The academic field of "Performance Studies" began at NYU. Founded in 1979-80 by Professors Richard Schechner, Michael Kirby, and Brooks McNamara in 1979, the department was created to foster research on the how of performance—asking not "what does it mean?" but "what does it do?". Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett joined the faculty in 1981 as its first Chair, and served in that role for 13 years.
Since then the department has flourished, training leading thinkers in a range of disciplines: in theater, dance, and performance studies, as well as in gender/sexuality studies, ethnic studies, literature, and a wide range of fields where "performance theory" and its terminology have taken root. Performance Studies takes a broad understanding of "performance"—Schechner's now-famous formulation of "twice behaved" action—that encompasses not only theatrical spectacles and concert dance, but performance art, street performance, dance, music/sound installation, as well as "quotidian" enactments of political and social identities. We analyze that broad spectrum of enactments using an interdisciplinary methodology (that includes both theoretical, ethnographic, and practice-based approaches).
In Fall 2015 the Department began a new phase, welcoming our first class of undergraduate majors. The BA program in Performance Studies offers a range of courses on topics ranging from "Performances of Race and Ethnicity" and "Gender and Performance" to "Performance in New York City," as well as workshops and presentations created specifically for BA students.