Frequently Asked Questions

What is the relationship between the Columbia and Barnard Theatre Departments?

The Department of Theatre, Barnard College, is the theatre department for all undergraduate students at Columbia University (Columbia College, Barnard College, School of General Studies, School of Engineering and Applied Science). The Department offers classes in the critical study of drama, theatre, and performance, as well as classes in the artistic practice of a range of disciplines: acting, directing, design, playwriting and dramaturgy. Although there is no formal relationship between the undergraduate theatre program and the graduate Theatre Division, School of the Arts, at Columbia University, the two programs have increasingly coordinated on curricular choices and theatre events.

What are some general characteristics of the department?

The Department of Theatre embeds theatre in the context of a liberal arts education. Students work in many different capacities in the theatre program. Creative artistic and critical work are reciprocally related in the department; majors are required to take courses in acting, directing, and design as well as theatre history, theory, and literature. Faculty expect all students to collaborate closely with faculty and fellow students and to produce ambitious, original work.

Are there auditions for the program?

No, since this is a B.A. rather than a B.F.A. program. Once a student is admitted to Barnard or Columbia, he or she may choose to major in theatre. There are auditions at the beginning of each semester to place students in acting classes and productions for that semester.

How many theatre majors are there?

On average, there are 20-30 Senior Theatre majors, and over 300 students are involved per year in the program, taking classes or working on productions.

Is there a theatre minor?

No, but at Barnard there is an English major with a concentration in theatre.

Do students concentrate in one area of theatre?

Majors are required to take courses in theatre history, literature, theory, directing, design, and acting. In the senior year students narrow their focus to concentrate on one or two areas for a thesis project. Theses may be in directing, design, acting, playwriting, history, theory, dramaturgy, or criticism. The senior project may be either a performance thesis or a written thesis.

What is a typical production year like?

There are usually two or three productions in the fall semester directed by faculty or visiting artists, as well as the final project for students in the Advanced Directing class. The spring semester usually consists of the Senior Thesis Festival, a production directed by faculty or a visiting artist, and evenings of Solo Performances and Staged Readings.

Do students get course credit for working on productions?

Yes. All students acting in or doing technical work for productions are enrolled in Rehearsal and Performance. Students receive 1-3 credits for production work depending on the assignment.

What are the acting opportunities?

At the beginning of each semester there are auditions to place students in acting classes and cast productions for the semester. Students may prepare a 60-second monologue or use material provided on arrival. There are generally 2 productions in the Fall semester. In the spring semester there is the Senior Thesis Festival and the spring departmental production.

Acting classes are based on subject matter — such as Acting Naturalism or Acting Shakespeare — rather than a consecutive progression. Students are exposed to a variety of acting techniques and may work with one or several different techniques in a course.

What are the opportunities for first-year students?

There is a separate audition session for first-year students in the Fall semester for classes and productions. First-year students are especially invited to audition for Acting Workshop in the fall semester, which is restricted to first-year students. Often first-year actors work with senior theatre majors in the Advanced Directing Lab. These students work in outside rehearsals with several different directors on a wide range of scenes to be presented in class each week. First-year students are also encouraged to work on a production crew. This is a great introduction to faculty, fellow students, and the production process.

Are there opportunities in musical theatre?

The Theatre Department offers two courses in acting musical theatre — Acting the Song and Acting the Musical Scene. Although we don't typically produce large-scale musicals as part of our production season, we often incorporate original music and singing into productions. There is a great student theatre group on campus, Columbia Musical Theatre Society. Many of our students work with that group as well as working within the department. 

What kind of internship opportunities exist in NYC theatres?

NYC theatres are pleased to have Barnard and Columbia students as interns. The Department of Theatre regularly posts information about internship opportunities. The Office of Career Development at Barnard and the Office of Career Services at Columbia on an individual basis to earn internships for both the summer and the academic year. Recently, students have interned with the following arts institutions: The Apollo Theatre; The Center for Fiction; Chautauqua Theater Company; Chicago City Limits; Disney Theatricals; Epic Theatre Ensemble; Flying Carpet Theatre Company; Free Arts NYC; HERE Arts Center; Jean Doumanian Productions; Jim Henson Company; Mabou Mines; Object Collection; The Pearl Theatre Company; The Public Theater; Theatre Communications Group; PL115; Polybe + Seats; TADA! Youth Theatre; Target Margin; Theodora Skipitares/Skysaver Productions; Voice & Vision; Waterwell; WET Productions; Women's Project.

Why should I major in theatre?

Majoring in theatre enables students to engage in a wide spectrum of creative and critical work; indeed, the joint major program encourages students to find a productive balance between one (or several) branches of artistic work (acting, directing, design, playwriting), and a critical, historical, and/or theoretical perspective on the cultural work of performance.

What are some useful first courses I should take to get to know this field? When should I take them?

The program offers a section of Acting Workshop open only to first-year students, and we encourage all potential majors to consider taking that class or the Scene Lab course early in their careers. It is also useful to begin taking the Western Theatre Traditions and Global Theatre sequences, which will provide a critical context to many of the works approached for scene study or in the departmental season. By the end of the second semester of the second year of study, it's strongly advised that students have taken at least two of the theatre studies courses (Theatre History; a Shakespeare class; a dramatic literature class), and at least one upper-division course in acting, directing, or design.

What are the major requirements and why do they take this form?

The major requirements are designed to provide an initial engagement with all aspects of drama, theatre, and performance culture. Students are required to understand the basic working of all areas of theatre, from acting, design, directing, and playwriting, to the formal study of drama, theatre history, and the critical theory of drama, theatre, and performance. Since theatre is a hands-on enterprise, majors are also involved in backstage work as well. The major requirements are designed to enable this blending of objectives.

Whom do I speak to about the major?

You might contact the Department Chair, W. B Worthen, or the Columbia adviser, Patricia Denison. Faculty advisers distributed across several fields (acting and directing, design, theatre and drama studies). Although students normally declare the major toward the end of the sophomore year, it's important to be thinking through your objectives, as some concentrations (directing, for example) require the completion of coursework in a timely fashion in order for you to be eligible for the thesis.

What research opportunities exist in or through the department?

The Department offers a wide range of work-study assignments, and the opportunity to work with research faculty members on specific research projects.

Will study abroad enhance this major?

Study abroad is a rich and valuable experience, and majors have frequently participated in the British Academy of Dramatic Arts and in the Moscow Art Theatre programs, as well as in other study abroad opportunities. Students planning to study abroad should discuss their course plans early with their faculty adviser, in order to ensure that they have the appropriate requirements for pursuing thesis options when they return.

How does one receive departmental honors?

Departmental honors are determined by the faculty, and based on the student's GPA in the major.

What awards and prizes are sponsored by the department?

The Department offers the Kenneth Janes prize, which is awarded to a Barnard College junior or senior; the department faculty nominate a Columbia College senior for the Austin E. Quigley prize. The Department also nominates Barnard and Columbia majors for a range of prizes at Barnard and Columbia College.

Are there any student clubs, committees, and/or activities offered within or through the department?

The Department does not sponsor non-curricular theatre groups, though we do on occasion work closely with both Barnard and Columbia student activities.

What career opportunities follow upon study in this field?

Many of our students decide to pursue work in the theatre, either auditioning here in New York, auditioning elsewhere, or by applying to an MFA program in some discipline of theatre (Acting, Design, etc.). In recent years, Barnard/Columbia students have joined several theatre companies, or have formed their own companies. Given the substantial emphasis on literary, historical, and critical studies in the major program, students are also well prepared to apply to graduate school in a range of fields (theatre studies, performance studies, literature), as well as to professional schools.

Whom should I contact about graduate study in the field?

The Department Chair, W. B. Worthen, is happy to discuss graduate study, and to make connections with appropriate members of the Barnard and Columbia faculty.
Related links:
Columbia University, Theatre Division
Columbia University School of the Arts
Barnard College Admissions
Columbia University Office of Undergraduate Admissions