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Major in Theatre

Course Requirements

For more information, visit the Theatre Major in the NU Academic Catalog .

For policies and advising, visit SoC Undergraduate Advising.

Our belief is that the best theatre artists—designers, actors, playwrights, dancers and directors—combine highly developed performance capabilities with a broad knowledge of the theatre literature and theory. You’ll have the opportunity to study and practice acting, voice, movement, dance, directing, design, stage production, playwriting and dramaturgy, along with theatre history, literature and criticism. You’ll develop the ability to analyze situations and complex social issues from a variety of perspectives, while developing skills in research, writing, group discussion, oral presentation, performance and production.

Whether your focus is acting, directing, playwriting, production or design, you’ll have ample opportunity to practice your craft. As many as forty productions are staged each year in the multi-stage Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, with an equal number of student productions across campus.

Our faculty have a rich collective of expertise, including history of the theatre, acting and directing, dance, music theatre, creative drama, storytelling, children’s theatre, playwriting, stage management, and costume, set and light design. Many faculty members also work as professionals in productions in Chicago and nationally.

Many theatre undergraduates go on to enjoy success as theatre, television, and film artists. Others find that with the combination of theatrical studies and a solid liberal arts education, they are prepared to pursue a career in a variety of fields, including law, teaching, business, performance coaching, and sales and marketing.

Areas of Study

Theatre majors have the opportunity to audition for the Musical Theatre Certificate program at the beginning of freshman and sophomore years.  Accepted students are placed in a voice studio and receive voice lessons.  Students also receive priority in dance class registration and are trained in music theatre and audition techniques.  Students not accepted into the certificate program still have the opportunity to perform in musicals and take an array of musical theatre courses.

Students have a number of opportunities to get involved in the thriving playwriting program at Northwestern.  In addition to introductory classes, students can take a variety of classes. Past classes include Ten-Minute Plays, Unlikely Adaptation, and Tiny Histories.  Students can also apply to be part of the Playwriting Sequence, in which each student writes a full-length play during one school year. The Playwriting Module allows students to pursue in-depth study of playwriting, to learn about the professional world of playwriting, and to create a Capstone Project comprised of a playwriting portfolio and other professional materials. In addition, the department brings in guest artists to teach special topics classes, lead workshops, and participate in various panels and speaking events. Past visiting artists include John Logan, Paula Vogel, Sheila Callaghan, Idris Goodwin, and Philip Dawkins.

Northwestern’s acting sequence starts with voice and movement classes in the freshman year.  At the end of freshman year, students have the opportunity to observe various acting classes and indicate their preferences for an instructor to study with beginning in the sophomore year.  Once assigned, they usually stay with the same instructor and group of about 15-20 students for the next three years.

In the sophomore year the theme is “Principles of Characterization” beginning with sensory awareness and observation in the fall quarter followed by an emphasis on imagination and movement and ending with dramatic characterization in the final quarter.  “Analysis and Performance” is the theme junior year with a quarter devoted to the Greeks, Shakespeare, and Chekhov each.  The senior year focus is spread across a variety of topics including comedy, style, contemporary scene study, and professional aspects of being an actor as well as the opportunity to take class with a different acting faculty member for a quarter. In the Acting for Screen Module, students have the opportunity to learn the skills necessary for effective performance in TV and film.

In their senior year, students can audition to perform in musical theatre and acting showcases in New York and Chicago.  Industry professionals attend these showcases and receive students’ headshots and resumes.

Acclaimed faculty members and MFA design students teach a number of design and skill classes in scenery, costume, lighting, sound, and makeup design. Qualified students may take upper level and select graduate courses by permission and have the opportunity to assist designers for mainstage productions and design in the Imagine U series as well as numerous productions presented through the Northwestern Student Theatre Coalition (see “Co-curricular Opportunities”).  Northwestern also offers showcase opportunities for design. The Theatrical Design Module allows students to study lighting, costume or set design in greater depth.

All mainstage productions are stage managed by students, who are taught in an intensive stage management course. Concentrations in design as well as stage management are popular among theatre majors. 

The Theatre Management Module gives students the opportunity to pursue intensive study of stage and production management and to explore these professions

Modules

Modules are intensive programs of study that allow students to explore a particular area in-depth. Modules also provide opportunities to apply learning in practice through co-curriculars and internships and to engage in professional development through exposure to industry professionals and NU alumni in the field.

Productions

The Department of Theatre supports a variety of performance opportunities for any major to audition or participate. There are seven mainstage productions a year including plays, musicals, devised pieces, dance performances, and more. Students also have the opportunity to perform in pieces directed by the first and second year MFA directing students, as well as perform and design in faculty-directed plays for young audiences as part of the Imagine U family series. The department also assists in funding for a number of student-produced productions as part of the Struble Project Series. Music Theatre students annually have the opportunity to perform in Waa-Mu, a musical completely created and written by students.

Undergraduates are fortunate to work closely with graduate students pursuing Masters of Fine Arts degrees in Directing and Design. First and second-year MFA students direct productions on campus with undergraduate actors. Undergraduate students with design interest serve as assistant designers for MFA designers on mainstage productions. The MFA students are at the forefront of the emerging professional theatre world, and connections between undergraduate and graduate students have led to casting opportunities, internships, assistant positions, and exciting artistic partnerships.

Study Abroad

Theatre students may study abroad with any of the many study abroad programs affiliated with Northwestern University. Of particular interest to theatre students is the program offered with the British American Drama Academy in London.

For more, visit the Study Abroad site .

Student Theatre Coalition

In addition to department productions, Northwestern has a thriving student theatre scene across campus. The Northwestern Student Theatre Coalition (StuCo) is a collective of nine student theatre groups and two dance groups, each with its own executive board and performance series.  Each group has its own specific focus and offers a variety of productions and special events, assuming the roles of producers, directors, designers, business team members, and stage managers in addition to performers. The vibrancy of the student theatre community is emblematic of the Northwestern student’s passion for learning and creating art as a community.

For more information, visit the StuCo site .

Career Opportunities

As a Northwestern theatre major, career opportunities exist in a vast number of fields. Many theatre majors go on to pursue professions in the field of theatre as performers, directors, designers, producers, and more. A theatre major, however, is also a productive major for those students who might not want to pursue theatre professionally. Northwestern Theatre majors have gone on to jobs in a variety of fields – such as consulting, law, teaching, and a variety of others. The School of Communication Office of External Programs, Internships, & Career Services (EPICS) offers a wide variety of programming and resources to support students’ professional development.

Faculty Connections

The Northwestern theatre faculty and staff are active artists working professionally as well as teaching.  Students can work with these professors on campus through the independent study program, which gives students the opportunity to focus their interests even further. Many students have the opportunity to work with these professors outside of the Northwestern campus on various theatrical endeavors and projects because Northwestern faculty and alumni are active in a number of Chicago companies – The Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens, and Teatro Vista.  Plays and productions originating in the department have gone on to be produced outside of Northwestern, and students have been able to perform professionally in these productions.