University of Sydney Handbooks - 2012 Archive

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Performance Studies

Performance Studies is a department within the School of Letters, Art and Media (SLAM), located on level 1 at the rear of the Woolley Building (facing Manning Road).

Performance Studies considers the whole extended field of aesthetic, social and everyday performances across a range of cultural and historical contexts: from practices that we might readily recognise as theatre, dance, popular music, hybrid and/or contemporary performance through to the performative dimensions of rituals, festivals, sport, legal processes, protest actions and other kinds of activity.

This is a highly interdisciplinary program, drawing on anthropology, history, dance and movement studies among other influences. In various ways, all our units of study seek to explain the phenomenon of performance as a complex, collaborative endeavour, involving performers and audiences alike in the production of meaning, feelings, a view of the world as it is and as it might otherwise be.

Performance practice comes into the program in two ways: first, since all of the academic staff have significant professional experience, most units of study will involve a minor strand of practical workshop activities as an adjunct to text-based teaching methods and a way of grounding the major theoretical concerns of the course. Note, however, that there are no practical performance skills as a pre-requisite for Performance Studies, nor are students assessed on any such skills: this is not a vocational training program for actors, dancers, designers etc.

The second way in which the department engages with performance practice is through our extensive contacts with professional artists and companies, of whom many are involved in a regular artists-in-residence scheme. Particularly for students taking the Special Entry (or 'honours preparation') and Fourth Year Honours courses, there is an emphasis on participant-observation fieldwork and ethnographic research methods. These senior students have the opportunity to observe and analyse training, creative development, rehearsals and other kinds of performance preparation across a wide range of genres.

The Department of Performance Studies does not offer any junior units of study. Instead, students wishing to enrol in senior Performance Studies units need to have previously completed 18 junior credit points from units listed in Table A of this Handbook. We will also consider requests for an exemption of these requirements on the basis of studies completed at other institutions and/or relevant professional experience.

There are two compulsory, senior, core units:

  • PRFM2601 Being There: Theories of Performance (Semester 1)
  • PRFM2602 Performance: Production and Interpretation (Semester 2).

These core units are prerequisites for most of the PRFM3600-level units but there will always be a couple of 'easy access' optional senior units for students to take before, after, or alongside the core units (see the 'Yellow Pages' of this handbook for details and visit the departmental website).

Students can thus accumulate the 36 senior credit points (six senior units of study) required for a Performance Studies major in several ways:

  • 2 + 4, meaning students take the 2 core units (PRFM2601 and PRFM2602) in one year, then 4 PRFM optional units the following year
  • 3 + 3, meaning the 2 core units and 1 optional unit one year, followed by 3 more optional units the next year
  • 4 + 2, meaning 2 core units and 2 optional units one year, followed by 2 more optional units the next year.

NB. There are two Special Entry units (PRFM3961 Rehearsal Studies and PRFM3962 Inside Rehearsal) which students who are intending to do PRFM Fourth Year honours need to take in addition to the 36 senior credit points required for a major. Any student who obtains a strong credit or above result in the PRFM core units can enrol in these Special Entry units and we certainly recommend this as a way to keep all options open regarding honours.

Also, any student (whether going onto honours or not) is allowed to do more than the minimum required for a Performance Studies major (up to a total of 60 senior credit points in PRFM units), provided this fits within the overall requirements of their particular degree structure.

Up to 12 senior credit points from crosslisted subjects may be counted towards a major in Performance Studies. See the information available on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences website

Our honours year brings theory and practice closely together. It involves specialised seminars, a research thesis on an individual topic and a detailed case study based on first-hand fieldwork. Honours students become a valued part of a research culture which is world renowned and regularly attracts senior international visiting scholars to the department.

The prerequisites for entry into the Performance Studies Fourth Year Honours course are as follows: credit or above results in PRFM3961 and PRFM3962, and a minimum of a credit average in a further 36 senior credit points in PRFM units (or equivalent). For details of course components, see the Honours section of this handbook.

Contact/further information
Chair of Department: Dr Paul Dwyer Phone: +61 2 9351 6849

Department website: