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Vanderbilt’s Department of Theatre offers a vital center of innovative scholarship, teaching, creative expression, and exploration. The study of theatre introduces students to a major form of literature and performing arts, thereby developing a familiarity with one of the greatest cultural heritages and an understanding of human behavior as it is reflected throughout the ages. Theatre uniquely shapes perceptions about life into an active experience. Because this process encourages critical thought and discussion, the Department provides a singular and important aspect of a liberal arts education through its production season and coursework. Viewed as a practical extension of the Department’s curriculum, shows are produced in Neely Auditorium, a laboratory where students learn to form creative expressions as well as to evaluate and critique them. 

On one level, the Department of Theatre helps the general liberal arts student develop reasoned standards of criticism and an understanding of the intimate correlation between the theatre and the society which it reflects, preparing Vanderbilt graduates for successful careers in theatre as well as other fields of interest. For its major and minors, the Department provides a more detailed and specialized study of the major components of theatrical endeavor, allowing opportunities for the practical application of coursework in the productions staged at the theatre. In many cases, the Department helps to prepare students with professional aspirations as either artists or teachers for future training and education in their specialized area of interest.


Four main-stage productions are produced each year, two each semester. Productions are typically directed and designed by faculty members or guest artists, and qualified students have assumed these roles from time to time. All acting is done by students. In addition to the main-stage productions, student-directed and designed one-act plays are produced throughout the year. With faculty supervision and mentorship, these productions provide student playwrights, directors, designers, stage managers, actors and technicians additional opportunities to explore their craft. Because undergraduate theatre students at Vanderbilt are not competing with graduate students for positions onstage and off, ample production opportunities exist, creating well-rounded fully experienced students by the time that they graduate.

A typical season at Vanderbilt will include two contemporary works alongside two texts from the classical repertoire. In a four year time period, the Department strives to expose students to Greek and Renaissance drama, Restoration and eighteenth-century comedy, twentieth century Realism and alternatives to Realism, in addition to Shakespeare and musical comedy.

The Department is closely linked with Vanderbilt University Theatre, a student organization which supports the department by recruiting crews and actors, as well as publicizing productions. Each year, more than one hundred different students participate on some level in the various productions throughout the year.


Work in the productions at Vanderbilt reflects the instruction that occurs in the classroom at Neely Auditorium. Because so much of the training requires hands-on, project-oriented teaching, students can expect small-to-medium class enrollments and numerous opportunities for exposure to faculty instruction outside of the classroom. The Department’s curriculum includes courses in acting, directing, playwriting, design, technology, dramatic literature, theatre history and criticism, and filmmaking.

Students can either major or minor in Theatre at Vanderbilt. The major consists of a minimum of thirty-five hours that include required courses in acting, directing, dramatic literature, theatre history/criticism, design, technology, and stagecraft. For the minor, students select one of three more narrowly focused tracks (dramatic literature/theatre history, acting/directing, or design/technology) and complete a minimum of eighteen hours of coursework.

Students may also learn by studying with Fred Coe Artists-in-Residence, distinguished guest-artist professionals brought to campus each year to benefit majors, minors, and those with a serious interest in theatre. Week-long master classes are taught by playwrights, actors, designers, and directors from the professional world of theatre, television, and film. Previous Coe Artists have included such celebrated artists as Karl Malden, Olympia Dukakis, Fiona Shaw, Eva Marie Saint, and Actors from the London Stage.

Qualified theatre majors may participate in the Department’s honors program. Designed to provide excellent students with an opportunity to pursue more intensive work within their major field, candidates who meet rigorous specified academic requirements are allowed the chance to conduct research and write an honors thesis their senior year. Students who successfully complete an honors oral examination of their thesis graduate with Honors or High Honors.

Occasionally, exceptional students are given opportunities to design or direct main-stage productions if they demonstrate extraordinary skills in class and productions. This experience is invaluable for qualified individuals who later seek to pursue advanced training with professional companies or graduate schools.

The Theatre Department also sponsors a month-long program of study of theatre in London during the Maymester. Students have the opportunity to witness a variety of theatrical experiences, as well as hear professional artists speak as guest lecturers.

Performance Space and Facilities

Originally a chapel, Neely Auditorium was converted in 1976 to a theatrical space. The conversion was designed by architect Peter Blake and designer David Hays based upon their Off-Broadway Theatre, part of the Ford Foundation’s Ideal Theatre Project. The theatre is a flexible performance space, a “black box,” and can be arranged into any of the three major audience/performer configurations (proscenium, thrust, arena), as well as corner, runway, and non-contiguous stages. Because the actor/audience relationship changes for each new production, by the time students graduate from Vanderbilt, they have been exposed as audience members, performers, designers, and technicians to a wide variety of theatrical experiences. Typically arranged with less than two hundred and fifty seats per performance, audiences and the production team enjoy a rare intimacy. In addition to the performance space, Neely also contains well-equipped scene and costume shops, props storage, make-up/dressing rooms, and state-of-the-art computerized lighting and sound systems.

After Vanderbilt

Theatre majors and minors from Vanderbilt have entered a wide variety of professions and post-graduate opportunities after they graduate. Those seeking employment in the fields of theatre, film, radio, or television have secured positions at appropriate graduate schools or internships with professional companies immediately following their study at Vanderbilt. Many distinguished professional theatre companies across the nation, television networks in New York, and the film industry in Los Angeles include Vanderbilt Theatre alumni as writers, actors, designers, directors, technicians, dramaturgs, and stage managers.

In addition, many Vanderbilt theatre students have secured teaching assignments at either the college/university level (once they have completed appropriate post-graduate education) or the elementary/secondary education level. Because the practice of theatre requires individuals to collaborate with all other members of the production team, to express elements of abstract thought in both oral and written form, and to develop the critical ability to assess and analyze aesthetic choices, recent graduates have also pursued careers in such widely diverse fields as law, medicine, psychology, and business.


For information about faculty and their research, visit


Leah Lowe
Chair, Department of Theatre
201 Neely Auditorium
Nashville, TN  37235
Phone: (615) 322-3617

Theatre Website