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Vanderbilt’s Department of Theatre, located centrally in Neely Auditorium, offers students a variety of experiences in innovative scholarship, teaching, creative expression, and cultural exploration. The study of theatre, in our classrooms and on our stage, provides students with applied knowledge in historical and contemporary performance practices, skills in the analysis of dramatic literature, and engagement in performance as a cultural product. As a community-oriented art form, theatre shapes our perceptions of ourselves and the world in which we live. As a vital component to a liberal arts education, theatre studies encourage critical thought and discussion with both the Department’s production season and coursework. The shows produced in Neely Auditorium are a practical extension of the Department’s curriculum; our theatre space is 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, preparing Vanderbilt graduates for successful careers in the commercial and nonprofit entertainment industries, as well as many other professions. 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 our productions. The Theatre Department prepares students for entry into a variety of disciplines, depending on the students’ specialized areas of interest.


The Theatre Department produces four main-stage productions each year typically directed and designed by faculty members or guest artists, however qualified students assume these roles from time to time. Casts and crews are made up of Vanderbilt students. Vanderbilt students have multiple opportunities to participate in productions, on and offstage, both in our mainstage and with a variety of student produced projects such as a First Year Showcase, the 24-Hour Production and New Works Festivals. With faculty supervision and mentorship, these productions provide student playwrights, actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs, stage managers, and technicians additional opportunities to explore their and build skills in theatre artistry. Vanderbilt University Theatre’s small size allows students ample production opportunities for involvement, offering well-rounded student experiences by graduation.

The Department is closely linked with Vanderbilt University Theatre, a student organization that 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.


Theatre education at Vanderbilt is hands-on and project-oriented, so students can expect small-to-medium class sizes and numerous opportunities for exposure to faculty instruction outside of the classroom. The Department’s curriculum includes courses in acting, directing, dramatic writing, design, technology, dramatic literature, theatre history and criticism, and filmmaking.

Students can major or minor in Theatre at Vanderbilt. The major consists of a minimum of thirty-five hours including required courses in acting, directing, dramatic literature, theatre history/criticism, design, and technology. 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. Some visits result in week-long master classes taught by playwrights, actors, designers, and directors from the professional world of theatre, television, or film, while others involve multi-week experiences working with artists in the creation of a production.

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

Students may earn opportunities to direct or design main-stage productions if they demonstrate the necessary skills and interest in class and productions. Especially for those who intend to pursue advanced training with professional companies for graduate schools, this experience is an important way to complete students’ education.

The Theatre Department regularly offers students opportunities to attend productions in Nashville venues through a program to purchase tickets for students. The department also sponsors annual trips to the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, the pre-eminent new works festival in the U.S. The department also offers a month-long Maymester courses in theatre capitals like London where students experience a variety of professional theatrical performances while also exploring other cultural events and activities.

Performance Space and Facilities

Neely Auditorium was originally a chapel, but in 1976 architect Peter Blake and designer David Hays converted the building to a theatrical space 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, that can be arranged into any of the three major audience/performer configurations (proscenium, thrust, arena), as well as corner, runway, and non-contiguous stages. The actor/audience relationship typically changes for each production, so by the time students graduate from Vanderbilt, audience members, performers, designers, and technicians have experienced to a wide variety of theatrical environments. Typically arranged with fewer 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 houses 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. Alumni seeking careers in theatre, film, radio, or television have attended top ranking graduate schools or worked with professional companies 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, directors, designers, technicians, dramaturgs, stage managers, and administrators. 

Vanderbilt alumni also apply their theatre background as teachers, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and in many other professions. The practice of theatre encourages individuals to collaborate within a production team, to express elements of abstract thought in oral and written form, and to develop the critical ability to assess and analyze aesthetic choices, making Theatre students attractive to potential employers who value critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 


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