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Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Study Performance everywhere.

Our undergraduate courses cover a broad range of topics, giving students a deeper understanding of the ways the logic of performance governs what happens not only on the stage and screen, but everywhere else, too.  Our core curricum provides students with the basic theoretical and methodological tools to explore performance in a variety of settings, and lower- and upper-division electives enable students to apply those research insights both practically and analytically.

Core Curriculum (16 points)

These courses are envisioned as serving two purposes: (1) as they may be taken in any order, each may serve as a “gateway” to performance studies, drawing students into the subject matter via different appeals/angles of approach; and (2) taken together (since all four are required for the major) they build a solid foundation for more specialized, advanced courses at the upper-division levels and give students the analytical, writing, and methodological tools necessary for more in-depth research on performance.  Depending on demand and faculty availability, some of these courses may be offered in lecture format, with graduate student teaching assistants leading small discussion sections.

These courses are required for PS majors:

Introduction to Performance Studies

PERF-UT 101, 4 points

This course is an introduction to the field of performance studies.  Students are introduced to the concept of “performance” broadly construed to include not just “staged” performances for theater, film, television, dance, and musical performance, but also performance as a practice of self-presentation; in social rituals and daily interactions; in bodily and speech acts; and in linguistic, visual, and other modes of communication.  By studying a wide range of examples that illustrate the varied constructions of the verb “to perform” students are encouraged to consider the social significance of performance, and how it structures our perceptions and social lives. The course is geared toward lower-division undergraduates interested in (though not necessarily familiar with, or specializing in) the study and/or practice of performance.


Students may also take PERF-UT 200 in lieu of this course.

Performance Studies: An Introduction

PERF-UT 200, 4 points

The course is taught using a blended learning approach. Guided online by Richard Schechner, a founder of the field of performance studies, and in person by an instructor, students explore the performances in the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, and the Pacific islands.

Students delve back in time to ask what kind of performances took place in the caves of paleolithic Europe? How do these ancient shamanic and initiatory practices relate to Burning Man, YouTube, and today's avant garde?  How do people perform their professions, their genders, their races and nations, their identities, their social lives, and their daily rituals?  For this course, Schechner filmed interviews with more than a dozen scholars, scientists, and artists.  Embedded in the course are clips and images of many different kinds of performances.

Student engage each other directly in class and blog with each other during the week.  Students form groups to devise performance projects.  Performance Studies--An Introduction puts students in interactive dialogue with the most important events, people, theories, and questions of the dynamic, emerging field of performance studies.

Performance Theory

PERF-UT 102, 4 points

This course examines the diverse issues and methodological questions raised by different kinds of performance.  Where “Introduction to Performance Studies” asks, “What is performance?  What counts as performance, and what is its cultural significance?” this course asks, “How can we interpret and analyze performance?  What is ‘theory’ in this context, and how do theory and practice inform each other?”  Readings introduce students to key concepts in the field such as “ritual,” “performativity,” “liveness,” and “affect.”  Material for the course (readings, videos, and other media) exemplify the interdisciplinary nature of performance studies by drawing from work in aesthetics, anthropology, architecture studies, ethnic/area studies, queer studies, religious studies, legal studies, literary studies, etc.

Performance of the City

PERF-UT 103, 4 points

A founding tenet of the Performance Studies field is the significance of the site where performance takes place – including its metropolitan environment. This course serves to introduce students to the performance culture of a given city (whether New York or one of the other Global sites), and to the ways in which any urban environment is staged by its residents and visitors. The class will take the city itself as its “text,” exploring its history, its significant performance venues, and the public spaces where the population gathers in a collective spectacle of social relations. Readings in urban performance studies will be supplemented by class trips to performances, from the opera to skateboarding ramps to public parades.

Performance and Politics

PERF-UT 104, 4 points

This course focuses specifically on the political aspects of performance -- how it reflects, enacts, and shifts political discourse and practices.  Beginning with a broad construction of “politics” -- that “the personal is political, and vice versa” -- the courses encourages students to study events and practices that produce political effects.  How can performance and performance theory be applied usefully to understand how, why, and where political dialogue takes place, and where it fails to do so?

Lower-Division Electives (8 points)

These courses are focused (more narrowly than the “Core Curriculum” courses) on specific subjects and/or practices, though still aimed at lower-division students (i.e., they do not have course-prerequisites).  Students may, though are not required to, explore various practice-based methods of research and analysis (“Performance Composition” and “Performative Writing”).

PS majors must take 2 of the following:

Performative Writing Workshop

PERF-UT 204, 4 points

Students in this workshop will study theories of linguistic performativity -- how words/writing perform functions in shaping the world (i.e., in law, science, fiction, etc.) -- and then explore that functionality in their own writing.  How can the performative effects of writing be deployed purposefully, strategically, artistically, etc.?  What do particular rhetorical/textual choices do?  What is the relationship between the performativity of writing, on the one hand, and performance on the other?  Students will be encouraged to experiment with their writing (both in terms of style and subject matter), and then to analyze the results of these experiments in order to hone their abilities to both observe, describe, and enact performance strategies in writing.

Performance Histories

PERF-UT 205, 4 points

Countering the “presentist” critique of performance studies as a field (i.e., that its emphasis on “liveness” limits it to analysis of contemporary practices), this course will examine both the long history of performance (and the specific research methodologies that are required for that examination), and the history of performance studies as a mode of social inquiry.  How have performance, and the writing about performance, been deployed historically, and to what ends?  How can contemporary researches access the archives that house answers to these questions, and how do archives in themselves constitute an historiographic “performance”?  Students will consider the impact of performance in the contexts of (post-)colonial history, aesthetic genealogies, and other historiographic projects.

The Performance of Everyday Life

PERF-UT 206, 4 points

This course focuses in depth on “everyday” versions of performance (as opposed to theatrical or formal performances).  Drawing from anthropology, affect studies, social psychology, sociology, architecture studies, etc. the course invites students to view seemingly non-theatrical social interaction as performance, and to consider the significance of the seeming “normal” and inconsequential nature of such performances.  What happens when what is “second nature” becomes the focus of our attention?  The course will also place particular emphasis on writing as a mode of illuminating and interrogating the “everyday,” as well as considering it as performance practice in and of itself.

Performance Composition Workshop

PERF-UT 201, 4 points

The voice is a body extending into the world; it is the world manifesting through a body. The voice transmits linguistic messages but its sonic textures also carry unruly forces that exceed language. The politics of race, gender, and sexuality are sounded out through the voice. Groups are formed and deformed through rituals of collective voicing. This course will experiment with the voice as a malleable material for generating interdisciplinary performances. The first half of the semester will be spent developing a solo performance with the performer’s voice as the primary medium of experimentation and the second half of the semester will be devoted to generating an ensemble vocal performance. There will be short reading assignments for each class (authors include Mladen Dolar, Roland Barthes, Alexandra Vazquez, Fred Moten, Teressa Brennan, and Wilfred Bion) but class time will be primarily devoted to experimental vocal activities(drawn from the work of artists such as Anna Deavere Smith, Taylor Mac, Gelsey Bell, Poly Strene, Abby Lincoln, Bobby McFerrin, Meredith Monk, and Colin Self) as well as sharing in-progress material.  No prior training or interest in vocal performance is required although if you come with previously acquired vocal skills they will be honed and challenged.

Upper-Division Electives (12 points)

These courses are designed as small, focused, research-based seminars.  These courses may have restricted enrollment (pre-requisites or instructor approval) and are aimed at advanced undergraduate students.

PS majors must take 3 of the following:

Critical Approaches to Race and Ethnicity in Performance

PERF-UT 306, 4 points

In this course students will consider both the ways race and ethnicity have been deployed historically in performances (theatrical and otherwise), as well as how “race” or “ethnicity” might be understood as a performative identity in itself.

Queer Politics & Performance

PERF-UT 302, 4 points

This course takes sexuality as its lens through which to consider performance, and vice versa.  Much of the current vitality of the concept of “performance” has come through the study of gender and sexuality -- the political impact and social legibility of performances of gender and sexuality in daily life, art practices, and elsewhere -- and this course examines and applies these theories of gender/sexuality performance to a wide range of examples.  Students will read both new and canonical work in field of gender studies with an eye toward the specific impact of performance in this work, as well as examine performance examples in order to analyze the ways gender and sexuality are produced within them.

Theories of Movement

PERF-UT 303, 4 points

This course will explore the rich history of experimental dance and movement-based performance, and the possibility of a movement-based analysis of performativity.  While dominant theories of “performativity” (the doing that performance does) emerge from linguistic theories and/or text-based accounts (ethnographic descriptions of ritual, etc.), the direct impact of movement has garnered less scholarly attention (with the exception of dance studies).  How does movement (not only in dance, but in performance more generally) enact social/aesthetic theory, and how might movement itself theorize social relations?

Performance and technology

PERF-UT 304, 4 points

This course considers the concept of technology as a way of thinking about performance generally, and then focuses specifically on the role of various technologies in performance – historically as well as in contemporary practices.  How do technical innovations, new knowledge, etc. make new forms of performance possible?  The course will consider both technology in (aesthetic) performance and the performance of technology in extra-theatrical settings.

Topics in Performance Studies

PERF-UT 305, 4 points

“Topics in Performance Studies” is a course that allows for an in-depth exploration of a particular kind of performance practice. For example, in a given iteration, the subtitle might be “Voice and Performance.” In such a course, vocal technique could be examined in the context of a larger consideration of philosophical approaches to the significance of the voice. Or, in an iteration subtitled “Ritual Dance,” the use of movement and choreography for the purposes of worship could be explored from the perspective of diverse belief systems. Students in these “Topics” courses are not expected to be proficient performers themselves of the performance styles under consideration, although some instructors may choose to make practical work an option.

Capstone Project

PERF-UT 400, 4 points

Students in this course will build on a research paper/project that they originated in another PS course, with the goal of extending, refining, and further developing it in order to synthesize what they have learned, as well as further hone their research, analysis, and writing skills.