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Performance and Activism

 In this module, students will explore the relationship between performance and activism, especially activism generated towards social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. Students will pursue coursework in the histories, theories, and tactics of activist performance in both their local and global dimensions; undertake guided activist practicums; and develop a final capstone project rooted in either the study or making of activist performance. 

Learning Objectives

  • To broaden students’ understanding of performance and its role in the production of social, political, and cultural behavior across nations, communities, and families. 
  • To describe key concepts in the relationship between performance and activism. 
  • To interpret the effect that performance has in generating the transformation of conflict, political discourse, human rights and activist initiatives as it relates to civic engagement, ethnographic methods, and artistic practice. 
  • To analyze public performance sites that range from activist interventions, governmental ceremonies, community and family traditions, and everyday behaviors of social and political life. 


Performance and Activism Course Requirements


Opportunities to Engage 

  • Participation in Northwestern Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR) 
  • Participation in green student groups: ECO, EWS, SEED, G.R.E.E.N. House 
  • Participation in Minorities in the Pursuit of Law and Business (The Pursuit) 
  • Work with RTVF and Theatre Department to develop community-based performance 
  • Work with Communication Studies to develop advocacy initiatives and service 
  • Volunteering for/participation in events sponsored by Center for Civic 
  • Volunteering for/participation in events sponsored by Program in African Studies 
  • Volunteering for/participation in Children and Family Justice Center 
  • Volunteering for/participation in Center for International Human Rights 
  • Volunteering for/participation in Center for Global Culture and Communication 
  • Volunteering for local non-for-profit organizations 
  • Internships with not-for-profit organizations 

Community Building Opportunities: 

  • Attending and participating in departmental Performance Hours 
  • Attending and participating in Guest Speaker Series 
  • Attending and participating in “On Your Feet Graduate” performance workshops 
  • Attending and volunteering for Graduate Student Recitals 
  • Attending capstone presentations and performances 
  • Attending designated group trips to local productions relevant to the module curriculum 


Under the guidance of the advisor, the student will develop a long-term capstone project that may take a host of forms. In the eight week of the first quarter, the student, upon consultation with their advisor, will submit a 1 page proposal for the capstone experience to be approve by the advisor and module coordinator. For module participants who are also Performance Studies Majors, the capstone will double as an Honors Thesis in Performance Studies. Students are highly encouraged to  enroll in a quarter of Independent Study (PERF ST 399) during the capstone year. Capstones will primarily take one of three forms: 

  • The development of a performance based, activist intervention. Working in consultation with their advisor, the student will plan an activist intervention. In addition to executing the intervention, the student will produce a portfolio that documents the conceptualization and organization process behind the intervention. This intervention will be accompanied by a written component that may take a host of forms: an accompanying critical essay, a manifesto, a tactual manual, etc. 
  • The development of an original creative/performance work addressing a specific activist exigency. Following successful execution of the performance work (no later than the sixth week of the students graduating quarter) the student will produce a portfolio documenting the process behind the performance with a framing statement introducing the project. 
  • Development of a traditional scholarly research project that addresses a key issue regarding the intersection of activism and performance. This project will take the form of a capstone thesis. For this option, students will assemble a committee of two faculty (including the advisor) members who will evaluate the capstone (for pass/fail) in a formal defense to be conducted no later than the sixth week of the students graduating quarter. 


Sponsoring Department: Performance Studies 

Module Coordinators: Marcela Fuentes 

Committee of Instruction: Josh Chambers-Letson, Marcela A. Fuentes, E. Patrick Johnson,  Shayna Silverstein, Elizabeth Son, Mary Alice Zimmerman 

Module Advisor: Exal Iraheta 

How to Enroll

This module is not currently accepting new enrollments. 

Open to all Northwestern students. 

To apply contact Exal Iraheta, 

Grade Policy

Students must maintain a B- average in module coursework. If their average falls below B-, they will not be permitted to submit a capstone.