The Studio in the Seminar: Performing Theory in an MFA Classroom


  • Dr. Karin Shankar Pratt Institute
  • Dr. Julia Steinmetz Pratt Institute


This article describes an "Introduction to Performance Theory" course that the authors co-teach to MFA students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Through the semester, we track genealogies of performance studies, highlighting the ways in which our interdiscipline has been incorporated as an academic field while still remaining sensationally unsettled in its interventions, methods, and objects of analysis. The focus of this article is on the ways we have tailored a performance theory course to serve MFA students—artists and makers across genre and discipline.  The article offers our syllabus and ten practice-based assignments to illustrate how we encourage the artists in our class to engage with critical theory and performance studies scholarship in an embodied way. Bringing the studio into the seminar, our MFA students stage performance experiments related to each week’s readings. Our syllabus is accompanied by a reflection on co-teaching performance studies as a dynamic couple form that itself constitutes a performance of pedagogy, an enactment of sociality, and an embodiment of theory.  

Author Biographies

Dr. Karin Shankar, Pratt Institute

Karin Shankar (Ph.D.) is an Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in the Department of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Women & Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory, TDR, Feminist Teacher, Art India, ASAP/Journal, Performance Philosophy, and elsewhere. She is currently working on her book manuscript titled: Molecular Aesthetics: Contemporary Art and Performance in India.

Dr. Julia Steinmetz , Pratt Institute

Julia Steinmetz (PhD) is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in the Humanities and Media Studies Department at Pratt Institute. Julia’s scholarly work has appeared in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Studies in Gender and Sexuality. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, QED: A Journal of GLBT Worldmaking, E-misférica, and Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, in which she also co-edited the special issue Feminist Landscapes. Her book manuscript, Performance Between the Psyche and the Social, focuses on mechanisms of psychic, interpersonal and social transformation in contemporary performance, institutional critique, and collective forms.