Rob Jordan Prize

The Rob Jordan Prize is awarded to the best book on a subject related to drama or theatre studies by an ADSA member, published in the two years preceding the award. ADSA members may nominate themselves or another ADSA member for this award. At present the prize is awarded in even-numbered years (viz: 2020, 2022 etc.) and is valued at $500.

To be eligible, the book must be published in either of the two years prior to the award of the prize (i.e. for the 2024 prize, judges will accept the nomination of books published in 2022 or 2023). Each nomination should include three copies of the book being nominated and a brief statement about the book’s importance (alternatively, for ebooks, an electronic copy or access via link can be submitted). Nominations should be received by the deadline in the year in which the prize is to be awarded.


To be eligible, the author must have been a member of ADSA in the year in which the book was published and the year of the award. In the case of jointly-authored books, at least one author should be a member of ADSA as stipulated (in this case, the prize money will be awarded to the financial member). Authors cannot win the prize consecutively. This award is for sole or co-authored monographs; edited collections are instead eligible for the Joanne Tompkins Prize.

Deadline: TBC

Rob Jordan

Rob Jordan was an Emeritus Professor of the University of New South Wales, where he was the Professor of Theatre Studies for about twenty years. Shortly before his retirement he became interested in convict theatre in New South Wales and in 2002 published Convict Theatres of Early Australia 1788-1840. In his retirement he kept his hand in writing articles on early Australian theatre.

2022 Winner

Jonathan Bollen, Touring Variety in the AsiaPacific Region, 1946-1975

This is in every sense a dynamic study, focusing as it does on the movements and intersections of performing groups as they tour the venues of the Asia-Pacific Region in the post-war era. It is a highly original approach, enabling new forms of insight into traditions and genres of variety performance, and bringing a wide range of examples into a flexible framework of analysis. 

Bollen’s narrative provides both a counterpart and complement to more traditional research on Australasian theatre history of this time, by tracking movements in time and space through performance hubs where rich forms of cross-fertilisation occurred. His focus on Asian performance troupes travelling in and through Australia is a terrific addition to the foundations of what makes Australian performance, again a direction/approach not often discussed. The book emerges from extensive, meticulous research: the author notes at its opening that the research process was itself an iteration of international mobility and flow, based on almost two decades of thinking, travelling, and reflection. This deeply admirable commitment to slow scholarship set Jonathan Bollen’s work apart in this year’s field of entrants.

2022 Honourable mention
Xiaohuan Zhao, Chinese Theatre: an illustrated history through Nuoxi and Mulianxi

This two-volume collection, the first analysis of its kind, provides an extensive history of two forms of Chinese theatre known collectively as Chinese temple theatre: Nuoxi and Mulianxi. Zhao notes that “Chinese temple theatre represented by Nuoxi and Mulianxi serves as a turning pivot on which various forms of xiju and xiqu have evolved, revolved, resolved, dissolved and revived. It is no exaggeration to say that the history of Chinese temple theatre is a history of Chinese theatre.” In describing these two early forms, the book traverses north and south; court theatre and mass performance; and a wide range of religious practices. 
The scale of these two volumes is remarkable: it is an incredible archival work that lays out the history of a form over not decades but more than one thousand years. The reconstruction of the history of this form is less predicated on a print-based history and more on the drawing together of examples and vestiges of performance depicted in these other media. It draws on many different types of resources, including art, sculpture, and porcelain figures, with more theatrical images incorporated as the book moves forward in time. It challenges us to think about what academic work can do and the claims that we can make about theatre history.

Past Recipients

2020 Winner: Zachary Dunbar and Stephe Harrop, Greek Tragedy and the Contemporary Actor (Springer)
This book presents a fresh and distinctive perspective on training the contemporary actor in interpreting Greek tragedy for performance. The book is beautifully structured, guiding the reader through a wealth of historical and contemporary theory through lucidly argued analysis, focused on staging aimed at performers, students and directors. The book features cogent critical perspectives, engaging with the difficulties of connecting works of the distant past with the lives of modern audiences.  This builds upon the work of Oliver Taplin and others in emphasizing the performative dimensions of Greek tragedy. The argument is effectively contextualised with summaries and critical responses to the aesthetics of Greek tragedy and contemporary acting theories. The authors produce a valid critique of realist acting approaches to performing Greek tragedy, including a valuable comparative revisionist reading of Aristotle and Stanislavski. The elegant prose includes some vivid thick descriptions of contemporary productions of Greek tragedy. The argument is sophisticated and well informed and the purpose to act as a resource for contemporary practitioners is admirably served.

2020 Highly Commended: Fiona Gregory, for Actresses and Mental Illness: Histrionic Heroines (Routledge)
This book is highly relevant to contemporary debates about mental health and acting. The contrasting actress case studies represent a good range across stage and screen and different eras of performance. The author provides new insights into the impact of gender of readings of mental illness, and on the relationship between performance and mental health more broadly. The book is astutely researched, so as to present new perspectives on how mental illness is seen in particular cultural frameworks, and how this interacts with the dramatic expectations to which the actresses are responding.

2020 Highly Commended: Caroline Heim, Actors and Audiences: Conversations in the Electric Air (Routledge)
This is rigorously planned research where author breaks new ground in studying the emotional electricity between actors and audiences in performance. The book genuinely respects and values the experiences of the actor, and gives theoretical insights gleaned from a valuable collection of focussed actor interviews that took some initiative to obtain. The emphasis on audience interviews and reactions is equally valuable. The study focuses on productions of conceptual significance and wide appeal, situating the interviews in a thematic framework of ideas on presence and energetics.

2018 Joint Winners

  • David O’Donnell and Lisa Warrington, Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa (Otago University Press)
  • William Peterson, Places for Happiness. Community, Self and Performance in the Philippines (University of Hawai’i Press)

David O’Donnell and Lisa Warrington, Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa

Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa by Lisa Warrington and David O’Donnell, through its celebration of 30 years of Pasifika theatre in Aotearoa/New Zealand, contributes an important intervention in the field. Drawing on interviews with more than thirty theatre practitioners enriched by their own experience of this vibrant theatre, the authors document an extensive sampling of opinions, philosophies and memories, discuss key individuals, the history of major theatre companies and analyse texts and productions. Floating Islanders emphasizes the flexibility, fluidity, openness and interdisciplinarity of Pasifika theatre practitioners and companies. Offering an in-depth consideration of what is distinctive about Pasifika theatre as they explore its transition from the fringe to the mainstream, this book offers a valuable resource about often overlooked practices and practitioners, not only providing a detailed history of practice but also a strong sense of the social and political context of the work.

William Peterson, Places for Happiness. Community, Self and Performance in the Philippines

Will Peterson’s Places for Happiness: Community, Self and Performance in the Philippines is the outcome of ten years’ work. His wide-ranging explorations cover festivals, rituals and performances, from the passion plays of holy week to street dances and political dramas. As his title signals, his theme is happiness. He seeks out happiness in physical and cultural locations, but also “inside the human organism.” There is an anthropologist’s observational discipline here, and a sophisticated theoretical framework. Always, though, the experiential dimension is uppermost, and Peterson brings a wonderful immediacy to his account. Perhaps this is best illustrated in his own description of being amongst the crowd following the stations of the cross: 
As I dashed blindly through the dark narrow streets and alleyways of the Manila city of San Juan, risking falling into open holes of crumbling concrete while keeping up with Christ as he was pursued by Roman soldiers, I felt fearless, superhuman, almost floating outside my own body while being connected physically to the pack of men and boys running with me. At one point we ran through a long, pitch-black tunnel under a road as the shouts of the soldiers and runners bounced sharply off the walls, it felt as if time had stopped, that we would be trapped in this state of hyperawareness and extreme sensory overload forever. 

There’s an old adage that the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, but the best books come from out there in the rough and tumble of wider worlds.

2018 Highly Commended - Julian Meyrick, Australian Theatre After the New Wave: Policy, Subsidy and the Alternative Artist (Brill Rodopi)

As we would expect from Julian, this book is beautifully written with great verve and elan. It charts the history of three significant Australian theatre companies – Paris Theatre, Hunter Valley Theatre and Anthill Theatre – and it also brings “practice and policy”, the artist and the State, into productive conversation, charting the relationships between government policy and funding, and the artists and companies who were on the receiving end of this. Julian’s great ability to interpret and analyse, and further, to make company minutes, policy and statistics not only palatable but indeed fascinating for the reader, is demonstrated here. This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of post-New Wave theatre, the theatre landscape in Australia today, and the problems besetting it.

2016 Winner: Diana LooserRemaking Pacific Pasts: History, Memory and Identity in Contemporary Theater from Oceania Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press 2014.

This is a sophisticated and ground-breaking study. Diana Looser's account of the ways in which  postcolonial history is being remade through playwriting and theatre production across 'Oceania' is both extensive in scope and exemplary in its attention to the contribution local cultural traditions and events have made to performance outcomes in each of her case study locations.

Looser defines a new geopolitical study arena, framing Oceania as stretching 'from Hawai'i... to Aotearoa/New Zealand in the south and from Palau ... to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east' (4). In doing so, she identifies a substantial and dynamic body of dramatic and performative work in the Pacific that has not until now been as comprehensively analysed and assessed. Looser calls on a configuration of sources including Pacific literature, postcolonial theory and accounts of pre and postcolonial performance from scholars such as Christopher Balme, to reposition the local history play as part of the wider conversation negotiating 'multiple diasporic, indigenous and settler identities' (241). Crucial aspects of colonial histories are analysed through examples carefully chosen for their resonance and significance to the development of theatre practice.

Her close readings of plays and performances, in a vast geographic region marked by great diversity of cultures and political frameworks, is engaging and absorbing, striking a fine balance between contextualisation, theory, thematic discussion, and performative analysis. Her decision to include at least one French-language play acknowledges the mixed linguistic heritage of colonialism in the Pacific; the discussion of the relationship between Francophone and Anglophone performance is particularly innovative. Looser's study may well prove to be foundational in its articulation of themes, positions and problems of long term importance for theatre scholars and practitioners, and for the cultural, economic and political future of the region.

2016 Runner Up

  • Emma Willis, Theatricality, Dark Tourism and Ethical Spectatorship: Absent Others US and UK: Palgrave Macmillan 2014.

2014 Joint Winners

Gay McAuley, Not Magic but Work

Through her program initiatives at the University of Sydney and in successive publications over more than three decades, Gay McAuley has consistently advanced Australian and international scholarship in Theatre and Performance studies. This includes leading a significant shift from the use of theatre semiotics as her preferred means of performance analysis to proposing and leading the extensive engagement with an ethnographic approach to the study of rehearsal interaction that now marks her own research, as well as many of the research endeavours of colleagues at her home institution and elsewhere.

Not Magic but Work offers fascinating insights into the work process of a particular group of leading Australian professional theatre artists at a specific point in time. It also engages with debates in the field, articulates connections with recent developments in other research disciplines and contexts, and points out avenues for further enquiry. The approach is classically ethnographic, the result of dedicated immersion in a cultural process in all its richness and variety to produce both ‘thick description’ and critical theoretical reflections. Seamlessly interweaving detailed observation, theoretical insight and personal passion, McAuley provides us with her extended reflections as the solitary ‘outside’ participant observer of a single rehearsal process, in this case for the premiere production at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre of a new Australian play, Michael Gow’s Toy Symphony directed by Neil Armfield.

Present for all sessions during the formal rehearsal process, most production meetings and several performances during the theatre season, McAuley’s engaged and illuminating account of the ‘hidden world’ of the rehearsal process takes up the bulk of Part I. In an introductory chapter ‘Writing about rehearsal: some preliminary observations’ and in the four connected essays that make up Part II, she teases out general and particular issues in the theorisation of rehearsal interaction and in observational method, drawing on recent developments in ethnography as well as demonstrating her deep knowledge of contemporary and classical theatre and performance theory, to the literature of which she has herself made a significant contribution. The last of these essays, ‘Rehearsal and interaction ritual’, reconnects Rehearsal Studies with contemporary ethnography and social theory to suggest ways in which lessons drawn from rehearsal interaction as a model of group creativity, might be applied in broader institutional contexts.

This is a book that sets a particular benchmark in its clarity of expression. While deeply scholarly, it is also immensely readable and should appeal to a range of non-specialist readers.

Maryrose Casey, Telling Stories

This volume continues Maryrose Casey’s focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performance, following on from her groundbreaking work in Creating Frames (2004). Telling Stories offers a re-positioning of the indigenous dramatic contribution by placing it more decisively in the context of a long tradition of indigenous performance for entertainment.

Deliberately eschewing conventional Western notions of periodicity, linearity, and the separation induced by artificially imposed boundaries between art forms, in Telling Stories Casey takes issue with the conclusions of many previous studies and with the approaches taken to date by those operating within scholarly and social disciplines that, she argues, distort the lived cultural experience of Indigenous Australians. Casey creatively brings together a range of sources including archival material, performance description and interviews with contemporary practitioners to open up a window of understanding for the reader into the cultural continuities of Indigenous approaches to storytelling and to performance, including both contemporary performance-making and what she defines as ‘traditional and historical performance’ using the present as a springboard to the colonial period and back again.

As a non-Aboriginal researcher working with Indigenous cultural practices, Casey shows integrity and respect by including extensive material from her consultation with Aboriginal elders and artists. She foregrounds Indigenous epistemologies, providing an alternative to the dominance of Western discourses in performance studies, and breaking down artificial boundaries between "traditional" and contemporary performance practices

The book is significant for the richness of its material, the variety of its sources and its distinctive handling of the matrix of postcolonial/intercultural issues involved. Casey discusses Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander performance as local and community storytelling, as well as performances intended for outside audiences and those designed as a means to remember and preserve life stories and other histories that might otherwise be ignored or forgotten. Fascinating evidence from settler diaries of the thriving success of indigenous theatrical entrepreneurs presenting ‘corroborees’ for payment to general public audiences in the nineteenth and early twentieth century is but one of many seldom discussed stories documented, while the chapter on ‘cross-cultural’ performance addresses significant issues for considering indigenous performance within the context of what is in so many ways still a racially divided culture. Casey does not assume a prior understanding of Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island culture on the part of the reader, providing background detail on the geography and cultural history of the places and people under discussion and, as in sections on the experience of survivors of the Maralinga atomic tests, a passionate defence of Indigenous witnesses’ point of view. The chapter, ‘Torres Strait Islander performance: prapa dans’ addresses an imbalance in recent scholarly attention by providing an overview of performance traditions and contemporary performance practices in the Torres Strait.

It is a distinctive strength of the book that the final word has been given to Aboriginal scholar Liza-Mare Syron’s essay ‘Afterword: Contemporary Indigenous theatre and performance practice in Australia: cultural integrity and historical significance’. The essay completes the story of the book in a different voice recapitulating the history of indigenous theatre since the deliberately political work of the 1960s and 70’s and looking forward to the possibilities for a National Indigenous Theatre Company. It reminds us again that indigenous performance is always intimately tied to systems of knowledge and spirituality, to community and to country.


2012 Veronica Kelly The Empire Actors: Stars of Australian Costume Drama 1890s-1920s (Currency, 2011

The Judges for the Rob Jordan Prize for excellence in a published book on theatre/performance studies by an ADSA member for 2010–2012 (those being Geoffrey Milne, Alison Richards and Tom Burvill) had no hesitation in awarding the 2012 Rob Jordan Prize to Veronica Kelly for The Empire Actors. This is a remarkable work of scholarly research and scholarly writing on every level. It is magnificently presented and produced by Currency House, with its lavish and telling illustrations from a vast range of archival visual material, its beautiful design and layout which makes the book at all times attractive and indeed compelling to read, together with a look, feel and heft appropriate to its subject matter. Among the illustrations are some of a large collection of commercial picture postcards of the Australian and visiting stars of the commercial theatre in Australia and New Zealand. This is an unashamed celebration of our popular culture and our colonial and commercial theatre heritage but the book is written and presented in such a way as to persuade its reader utterly of the 'hefty' value of such an enterprise. Kelly frames discussion of the phenomenon of Victorian costume drama, and analysis of the professional lives and cultural impact of her 'stars' through an extensively but always light-handedly theorised account of 'the shapes and colours of cultural imagination' in our region, presenting arguments about the way commercial theatre practitioners of the era mediated and embodied broader notions of modernity and Empire, through the Victorian preoccupation with notions of history and historicity, as well as specific instances of how meaning-making was managed via the costumes and public characterisations of theatre stars – onstage and 'off'.  But Kelly's greatest achievement is that she builds these arguments while maintaining an admirable clarity in her writing without sacrificing the chatty asides and revelatory detail likely to appeal to the general reader as well as the scholarly.

2010 Joint Winners:

Helena Grehan's Performance, Ethics and Spectatorship in a Global Age is a groundbreaking work of contemporary critical scholarship, working across aesthetics, performance studies and philosophy, that challenges readers to consider questions of response and responsibility in the analysis of contemporary theatre performance. The book explores ways in which the forms of ethics developed by Emmanuel Levinas and others can be related to the spectatorship of live performance events. the implications of the encounter of the audience with the event are explored in a series of national and international case studies where a range of critical and philosophical scholarship is perceptively deployed to give perspective to first-hand accounts and to identify what issues are at stake aesthetically and performatively, as well as ethically and politically.

Kathy Leahy’s Lords & Larrikins: The Actor’s role in the making of Australia is also a work of groundbreaking research. Working with the questions, What does it mean to be an actor in Australia? and how have actors contributed to our notions of Australian society and identity?, this study focuses on the actor as a public figure. Through a series of case studies the book examines the male actor’s position in Australia on and off the stage. Looking at both the Lords of the stage and their public role as missionaries for the classics and British superiority and the Larrikins of low comedy and their satiric answers, the book examines major figures as influential and influenced social players from Barnett Levy and George Coppin through Roy Rene to John Bell and Garry McDonald.

2008 Helen Gilbert and Jacqueline Lo. Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cultural Transactions in Australasia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

Performance and Cosmopolitics is a pioneering study of cross-cultural theatre in the Australasian region, positioned within the broader context of a global performing arts market and continued international interest in the traditions and aesthetics of non-Western cultures. Gilbert and Lo deploy the concept of cosmopolitanism as a unique window into mainstream, avant-garde and community arts practices ranging from the 1850s to the present day. Arguing that indigenisation and Asianisation have constituted key strategies for forging Australian theatre's current cosmopolitan credentials, the book maps the history and impact of these processes and features detailed case studies to draw out their aesthetic, commercial, political and ethical dimensions.

While this study is grounded in a specific regional history and politics, it also serves as a paradigmatic study of cross-cultural arts transactions. By focusing on theatre's particular traditions of corporeality and presence, Performance and Cosmopolitics challenges some of the foundational principles of cosmopolitanism and asserts that its claim to a 'disinterested' global citizenship falters when confronted with the realpolitik of bodily praxis.

2006 Maryrose Casey. Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre, 1967-97 (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2004).

Creating Frames provides the first significant social and cultural history of Indigenous theatre across Australia. As well as using archival sources and national and independent theatre company records, much of this history is drawn from interviews with individuals who have shaped contemporary Indigenous theatre in Australia -- including Bob Maza, Jack Charles, Gary Foley, Justine Saunders, Wesley Enoch, Ningali and John Harding. "Creating Frames" traces the journey behind a substantial national body of work and its importance in ensuring that Indigenous Voices are heard. (UQP)

2004 Jane Goodall. Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin: Out of the Natural Order (London & New York: Routledge, 2002).

Performance and Evolution in the Age of Darwin reveals the ways in which the major themes of evolution were taken up in the performing arts during Darwin's adult lifetime and in the generation after his death.

The period 1830-1900 was the formative period for evolutionary ideas. While scientists and theorists investigated the law and order of nature, show business was more concerned with what was out of the natural order. Missing links and throwbacks, freak taxonomies and exotic races were favourite subject matter for the burgeoning variety theatre movement. Focusing on popular theatre forms in London, New York and Paris, Jane Goodall shows how they were interwoven with the developing debate about human evolution.

With this book, Goodall contributes an important new angle to the debates surrounding the history of evolution. She reveals that, far from creating widespread culture shock, Darwinian theory tapped into some of the long-standing themes of popular performance and was a source for diverse and sometimes hilarious explorations. (Routledge)

2002 Julie Holledge and Joanne Tompkins. Women's Intercultural Performance (London & New York: Routledge, 2000).

This is the first in-depth examination of contemporary intercultural performance by women around the world. Contemporary feminist performance is explored in the contexts of current intercultural practices, theories and debates.
Holledge and Tompkins provide ways of thinking about and analysing contemporary performance and representations of the performing, female, culturally-marked body. The book includes discussions of:
* ritual performance by women from Central Australia and Korea
* the cultural exchange of A Doll's House and Antigone
* plays from Algeria, South Africa and Ghana
* the work of the Takarazuka revue company
* the market forces that govern the distribution of women and women's performance.
This is an essential read for anyone studying or interested in women's performance. (Routledge)

2000 Gay McAuley. Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre (Ann Arbor :  University of Michigan Press, 1999).

Theater, as distinct from other dramatic media, is essentially a relationship between performer, spectator, and the space in which both come together. Space in Performance examines the way theater buildings function to frame the performance event, the organization of audience and practitioner spaces within the building, the nature of the stage and the modes of representation it facilitates, and the relationship between the real space of the theater and the fictional places that are evoked.

The book's theoretical and methodological framework is both semiotic and phenomenological, based in part from the seminal work of Anne Ubersfeld, from direct observation of the rehearsal process, and from documentation and analysis of professional performances. The situation of the academic observer in the rehearsal room has much in common with that of the ethnographer in the field, and contemporary ethnographic practice provides a third theoretical and methodological perspective to this study.

Performance studies is an emerging discipline, and it is still evolving appropriate methodologies. The multi-faceted approach adopted here will engage theater and performance studies specialists, those concerned with modes of representation in contemporary culture, and students of theater, semiotics, architecture, set design, acting and performance theory. It also offers a great deal to theater practitioners as well as to spectators interested in deepening their appreciation of theater art. It is written in a simple, accessible way, and the theory always emerges from descriptions of practice.

Helen Gilbert. Sightlines: Race, Gender, and Nation in Contemporary Australian Theatre (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

Sightlines: Race, Gender, and Nation in Contemporary Australian Theatre asserts the centrality of theater to the ongoing negotiations of the Australian context. By exploring ways in which ideas about race, gender, and nation are expressed in concrete theatrical contexts, the performative qualities of theatrical representation are revealed as compelling, important sites of critique.

Helen Gilbert discusses an exciting variety of plays, drawing examples from marginalized groups as well as from the theatrical mainstream. While fully engaged with the discourses of contemporary critical thought, Sightlines remains focused on the material stuff of the theater, grounding its discussion in the visual elements of costume, movement, and scenography. And although focused specifically on performance, the author's insistent interest in historical and political contexts also speaks to the broader concerns of cultural studies.

The book's recurrent concern with representations of Aboriginality, particularly in the works of nonindigenous playwrights, draws attention to racial politics as a perennial motif in postcolonial nations. Its illumination of the relationships between patriarchy and imperialism is supported by an extensive discussion of plays by and about women. This nomadic approach marks Sightlines as a groundbreaking study of recent Australian theater, a provocative application of postcolonial theory to the embodied qualities of theatrical representation.