Staff profile

Dr Christina (Xristina) Penna

Lecturer in Performance




College of Arts, Humanities and Education


Derby Campus, Derby Theatre



I am Programme Leader and Lecturer for BA (Hons) Costume and Set Design teaching undergraduates at Derby Theatre, contributing actively to its mission to engage, empower, inspire and enable the widest possible audience through transformational learning and theatre.

I am a practising scenographer with over 15 years of experience in a variety of national and international performance design and practice (UK, USA, Europe, Mexico).

I have gained a PhD in Performance (Scenography) from the University of Leeds exploring the intersections between performance design practice, participation and cognitive neuroscience. I have contributed to multiple international academic conferences and symposia in the fields of performance, humanities and cognition (Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities, IFTR, PSi, Worlding the Brain). From the summer of 2018 to January 2019 I have been a Visiting Short-Term Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

Teaching responsibilities

I lead and teach modules on performance design across all undergraduate levels with a focus on research-informed practice projects. In preparing graduates for the workplace I work with staff at Derby Theatre to embed professionalism throughout the Programme.

Modules I teach are:

Professional interests

I have worked as a designer for plays, devised and site-specific performances, events and short film (such as Secret Cinema, The Other Way Works, National Theatre of Greece). I have produced participatory scenography installations through my own company where I work with mixed-media, handmade bizarre objects, inefficient aesthetics and material stemming from the audience to create hybrid collaborative performance installations and actions. My installation work has appeared at Currents 2013, USA | The Bluecoat, Liverpool | The Benaki Museum, Athens | Shunt Vaults, London |The Roundhouse, London.

Research interests

My research tests how participatory performance practice can be informed by neuroscience theories of human consciousness and cognition to facilitate collaborative thinking through audiences, space and materials. I have developed my practical, conceptual, and analytical framework of the ‘scenographic contraption’ (Penna, 2013) as a method of generating participatory actions between materials, space, and audiences, and used this as a way of conceptualising contemporary scenography and participatory performance practice. You can see an example of my practice-research here.

Membership of professional bodies

The Society of British Theatre Designers SBTD


PhD. Thesis title: Towards a CogScenography: Cognitive Science, scenographic reception and processes (University of Leeds, School of Performance and Cultural Industries)

MA Scenography (University of the Arts, London, Central St Martins College of Arts and Design)

BA in Theatre Studies and Stage Design (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, School of Fine Art, Drama Department)



Recent conferences


November 2018, The Predictive Scenographer: Performance design as predictive affordance-o-graphy (paper). Worlding The Brain Conference 2018, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark.

November 2017, Designing Uncertainty for Generating Audiences’ Participation (paper). Worlding The Brain Conference 2017, University of Amsterdam, NL.

June 2017, Scenographic Contraptions: a manifestation for a post-representational performance design method (flash presentation). PSi#23, performance+design group.

June 2017, ‘Phishing Things Together’: Using Cognitive Theory, and Practice Research to Further our Understanding of Designing in a Groundless Contemporary Performance Landscape (paper). Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities Conference 2017, New York

June 2016, Applications of Cognitive Science in Scenographic Reception and Processes: Scenographic Contraptions (paper). Cognitive Futures in the Humanities Conference 2016, Helsinki.

November 2015, Scenographic Contraptions: An Embodied Conversation (talk). ‘Embodied Mind, Embodied Design’ workshop at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science and School of Education, The University of Edinburgh

July 2015, Attempts on Staging Consciousness: Towards a Cognitive Scenography (paper). IFTR2015, Theatre and Democracy Conference, Hyderabad, India

June 2015, Work Space I- a Scenographic Workshop on Consciousness: Scenographic artefact (flash talk). Scenography as Shared Space Symposium (IFTR scenography working group), Prague Quadrennial 2015

April 2015, Attempts on Margarita (multiple drafts): A Cognitive Dramaturgy Generated by Voice and Space (paper). Second Symposium on Embodied Cognition and Performance 2015, AISB Convention, University of Kent

March 2015, Costume Project(ion)-The Costume Rehearses (Flash Talk). Critical Costume Conference, Aalto University of Design, Helsinki, Finland

Practice-led presentations:

July 2019, To You <-> To Me: Generating Non-Egocentric Habits of Embodied, Embedded, Enactive and Extended Spectating. Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities Conference 2019, University of Mainz. Practice-led presentation involving the participation of the delegates.

July 2018, Attempts on Post-representation (multiple drafts). Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities Conference 2018, University of Kent. Practice-led presentation involving the participation of the delegates and a piñata in composing a collective definition of what could be a ‘post-representational’ performance.

(Colloquium organiser) May 2017. I Want You to Participate || pause for thought, PCI, University of Leeds. Supported by the Audience Engagement and Experience Research Group and the Post Graduate Research fund of the University of Leeds, and a fund from The National Academics and Creatives Exchange with money from ACE and HEFCE. 

PhD practice-research: Using the understanding of cognition as co-originating between brain, body, and world to make participatory scenography (Work Space I, II, and III):

Work Space III: Phishing Things Together (the predictive brain) – a participatory performance installation, 20th October 2015, Live Art Bistro, Leeds.

Work Space II: Attempts on Margarita (multiple drafts) – a participatory performance installation, 26th February 2015, stage@leeds

Work Space I: A Scenographic Workshop on Consciousness. A participatory workshop, May 2013 stage@leeds.


Recent publications

Penna, C. (2017). Towards a CogScenography: Cognitive science, scenographic reception and processes. PhD thesis. University of Leeds

Penna, X. (2014). Uncovered – Performing everyday clothes, Scene. 2 (1&2), pp. 9–14

Penna, X. (2012) ‘I Know this, I do this all the time (I don’t like it though)-shifting the boundaries between performance space and audience space’, Proceedings of the 4th international conference on Spectacle-City-Identity, Novi Sad, Serbia 7-9 November. ISBN 978-86-7892-435-4