Major in Performance Studies

The Department of Performance Studies explores performance in all its forms, extending and deepening the understanding of performance as central to the human condition. Students majoring in performance studies engage performance both as an object of study—something to be documented and analyzed—and as a method of study—something to be experienced and enacted. From the adaptation and staging of texts, to the exploration of rituals and festivals, to the study of performance in everyday life, students in the department enter the world of performance and performance theory as an important and emerging field of study.

Specific courses in the Department of Performance Studies focus on the study of literature through solo performance; the ensemble adaptation and staging of poetic, narrative, and nonfictional texts; intercultural performance; cultural studies and performance ethnography; performance theory and criticism; and performance art. Outside the classroom, additional performance opportunities enable students to develop further their performance work and bring it to a wider audience.

The History of the Department

The Department of Performance Studies began as the Department of Interpretation with a focus on literature and on the art of interpretation as a means of understanding literature and bringing it to life through oral reading. The department's name was changed in 1984 to reflect a widening of the department's focus beyond (though still inclusive of) literary texts, and recognizing performance as a means for exploring a wide range of experiences and events.

Students as Scholars and Artists

Students in D. Soyini Madison's course PERF_ST 334 "Human Rights and Radical Performance" created a series of on-site performances on the library plaza, in front of University Hall, and at Norris Center.

Performance Studies majors are creative, smart, inquisitive, independent. In their coursework and performances they are required to ask difficult questions, to examine closely and critically, to look for new ways of understanding and performing. This is true whether they are working with literary texts or with real-world events, writing papers or performing, working in traditional venues or using experimental media. Performance studies majors are performers, directors, writers, visual artists, musicians. They are scholars and artists.

Studying and Performing

Students majoring in Performance Studies take classes in the department, in Theatre (though typically not the sequence of acting classes), and across the university, in such areas as English, anthropology, history, gender studies, African-American studies, Latin-American Studies, and radio-television-film.

Outside the classroom, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of performance projects, including those sponsored by the Performances Studies Department as well as those sponsored by the Theatre Department and by different student groups on campus.

Each year the department sponsors a public performance series consisting of one or two major productions; three or four "performance hours" featuring faculty- or student-directed work; and three "performance hours" developed by students in the freshman-level introductory course.

Career Paths

Performance Studies alumni pursue a wide range of careers. Several have been instrumental in founding innovative theatre companies (including Lookingglass, Redmoon, Lifeline, and Roadworks companies). Many elect to pursue graduate study in performance studies as well as other disciplines. Other recent majors have begun successful careers as theater and film artists, as actors, directors, producers. Others now employ their critical and creative thinking skills in their careers as teachers, psychologists, lawyers, and urban planners.