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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: performance works as objects of analysis, performance theory as a critical lens to study social and cultural phenomena, and performance practice as a research method. 

We study artistic and cultural performances such as theatre, dance, music, performance art, carnival, rituals, and ceremonies to understand their social and political effects and their worldmaking, emancipatory capabilities. We also analyze social phenomena such as street protests and social justice movements, networked communication, gender and racial performativity, queer nightlife, museum exhibits, and material culture such as photography and food cultures to trace forms of belonging and dissidence across time and space. Finally, 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

The performance studies scholar is trained to analyze, historicize, and theorize performance in both the aesthetic (performance art, dance, theater, sound cultures, or visual cultures) and the everyday (the everyday presentation of self, religious or legal ritual, nightlife or activism).

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 faculty are artists, performers as well as scholars and researchers. Learn more about their areas of expertise, recent work and current classes.

What will you study as a Performance Studies major?

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.