Skip to main content
Northwestern School of Communication

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.

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.

Learn More

For policies and advising, see Office of Undergraduate Programs and Advising  

Visit the major's Academic Catalog listing to see specific requirements, which include: 

  • Major requirements specify that students must take and pass 12 courses, including:
    • introductory PERF_ST courses
    • 2 advanced PERF_ST courses
    • Additional courses must one that fulfills the department diversity requirement and one production/studio lab course.
  • Additional requirements, including distribution requirements, elective requirements and writing proficiency.  

Departmental Honors Program

Performance Studies majors may apply in their junior year to participate in the Departmental Honors Program. The Honors Program is intended to provide highly qualified students an opportunity to complete a substantial research investigation; to introduce students to graduate-level, faculty-mentored research; and to provide formal honorary recognition to students who have excelled in course work and in an independent research activity.


Students pursuing the honors program begin by proposing a thesis topic and enlisting a faculty member to serve as advisor. Students then:

  1. Complete a literature review.
  2. Implement the proposed research plan.
  3. Attend quarterly review meetings with the faculty advisor.
  4. Write a thesis (at least 30 double-spaced pages in length) based on the completed project.
  5. Defend the thesis during an oral examination, before a committee consisting of the faculty advisor, a secondary faculty reader, and at least one other faculty member.

Frank Galati Prize

The Frank Galati Prize recognizes excellence in undergraduate essays by Performance Studies majors. All Performance Studies undergraduate majors are eligible to submit an essay to this annual competition.

Appropriate essay topics include the full range of issues explored in Performance Studies courses:

  • the adaptation and staging of literary texts;
  • performance art and dance theatre;
  • performance theory and criticism;
  • cultural studies and ethnography;
  • and the practice of everyday life.

Essays first developed for courses in other departments are also appropriate for submission.

About Jack Galati

The prize celebrates the significant contributions to Northwestern’s Performance Studies Department of Professor Galati, who retired in 2006 after over three decades of teaching. Honored internationally for his creative work as director, actor, playwright, and screenwriter, Professor Galati adapted and directed the Tony-Award-winning Broadway production of The Grapes of Wrath and directed the Tony-Award-winning Ragtime. He has received numerous Joseph Jefferson Awards for his work in Chicago theatre, where he is an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre and an Associate Director of the Goodman Theatre.