After lobbying to change the name of the Program in Theater Studies, faculty members learned earlier this month that they had succeeded — the Program in Theater Studies is now known as the Program in Theater and Performance Studies.
Faculty members in the program received a statement on Oct. 3 from Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler with the announcement. In the statement, Gendler said she was “delighted” with the change, crediting the decision to a “broadening of scholarship on theater and drama.” The name plaque outside the Theater and Performance Studies office on 220 York St. has already been updated. For Department Chair and professor Marc Robinson, the change reflects the gradual growth in the subject at Yale. In addition to traditional classes associated with theater studies — like theater history and acting — more and more classes have included the performance studies, he said.
“It made sense to revise the name,” Robinson told the News. “Our field has grown more elastic and interdisciplinary over the last 30 or 40 years and performance studies is one of the disciplines that allows us to understand the nature of that expansion.”
Other than the name, nothing has immediately changed, Robinson added. In fact, many performance studies scholars have already studied at the University for years. The difference between theater and performance studies is that the latter is not necessarily restricted to plays or performances in theaters. For instance, Robinson said that the field “challenges those traditional ideas of what counts as a performance” by including political, religious, sports and other rituals under the wider umbrella of performance studies.
According to Robinson, the newly renamed program will not alter its graduation requirements. Undergraduates must take the yearlong survey of theater history and an introductory acting course, among the requisite classes in the major. But as the program’s faculty grows, Robinson said his department — along with others — is looking to expand. He is looking forward to more course listings involving performance studies that could arise in the future.
Still, Robinson said that the name change is “really not going to bring about radical changes down the line.”
The announcement is the latest in a string of University-related name changes in recent history. In 2017, the Department of Statistics became the Department of Statistics and Data Science to better reflect “the growing need for teaching and research” in the field, according to a 2017 news release from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In 2014, the Film Studies Program changed to the Film and Media Studies Program.
Gendler, who assumed her post that year, wrote in an email statement to the News that such evolutions in program names reflect the commitment of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to recognize the changing academic landscape, including developments in units that are analogous to those in theater and performance studies.
“Today’s scholars, students and artists study not only theater, but a diverse range of kinds of performances,” Gendler wrote.
Theater and performance studies professor Elise Morrison told the News that her colleagues are “very pleased” with the official name change. She added that the new name reflects “on paper” what has already been a steady change in the program’s areas of study. Morrison wrote in an email that the program already has “an incredibly robust and popular” dance studies program.
While Morrison occasionally teaches a public speaking class, others — like professors Tavia Nyong’o and Daphne Brooks — combine other fields with performance studies to expand scholarship. Morrison called the major “an exciting place.”
“By using the term ‘performance,’ we can examine the ways in which laws and taboos and cultural norms and digital technologies shape our speech, actions and thoughts,” she explained. These are “behaviors that we think of as our ‘performances’ in everyday life, as well as those on stage,” she added.
This fall, 26 courses are offered under theater studies in Yale College, according to Yale Course Search.
Matt Kristoffersen | firstname.lastname@example.org