The Performing Arts Department (PAD) of Washington University in St. Louis, housed in the Division of the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, is dedicated to teaching the disciplines of theater and dance as a fundamental part of a liberal arts education based in a research university. We believe that the practice and study of theater, dance, and performance provide crucial interpretive windows into history and culture and that they deepen our understanding of diverse human experience across time and around the globe.
We believe that both rigorous critical study of these cultural forms and disciplined aesthetic practice provide vital modes of inquiry that advance knowledge. We promote the integration of study and practice at every level of our curriculum, and in our production season as well. Artistic practice in theater and dance significantly extend one’s understanding of artistic form, in its historical as well as its aesthetic dimensions. Critical study and intellectual engagement with a wide range of historical and cultural manifestations of theater, dance, and performance makes for more vital and important art.
The Major in Drama
A major in drama provides an academically rigorous course of study—with a strong grounding in theater history, dramatic literature, performance studies, and dramatic theory—that also develops students’ knowledge of theater by means of practice. We strongly believe in the mutually beneficial relationship between the study and the practice of theater.
The three-semester theater culture studies sequence provides a solid background in history, literature, and performance, and students take an additional three courses in theater and performance studies. Within theater arts, students with their advisors may design their own course of study or be guided by diverse “paths” of study in acting, directing, playwriting, or design. Our theater arts courses, regularly drawing from exemplars such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Beckett, are based on a liberal arts, rather than a conservatory model.
The major requires six courses in theater/performance studies and seven courses in theater arts.
The Major in Dance
The Dance Division emphasizes the study of dance as an independent art and as a vital component in many types of theatrical production. You may major in dance or elect to minor in modern dance, ballet, or "world music, theater and dance." Course topics include theory and techniques of modern dance and ballet, composition, improvisation, dance history and ethnology, applied anatomy, pedagogy, musical theater, jazz, tap, and world dance forms such as West African and bharata natyam.
The dance program also offers a variety of opportunities for students particularly interested in dance performance and choreography. In the fall, you may audition for Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT), a student company that presents annual concerts of choreography by faculty and guest artists in Edison Theatre. Each year a dance choreographed for WUDT and a student work are sent to the regional American College Dance Conference. The Margaret Marcus residency and other dance gift funds enable the department to bring to campus visiting performers of national renown who teach workshops and master classes. Washington University dancers have performed works by José Limon, Donald McKayle, Paul Taylor, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Doug Varone, Alonzo King, Rulan Tangen, and alumnus David Dorfman. Every spring student choreographers have the opportunity to audition their work for Young Choreographers Showcase (a department sponsored event) or for Student Dance Showcase, directed and produced by WashU dance students. Dance majors who present honors concerts and senior projects also audition their peers for roles in their work.
Our Playwright-in-Residence produces the annual A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition each spring. This is open to all undergraduate and graduate students at Washington University. In the fall A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival, the top three plays are workshopped with a professional dramaturge and the program culminates in a public reading.
The Performing Arts Department coordinates two overseas summer programs: Study Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre in London includes 4 weeks of training in acting, history, critical theory, textual analysis, voice and movement; MADE in France offers interdisciplinary study with dancers and designers for 10 days in Paris and 2 weeks in rural France.
Graduates of the Performing Arts Department at Washington University are well-prepared and regularly placed in top graduate programs in the arts. Several pursue graduate (MFA) degrees in Acting, Directing, Design, or Dance, while others pursue a PhD in their chosen field of study. Still others go on to do advanced degrees in Psychology, Law, Business, and English. Numerous Performing Arts graduates have chosen to move directly into the profession, and are pursuing screen careers or are acting or dancing in companies around the United States.
There is a strong network of PAD alumni who work with students to identify internships or permanent positions in the profession. Recent graduates are top executives at major Hollywood studios and at Disney. Another graduate, Barbara Thomas, formerly Senior Vice President and CFO, HBO Sports, has returned to her career in acting. Russell Schwartz is Senior Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs at Starz Media. Alumni like Harold Ramis and Michael Shamberg launched their own production companies, and Peter Sarsgaard has starred in films such as Garden State and Jarhead. More recently alumna Marisa Wegrzyn was recognized nationally when she won the prestigious Wendy Wasserstein Playwright award. She is currently writing for TV while continuing her work in theater around the country.