Academics and artists take pursuit of happiness to the theatre

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Dawn Rose - Goldsmiths PhD student and former session drummer with nineties pop band Right Said Fred - is currently working with young actors, scientists and academics to create a moving, personal piece of theatre that explores the age-old question: what is happiness and how do we find it?

(Photo by Andy Wright -

The Happiness Project runs at The Roundhouse, Camden, from 3-14 November. Tickets are selling fast!


We are all being sold an idea of happiness in many different forms, from the corridors of Whitehall, to the pull of the high street. Every day at school, on the bus, in our homes, we navigate a complex set of ideals suggesting the way we should be living. How do we know when we’re happy? Why is it so fleeting? How can we measure it and why do we need to?

These are just some of the questions explored by the Roundhouse’s ‘The Happiness Project’, in response to reports from UNICEF and The Children’s Society that raise concerns over young people’s well-being.

Professor Lauren Stewart, Dawn, and colleagues from our Department of Psychology, were invited last year to meet young people involved in the project, in order to explore the role of music in their happiness.

Joining six other academics from UCL and the University of Brighton, and 14 artists aged 14 – 24 who will be acting in a final production – the show will be the culmination of two years of workshops, research, discussion and creation. As part of the show, Dawn will be performing a drum duet with one of the project’s participants.

She explains: “The diversity of the scientists involved, combined with the talent and experience of the directors -and most importantly the sense of agency the young people bring, has led to an incredibly dynamic production – which I am really excited and proud to be a part of”.

Dawn Rose joined Goldsmiths in 2010 to study for an MSc in Music, Mind & Brain, based in the Department of Psychology.

An Olympic-standard martial arts expert, trained hypnotherapist and drummer with ‘80s new wave/post-punk band Altered Images, cult post-punk feminist group Gertrude, and Right Said Fred, Dawn has also spent two decades teaching the drums to children in Sussex.

In July she presented her MSc work at the 12th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in Greece, and she has since published her preliminary PhD evidence which indicates that in the first year of learning a musical instrument, children significantly increase aspects of their cognitive ability, and that associated changes in emotional well-being and behaviour are noticeable both in the school and at home.

Dawn is now in the final stages of her PhD, bringing together her experiences in teaching, professional performance, and music psychology to explore how the changes which begin with musical learning are reflected in the lives of contemporary musicians. Her research, combining quantitative and qualitative methods, presents a new perspective on the developing and embodied neuropsychology of musicians.

“I’d like to acknowledge, in particular, the support, kindness and guidance of my supervisors, Professor Pamela Heaton and Dr Alice Jones-Bartoli. I’m also grateful to Professor Lauren Stewart and Dr Daniel Müllensiefen for offering me the opportunity to study at Goldsmiths as a mature student without an undergraduate degree,” she says.
The Happiness Project is directed by Emma Higham and Tashi Gore, of Glas(s) Performance and funded by the Wellcome Trust. It appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August and has now transferred to Camden’s Roundhouse theatre from 3 - 14 November.

Tickets for The Happiness Project are available on the Roundhouse website priced at £12.50 plus booking fee.