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Performance Studies

Department of Performance Studies

Learning to critique, reshape, and transform the world through performance.

Learning through a synthesis of research and practice, performance studies students are trained 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 as an object of analysis, as a lens for social/cultural phenomena, and as a research method. As object of analysis, 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). As lens, we approach social phenomena such as legal rituals, the routines of queer nightlife, museum display, or political campaigning as performance. Finally, the performance studies scholar studies through performance: making and developing performance in order to deepen and inform a performance-based research question.

An interdisciplinary field developed at the intersection of oral interpretation, literary adaptation, theater, anthropology, aesthetic theory and speech-act theory, performance studies explores the roles performance and performativity play in the constitution of social realities including race, sexuality, gender, nation, and ability, drawing heavily upon the traditions of black studies, Latinx studies, Asian American studies, Indigenous studies, queer theory and feminist theory, while learning a range of methods for approaching performance, including performance ethnography, archival inquiry, and performance theory.

Ours is a global perspective and our students explore, analyze, and learn from performance cultures in places and sites that reach from queer Latinx dance parties in Chicago to student protests in Chile, gospel choirs in Australia to underground music scenes in Syria (and its diaspora), activist theater making in Ghana to an experimental dance across the irradiated landscape of Fukushima, Japan.