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Northwestern School of Communication


Performance Studies students learn not only how to analyze and make performance, but how to critique, reshape and transform the world through performance

We approach performance from three major perspectives: we analyze creative works onstage, backstage, and in everyday life; we study social and cultural practices through the bold, critical lens of performance theory; and we conduct and present our research inquiries through creative processes as well as talks and publications. 

We locate performance in the artistic work of theatre, dance, music, live art, and museum exhibits, which we study to better understand their worldmaking capacity. We also identify performance in and as public events, such as street protests and social justice movements, and articulate the gendered and racialized effects of body-based actions in topics ranging from queer nightlife to digital culture. We probe the histories and politics of food cultures and sound cultures to trace sensorial forms of belonging and dissidence worldwide as aspects of performance. And we explore complex and nuanced research questions through performance, making and developing artistic projects to better understand a problem, a social dynamic or an event

The mission of the department is to advance understanding of performance in all forms – artistic, social, and cultural – through engaged teaching, creative practice, research, and service. Our study and practice results in academic scholarship, experimental performance-making, and a deeper knowledge of the processes and structures that surround cultural production and social life.

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What Performance Studies degree can you get at the School of Communication?

One black and one white female students clasp hands at center stage while reading lines in rehearsal with looks of consternation

What can you do with a degree in Performance Studies?

Our graduates go on to careers as arts administrators, curators, arts and cultural critics, instructors, and faculty members. Some apply their critical thinking, analytical, and creative skills to careers in psychology, community outreach, law, advertising, marketing, theatre, and more. 

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Student Experience

Are you looking to change the world with your art? Are you unsatisfied with just one traditional course of study? Did you write your own play? Do you like creating art that doesn't fit inside neat boxes? Do you recognize how people 'perform' differently in everyday life depending on the situation? Do you think really important things are happening beyond the surface of ceremonies and political events? Students from across the University thrive in our welcoming, diverse, and flexible learning environment. Some students enter with no prior arts training; others join us to “unlearn” years of training. All our students gain skills in bodily expression and critical analysis that they apply to a wide range of opportunities—on our Evanston and Chicago campuses and well beyond—in the arts, entertainment, journalism, engineering, marketing, law, technology, and more.

Why Northwestern?
Melissa Lewyn

To Melissa Lewyn, Performance Studies is the “hidden gem of Northwestern.” She combined her Performance Studies major with a minor in political science because she plans to use theater to make political change.

“Northwestern's art scene completely drew me here.”

Melissa Lewyn
Major, Performance Studies

Performance Studies Faculty

Our outstanding faculty are leaders in the arts and academia. They bring their expertise and experience to the classroom, where they center students through process-based, collaborative learning and individualized attention that animate complex subjects and embolden risk-taking. While their work centers Black Performance Theory and provides critical global perspectives on the arts and society through specialization in African studies, Asian American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Middle East and North African studies, their classes invite students from all backgrounds to engage with the interdisciplinary connections that form the foundation of performance studies.

What will you study as a Performance Studies major or minor?

Students majoring and minoring in Performance Studies take classes in the department that synthesize creative process with performance theory and analysis. There are no prerequisites nor prior training required to enroll in most of our courses. Faculty privilege life experience and cultivate reflection and perspective through assigned materials and discussions. Classes offer project-based, collaborative learning that develop individual voice while challenging artistic and disciplinary boundaries. Students often integrate their in-depth understanding of the humanities gained in our classes with their studies in adjacent fields, including theater, dance, and ethnomusicology as well as anthropology, psychology, gender studies, history, Asian American studies, Black studies, Latin American Studies, and Middle East and North African studies.