Skip to main content
Northwestern School of Communication

Major in Theatre

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.

For policies and advising, visit SoC Undergraduate Advising.

Theatre majors can focus in one of the four areas of study:


To study theatre is to seek to understand what it is to be human.  

The acting curriculum at Northwestern is a developmental sequence of three years which teaches the study of theatre, and particularly dramatic literature, from the actor's point of view. At the core of this sequence is the cohort system, which establishes ensemble ethics, collaborative culture, and close mentorship opportunities between students and their teacher. Course work is both intellectual and experiential, investigating the human condition while helping each student discover the fullness of their own identity.  

The first year of the acting sequence— “Actor as Creator and Communicator”—begins sophomore year and develops the actor's creative capacities using the self as the principal communicating instrument. The primary creative responsibility of the actor is to generate human behavior within their given circumstances. Fundamentals include Ensemble-Building; Sensory Perception & Response; Observation, Imagination, Action, Presentation of Self; Improvisation; Partnering; Text Analysis; and Character Creation. 

The second year of the sequence— "Actor as Humanist Storyteller"—examines the form of tragedy, heightened language, and realism.  Uniting the vocal, physical, and imaginative work from sophomore year, students explore tragedy with characters trapped by radically limited options, the highest stakes, and who embody the large magnitude of internal feelings and external expression. Coursework then shifts to heightened language where words and poetry reveal the action of the mind and heart. The year culminates in the study of realism where we examine the individual in struggle with society and culture, demanding a deeper understanding of shifts in human behavior. 

The final year of the sequence— "Actor as Artist Citizen"— allows students access to more professors and a deeper, nuanced study of acting technique through a series of curated Senior Topics in Acting. These advanced courses afford opportunities to increase and consolidate students' skills and to apply their adult identity in examining the most complex forms of narrative and style, as well as relationships between art and commerce, art and leadership, media, technology, and global culture. 

Design and Stage Management

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.

Music Theatre

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.

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

  • Major requirements specify that students must take and pass 12 courses: 4 introductory Theatre courses, 1 production course, and 8 advanced courses at specific levels. 
  • Additional requirements, including distribution requirements, elective requirements and writing proficiency. 

Honors in Theatre is available to theatre majors who have demonstrated records of academic achievement. They explore a sustained project in their senior year. It exposes majors to the rigors of research and creative work comparable with graduate-level programs in theatre studies and offers preparation for future graduate-level study. Projects may be proposed in any area of the theatre department’s pursuits (design, directing, choreography, performance, history, criticism, or playwriting). Eligibility for the honors program will be determined by the faculty.