Performance Studies

The Department of Performance Studies is dedicated to the study of cultural enactments of all kinds and to understanding how they can produce meaningful change.

Combining an interdisciplinary range of approaches including feminist and queer theory, critical race theory, and other modes of analysis, with an equally diverse range of research methods, Performance Studies offers graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to explore the world-making power of performance in theatre, performance art, dance, sound/music, visual and installation art, activism, and online, as well as in the performance of 'everyday life'.


Non-majors may enroll in the second sections of the following Performance Studies courses. If no second section is listed, the course is still open to non-majors.

Introduction to Performance Studies

PERF-UT 101 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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 theatre, 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.

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Performance Theory

PERF-UT 102 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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.

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Performance of the City: New York

PERF-UT 103 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

A founding tenet of our 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.

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Performance and Politics

PERF-UT 104 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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?

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Lower-Division Electives

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”). 

Performance Composition Workshop

PERF-UT 201 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

This course focuses on performance as a mode of research/investigation: How can engaging in a performance or practice (rather than simply reading about/observing it) illuminate in ways that may be otherwise inaccessible to the researcher? What knowledges does the doing of performance produce? Students in this class will be asked to develop a research question (in consultation with the instructor), design and engage in a performance project aimed at answering (or at least investigating) that question, and then produce a final project (written or performed) that illustrates her/his research findings.

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Performative Writing Workshop

PERF-UT 204 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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.

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Performance Histories

PERF-UT 205 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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.

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The Performance of Everyday Life

PERF-UT 206 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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.

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Upper-Division Electives

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

Performance and Technology

PERF-UT 304 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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 knowledges, 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.  

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Queer Performance

PERF-UT 302 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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.

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Theories of Movement

PERF-UT 303 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

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?

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Topics in Performance Studies

PERF-UT 305 | 4 units | Instructor: Check Albert

“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.    

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