Theoretical Theater: New Major Debuts in Tisch


Jake Quan

NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which introduced the Performance Studies major last year. WSN sat down with junior Jeremy Swanton to discuss the ins and outs of the program.

Faith Gates, Deputy Features Editor

Last year, NYU Tisch School of the Arts created one of the first and only majors focusing on not just performing but studying performance itself. Performance Studies differs from other majors by redefining what performance is and the impact it has on those involved.

The major opened to undergraduate students last year, and WSN sat down with one of the five students in last semester’s introductory class, Tisch junior Jeremy Swanton.  

Q: What is the Performance Studies major?

A: It’s everything ask anyone in the department, and they’ll tell you that as well. We’re really analyzers of life in a lot of ways, so we think that performance is everything. It can be from this encounter right now, the performance of being on the stage or performance of film. Each of us individually kind of take the foundations of language and theories that have to do with that and internally what makes it a performance. We’re really analyzing what it means to be performing in the world right now.

Q: How did this idea start?

A: From what I know, one of the big performance studies people was Jose Munoz. He passed away in 2013, but I know he really wanted to make it accessible for undergrads. Also, Northwestern [University] has a Performance Studies department for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., so they helped us expand it to here. [The master’s program] started at NYU, and then Northwestern made its own branch, but [NYU] wanted to make it accessible to undergrads as well. I’m really grateful for that.

NYU is the best place to study performance studies, because one, the city, and two, it was founded here. Richard Schechner started studying performance in the 70s, I wanna say, and he has his department [at NYU], and he sits here and teaches sometimes. So it’s cool to see him in and out of the department. Last year was [NYU’s] first time offering [Performance Studies] as a B.A., but we’ve been around. It’s really cool to be here where it all started.

Q: How is the major growing?

A: It’s really cool to see how this major has developed. I was part of the inaugural class last semester, and there was only five of us it was really small. This year we have about 19 [students], so we’re growing. It’s a blooming field. What’s cool about being part of this early program is [the professors are] combining a lot of the theories they have in the Masters and Ph.D. program into our program. They are experimenting with us to see if it works not in a bad way, but in a great way. We’re getting exposed to all these different theorists and performance artists. That is really helping me. I know that other schools and universities don’t offer it in the same way.

Q: What makes Performance Studies different than other Tisch majors?

A: As opposed to drama or other, more hands-on artistic practices, Performance Studies is more of a theoretical approach. So I’m not just practicing my art I’m figuring out why I’m doing my art and the mark that it’s making on the world in a way that I wouldn’t be [able to] if I were strictly focusing on how to do my art.

Q: What is it like to be in the major?

A: What I love about Performance Studies is it’s such an intersection on theory and practice. For example, in one class that I had last week, we had to present a two-minute monologue from a personal moment when words transformed into actions for us. So our professor recorded the monologues and had us memorize someone else’s monologue in the same style they performed it in. It was a really cool lesson to learn. And then the next week we did karaoke, so it’s a wide variety of inserting theory into everyday life as well.

Q: What are your classes like?

A: What’s cool about Performance Studies is we have a wide variety of classes offered. My specific track within PS is the performance of everyday life. I’m analyzing social structures and the way people interact in certain settings, but other people are more interested in curating and art history, so they let you really tailor specifically what classes you want to take within the department. We have to double major or minor in at least one thing so they really encourage you to take different disciplines that seem separate from you and make them part of your education.

Q: What are the specific tracks?

A: It’s really up to you, which is amazing. We’re all taking different things away from our classes and our different fields, so we’re able to call it whatever we want. So I call it the performance of everyday life because that’s what’s really captivating to me. We have a Capstone process that we have to do at the end of our four years either we have to write a really long paper, do an internship or create some type of theatrical work. So when I say mine is the performance of everyday life, that’s what I am going to be exploring when I turn in my thesis. You really get to choose whatever fascinates you.

Q: What classes are offered?

I’m taking Voice and Performance and Movement Theory, but I know they have a wide selection. They’re teaching different classes as well. You can take it if you’re not a part of the major; they’re not just tailoring to us. It’s really cool.

Q: What would you say to people wanting to know more about Performance Studies?

A: We’re an open department, and you can stop by the sixth floor and talk to us anytime you want. We’re really warm.

Applications for Performance Studies Summer/Fall Internal Transfer are due March 1. More information and class schedules can be found on the website.

Email Faith Gates at [email protected].