll work collaboratively to create dynamic cutting-edge work and you’ll develop skills in documentation and reflection so that you can develop your individual creative practice. 

You’ll devise and carry out an independent research project into an aspect of performance design that interests you. You’ll also examine contemporary performance practices, from immersive and participatory experiences to site-specific work staged outside of traditional theatre spaces and locate these within their wider social and cultural contexts. 

Additional highlights

Leeds has a thriving cultural scene, and is home to contemporary performance events like Light Night, Compass Festival and Transform Festival. Our industry connections allow you to work closely with local organisations such as Leeds Playhouse, Opera North, IOU and innovative artists in the field of performance design. Recently, students have worked with; Imitating the Dog, ZU-UK, Quarantine, Louise Ann Wilson, David Shearing, Julie Rose Bower, Freddie Wulf, Lucy Thornett, Rosie Elnile, Max Johns and Naomi Kuyck-Cohen  

Explore some of the projects our students work on during their degrees on our gallery of student work.

The staff on this course are at the forefront of the study of scenography, especially at postgraduate levels (Masters and PhD). They have researched and published on how scenography makes a distinct contribution to performance both on and off the stage. Their books such as The Cambridge Introduction to Scenography (2009), Light (2013), and Scenography Expanded (2017) are used widely by educators, researchers and creative professionals around the world.  

Read the course staff profiles: 

Professor Joslin McKinney, Professor of Scenography 
Dr Scott Palmer, Associate Professor in Performance Design
Dr Yaron Shyldkrot, Lecturer in Scenography and Design-led Performance

Specialist facilities

Our School is based in stage@leeds, a purpose-built landmark building that sits at the heart of campus. As our student, you’ll have access to its two professional standard, publicly licensed theatres: the main space seats 180 and is equipped with the latest technologies, and the theatre studio provides a technically advanced performance research facility.

stage@leeds hosts a range of work by students and visiting theatre companies all year round. Within the building you’ll also find rehearsal rooms, two black-box studios, costume construction and wardrobe stores, a design studio, a scenic workshop, computer aided design facilities and video-editing and sound recording.

Take a tour of our School

Join current student, Eva, on a tour of our building and its specialist facilities to get a feel for life as a student in the School

In addition to stage@Leeds, Leeds University Library is one of the UK’s major academic research libraries, and has extensive holdings to support your studies including Special Collections offering a huge range of rare books, manuscripts and art. You’ll have access to materials relating to Red Ladder, Leeds Playhouse, Phoenix Dance Theatre, and more.

Course details

You’ll study compulsory modules designed to advance your practical and creative skills, as well as giving you a solid base of theoretical knowledge and high level research skills. You will gain a sophisticated understanding of concepts and practices informed by knowledge at the forefront of the discipline of Performance Design and you will use this understanding to further your own creative practice, working collaboratively and individually. You will develop skills in reflection on and the critical evaluation of your own work and that of others, as well as skills in research to devise and carry out your own research project in an area of your choice. 

You will also choose one module from a range of options, giving you the ability to tailor your studies to suit your individual interests and career ambitions. 

Depending on your optional module choice, you’ll have the chance to develop your creative practice, collaborate with your fellow students on other postgraduate programmes or deepen your understanding of contemporary arts experiences, practices and audiences. 

If you choose to study part-time, you’ll study fewer modules in each year. 

The list shown below represents typical modules/components studied and may change from time to time. Read more in our terms and conditions.

Most courses consist of compulsory and optional modules. There may be some optional modules omitted below. This is because they are currently being refreshed to make sure students have the best possible experience. Before you enter each year, full details of all modules for that year will be provided.

For more information and a list of typical modules available on this course, please read MA Performance Design in the course catalogue.

Compulsory modules

Critical Concepts in Performance Design 30 credits
This module examines the critical concepts and theories which have informed recent developments in performance design practice. Beginning with the rise of scenography through the 20th century, we will consider how forms of performance design, in the theatre and beyond, manifest themselves in the 21st century. Topics covered include; Postdramatic performance, Audience experience and spectatorship, Ethics of Performance Design, Virtual and Augmented Scenography and site-specific performance.

Performance Design Praxis 60 credits
On this studio-based/practical module, you will experiment with a range of scenographic materials and approaches to develop their performance-design skills and advance their creative practice as scenographers, designers and makers of performance. Alongside tutor-led practical workshops and self-directed work in specialist theatre studios, you will reflect on the development of your own practice and evaluate it in relation to contemporary performance practices and wider issues in the field of performance design. As part of this module, you will stage and present design-led work for public audiences.   

Independent Research Project (MA) 60 credits
This module provides you with the theoretical and methodological knowledge that will enable you to carry out an independent piece of research. You will develop a theoretical or practice-led project with support from an academic supervisor and others.

Optional modules - chose 30 credits

Engaging the Modern City: The Civic Researcher 30 credits
Taking this innovative module, you will work in interdisciplinary research groups on project themes set by regional organisations, drawing on current debates, controversies and needs.

Liaising with the external organisations throughout the year, you will produce external-facing and research-led outputs that will benefit the partner organisation and the wider city of Leeds. 

Creative Work 30 credits
Creative Work provides an opportunity to explore and increase understanding about the labour market in the cultural industries. This is done through a combination of case studies, theoretical discussion and primary research.

Performance and Collaborative Enterprise 30 credits
The module offers opportunity for students from across the MA programmes in PCI to share their diverse interests and skills through engagement in a collaborative venture. The intention is to create a series of negotiated interventions, performances and/or projects that either respond to a commission or are initiated and pitched as a response to the particular interests identified by the module participants. The module is intended to be multi-disciplinary, collaborative and informed by an ethos of performance praxis.

Audience, Engagement and Impact 30 credits
This interdisciplinary module studies how artists and arts organisations can design meaningful and memorable audience experiences and how, in turn, these can be evaluated in terms of strategic and cultural value. You will critically investigate a range of audience engagement strategies and explore different methods of capturing and evaluating the impact that the arts can have on audiences, whether live or digitally and whether locally or globally.

Arts and Activism 30 credits
This module explores the relationship between arts, activism and politics from the cultural practitioner’s perspective. We will explore the main theories on the relationship between arts and politics and why they are relevant for artistic and cultural work. By finding connections between global activist movements and the artistic sphere, you will have the opportunity to learn about how politics and social issues shape the cultural landscape and to reflect on your own position as future arts professionals

Popular Performance 30 credits
This module explores popular performance on stage and small screen, mapping individual areas (stand-up comedy, drag, dance, sketches, satire, circus acts, etc.) against the broader sweep of long 20th century cultural change. It utilises a set of theoretical frameworks and historiographical approaches to critique production and consumption in a variety of national and international contexts. Central to the enquiry will be the demise of popular theatre and the emergence of television as a dominant force in entertainment. The module will consider how, during the period of transition and beyond, live ‘musical hall’ re-invented itself as small screen ‘variety’.

Sustainable Development in Arts and Culture 30 credits
The purpose of this module is to give a new generation of leaders and policy makers in the creative and cultural industries the necessary tools to take informed decisions and develop sustainable practices in their work. In order to do so, the module discusses international contributions in the field of sustainable development, taking into account both theoretical perspectives and real-life case studies.

Digital and Intermedial Storytelling 30 credits
This module encourages you to engage critically and practically with the ways in which digital technologies and new media are being used to develop, interrupt and question the conventions of storytelling, narrative aesthetics and audience engagement. The module provides practical, interdisciplinary opportunities for you to explore the creative implications of digital technologies and new media within your individual creative practice. The module is split into two parts: In the first part of the module, you will examine case-studies from the fields of vlogging, podcasting, intermedial performance and gaming in order to explore how the emergent modes of engagement and reception associated with these forms transform and reframe the act of telling stories. In the second part, you will explore the use of digital technologies and new media within your own creative practice – defining, developing and realising projects that explore storytelling and narrative in the context of one of the following fields: podcasting, vlogging, gaming or intermedial performance. You can work individually or collaboratively as part of a small group.

Arts Based Practices in Health and Wellbeing 30 credits
This module provides you with a critical and practical understanding of how your artistic practice might be applied in health and wellbeing contexts. During the module you will learn how arts practices and cultural participation have responded to and informed strategic public health priorities. You will also develop skills for facilitating and evaluating the use of arts-based practices in health and wellbeing contexts. The module allows students to draw on experience and knowledge from a variety of fields, including (but not limited to): drama, dance, scenography, music, writing and storytelling.

The Costumed Body 30 credits
The Costumed Body will explore the performative and political qualities of costume. Firstly, the module will focus on the body in the costume. How do we experience the idea of costume? This mode of thinking will include both the materiality of the costume – its fabric, texture and shape – and the embodied interaction with the costume – its movement, weight, smell and sensuality. Secondly the module will focus on the triangulation between the body, the costume and the spectator. What is the relationship between spectatorship and the costumed body? This mode of thinking will focus on the politics of looking and being-looked-at in relation to both the dressed and undressed body. This part of the module will take an intersectional approach to spectatorship, thinking about the theatrical costumed body and notions of the ‘Other’. The third mode of thinking will focus on the transformative qualities of the costume body within broader social and political space. How does costume operate within an expanded field? This mode of thinking will encompass subcultural dressing up and role play, for instance, Cosplay; gender and sexual identity, for instance, drag and burlesque; as well as the spectacle of the costumed body in protest, both on the street and via digital platforms.

Learning and teaching

We use a range of different teaching and learning methods to help you develop your skills.  

There will be weekly practical sessions in our specialist theatre spaces. Some of the practical sessions are led by staff and/or visiting artists and researchers. For some of the sessions you will be working independently in a self-directed capacity. We’ll encourage you to take creative risks and push the boundaries of what design can do. We’ll support you in documenting and reflecting on your work so that you can develop depth and quality in your creative work. Throughout practical sessions, you’ll be supported by specialist theatre technicians.  

We use lectures to present some of the key concepts and practices in contemporary performance design practice and research. In seminars, you will learn in small groups and take an active role in discussion and critical evaluation of ideas. You’ll usually be asked to prepare for seminars by reading and viewing material. Reading widely and critically and developing your own opinions through essays and presentations and proposals is an important part of your learning and in addition to the module sessions, students can benefit from working with staff to develop their academic skills; if you returning to study after a period of work or you are studying for the first time in the UK this can be especially helpful. 

In several modules, we’ll also use 1:1 tutorials so that we can focus exclusively on your work and your needs. This is especially useful as part of the Independent Research Project. 

Teaching on the course is predominantly through face-to-face activity, but we use a virtual learning environment to support and extend face-to-face learning. 

On this course you’ll be taught by our expert academics, from lecturers through to professors. You may also be taught by industry professionals with years of experience, as well as trained postgraduate researchers, connecting you to some of the brightest minds on campus.


The assessment methods you experience will vary depending on the particular module. To allow you to develop skills in a range of areas assessment methods will include essays, performances, visual documentation, verbal presentations and critical evaluations.

The assessments are devised to take account of the future careers of our students, for example, Critical Concepts in Performance Design culminates in a visual and verbal presentation that is modelled on a postgraduate research conference and Performance Design Praxis includes public performance alongside documentation, reflection and presentation on your development as a practitioner.

All assessments at Masters level will ask you to develop your own ideas through critically engaging with and evaluating contemporary debates and practices in the field.  

We’ll let you know at the start of each module, what you need to produce for assessment, how the work will be marked and how we will ensure fair and transparent processes of marking. 


Entry requirements

A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons).

Applications from a wide range of subject areas are considered, including:

  • Theatre
  • Dance
  • Architecture
  • Live art
  • Design and Technology
  • Arts and Humanities

Applicants may have industry experience of theatre or film set design and production, directing, costume-making, technical theatre, lighting, sound design, projection and digital design, art direction or working in associated areas of the creative and cultural industries.

Applicants without a degree may also be considered, if they can demonstrate significant relevant industry experience.


Our admissions team are experienced in considering a wide range of international qualifications. If you wish to discuss whether your qualifications will meet the necessary entry criteria, contact the School’s admissions team.

You can also check the accepted qualifications for your country or region.

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component. For other English qualifications, read English language equivalent qualifications.

Improve your English

International students who do not meet the English language requirements for this programme may be able to study our postgraduate pre-sessional English course, to help improve your English language level.

This pre-sessional course is designed with a progression route to your degree programme and you’ll learn academic English in the context of your subject area. To find out more, read Language for Arts and Humanities (6 weeks) and Language for Social Science and Arts: Arts and Humanities (10 weeks).

We also offer online pre-sessionals alongside our on-campus pre-sessionals. Find out more about our six week online pre-sessional.

You can also study pre-sessionals for longer periods – read about our postgraduate pre-sessional English courses.

How to apply

​​​​​​Please see our How to Apply page for information about application deadlines.

The ‘Apply’ link at the top of this page takes you to information on applying for taught programmes and to the University's online application system.

If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help.

Documents and information you'll need

To support your application, you’ll need to provide digital documentation of your previous creative practice. This could include designs and realisations for live performance, or it could be designs that indicate your potential to develop ideas for live performance or it could be evidence of live performance that shows a clear interest in the innovative use of design.

You can send us still images or short video clips, but we recommend using formats such as .pdf or .ppt so they can be easily viewed and shared. Files below 10MB can be emailed directly to the admissions team, or larger files can be shared via Dropbox or WeTransfer. Whatever you choose to send, please provide a short explanation of your work. We’ll want to discuss your work when we interview you.

  • A copy of your degree certificate and transcripts, or partial transcripts if you're still studying (please submit an official English translation if necessary)

  • Evidence of your English language qualifications, if English is not your first language

  • A full up-to-date CV.

A personal statement in response to the questions asked in the supporting statement section of the application form. Please respond to the questions in the application form. These are:

  • What is it about the Masters in Performance Design at the University of Leeds that attracts you? (Be specific about the aims and the content of the Performance Design programme and the compulsory modules and how that matches your interests and aspirations)

  • What are the skills and experiences that you bring with you that will prepare you for the Performance Design compulsory modules?

  • What work have you seen that make innovative use of performance design? Give specific examples, say what interests you particularly about the examples and how that relates to your own aspirations.

  • How do you intend to apply understanding about performance design after you have completed the programme?

Next steps

We pay particular attention to your personal statement and your portfolio when we are deciding on the offer of a place. In some cases we will interview as well - in person or online.

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures receives very large numbers of high-quality applications and regrets that it cannot make offers to all of its applicants. Some particularly popular schools may have to reject many that hold the necessary academic qualifications.

Read about visas, immigration and other information in International students. We recommend that international students apply as early as possible to ensure that they have time to apply for their visa.

Admissions policy

University of Leeds Admissions Policy 2025

This course is taught by

School of Performance and Cultural Industries

Contact us

Postgraduate Admissions



UK: £11,500 (Total)

International: £24,500 (Total)

For fees information for international taught postgraduate students, read Masters fees.

Read more about paying fees and charges.

Part-time fees
Fees for part-time courses are normally calculated based on the number of credits you study in a year compared to the equivalent full-time course. For example, if you study half the course credits in a year, you will pay half the full-time course fees for that year.

Additional cost information

There may be additional costs related to your course or programme of study, or related to being a student at the University of Leeds. Read more on our living costs and budgeting page.

Scholarships and financial support

If you have the talent and drive, we want you to be able to study with us, whatever your financial circumstances. There may be help for students in the form of loans and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.  Find out more at Masters funding overview.

You may also be eligible to apply for a scholarship to help support your studies.

Career opportunities

This course will give you the knowledge and skills to become an articulate and creative performance design practitioner. This could include; working as a designer or director in theatre, live performance, festivals or the events industry (either within a company or freelance), creating your own performance events or performance company, or working in community arts. Increasingly the importance of ‘worldmaking’ and designing for audience experience is valued in areas including; museums and the heritage industry contexts, commercial and tourism experiences, gaming and XR. 

You’ll also gain a range of transferable skills in research, analysis, interpretation and communication, as well as imagination, independence and cultural awareness. This will equip you to work for a variety of roles across the cultural and creative industries, for example, in administration, marketing and management. 

There is also a wide variety of careers and employability support available across the University to help you with your career.

Because of the emphasis on research, this course is also good preparation for PhD-level study and teaching.

Reach your potential

Hear more about the School and Faculty support you can access from our employability lead, Professor Karen Burland.

Careers support

We encourage you to prepare for your career from day one. That’s one of the reasons Leeds graduates are so sought after by employers.

The Careers Centre and staff in your faculty provide a range of help and advice to help you plan your career and make well-informed decisions along the way, even after you graduate. Find out more about Careers support.

Student profile: Karen Stansfield

The University of Leeds has a vibrant, positive community, filled with a diverse range of people in one of the best cities in Britain.
Find out more about Karen Stansfield's time at Leeds