This or That: Drama vs Performance Studies

Both programs are based in the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, but each takes a different approach

Students in a classroom.

With over 230 programs of study available at NYU, it can be daunting to dive deep into each of them. Sometimes when you see a drop-down list, you might be tempted to just select whatever looks closest to what you think you want to study. If you’re an aspiring stage performer, you might see the words “Performance Studies” and think, “That’s it! I want to perform—that’s my program!” 

While many performers find ways to hone their craft in Performance Studies, it is not a performance-based program. As a master’s student in Performance Studies, I often have to explain to people that I can’t act (though many of my peers can)—but I sure can analyze theatre, dance, music, art, rituals, and everyday life. So before you click “submit,” make sure the program you are selecting will equip you with the skills you want.

One of the most common mistakes we see? Many students who want to pursue acting or musical theatre will choose Performance Studies. Many students who want to study performance through an academic lens will choose Drama. Here’s the scoop on both programs.

Performance Studies

Performance Studies tote bag.

So what is Performance Studies (PS)? In short, you’ll be studying performance. Emphasis on studying—get ready to read. As a Performance Studies major, you’ll be thinking about what performance does and how performances of all kinds can produce change.

PS is interdisciplinary. It will expose you to key texts in feminist and queer studies, ethnic studies and critical race theory, philosophy, and anthropology. The goal: to equip you with the tools necessary to think about the role that culture and performance plays in society. As a student in the program, I’ve written papers on Janelle Monáe’s music videos and queer performance art. Some performance studies students focus on movement and dance, while others write about subway performers.

But many students still want to perform, so the department provides opportunities for practice and experimentation. Praxis Inc. gives performance studies students and faculty the chance to collaborate and showcase their performance and academic work. Also, many classes make use of New York City’s art scene to take students out into the real world of performance.

As a major, you’ll graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, but you can also pursue a minor in Performance Studies. Graduates go on to work in museums and art galleries, as writers and critics, as performers, and as professors or teachers. Check out some of the department’s alumni here.

Drama

Students in a Tisch drama performance.

In the Drama major at Tisch, you will be in a practical, conservatory-style program that will train you as an actor, director, producer, stage manager, or designer. You’ll tell us which of our tracks you want to apply to: acting, musical theatre, directing, or production and design.

We place students into one of our 10 professional training studios to give you hands-on experience. Between a third to a half of your classes will be in these intensive studios. The rest? You’ll explore NYU’s curriculum in theatre studies courses, electives, and general education classes. And of course, you’ll hone your skills in the cast and crew of plenty of stage and screen productions.

So why study drama at NYU? First of all, you’re in New York City, just a few blocks from some of the greatest stages in the world. Also, not only do you get an excellent studio-based education, you also have access to a world-class liberal arts institution. You’ll be prepared both artistically and academically for the world beyond college.

When you graduate, you’ll earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Our alumni act on Broadway and beyond, design costumes for hit TV shows, lead arts workshops, and much more. Check out what they’ve done here.

Some Tips for the Road

  1. Not all of our arts performance programs live in the Tisch School of the Arts! If you’re an aspiring drummer, vocalist, or sculptor, for example, you might find a program that is a better fit for you in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
  2. Do your research! Thanks to the internet, you can check out courses in each department, look up the interests of your future faculty, and connect with current students. Therefore, if you’re selecting a program on the Common App, make sure you’ve read the website first.
  3. Explore! Above all, regardless of which program you apply to, you’ll have the chance to take classes across many disciplines at NYU. If I hadn’t taken a risk and enrolled in a class outside my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have found my passion for performance studies.