PhD: Theatre Studies

Interdisciplinary Program in Theatre Studies

The Theatre Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers graduate and undergraduate degrees (BFA, MA + PhD) in the academic study of theatre as a liberal art. Our focus is on the history of theatre and the development of dramatic criticism through the ages and across borders, with particular emphasis on American theatre. Our doctoral program is one of the oldest and most respected in the country and has produced some of the world’s leading scholars, writers, educators, and administrators in the field. Established under the guidance of Barnard Hewitt as a program in Theatre History + Criticism, the Interdisciplinary Program in Theatre Studies strives to produce cutting-edge research and groundbreaking leaders in theatre scholarship.

Founded by the distinguished theatre historian Barnard Hewitt, the PhD Program in Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country with more than 150 degrees granted. Its graduates are leading scholars and teachers across the country. The program has been recognized for its focus on American theatre history. The vast collections of the University Library make the campus one of the nation’s most productive centers for arts research. The program is designed for students who wish to undertake a scholarly study of theatre. The program requires students to acquire a general knowledge of the history, literature, and theory of theatre in its social and cultural contexts. This broad study is accomplished in courses taken during the first two years of residence and is tested in a Preliminary Examination. The program further requires students to develop expertise in a particular branch of theatre. This “Special Field” may be in a specific era or genre of dramatic literature or in the history and theory of a particular area of theatre. The completion of the degree requires a dissertation, which must be an original contribution to theatre scholarship in the area of the special field.

Highlights of the Doctoral Program in Theatre at Illinois

Darrell Hoemann/Illinois Department of Theatre Miriam played by Jessica Kadish and Daniel played by Ford Bowers in an scene from Sheri Wilner's play Kingdom City in the Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 Directed by J.W. Morissette, the play runs Feb. 4-6 and 9-13 at 7:30 pm and Sunday Feb. 14 at 3 pm in Krannert Center's Studio TheatreInterdisciplinary Research Emphasis
  • Opportunities to work with Theatre Faculty Affiliates across campus
  • Build expertise in Ancient Greek, Early American, Early Modern, Eastern European, German Theatre, Medieval, Multimedia Music Theatre, and Opera
  • Curriculum oriented toward historiography, production history, gender theory, critical race theory, intersections between theatre and law, adaptation studies, cold war studies, diaspora studies, and devised theatre
Teaching Assistantships and Fellowships Available
  • Potential for up to four years of funding
  • Opportunities to build teaching and mentoring portfolio
  • Teach Introduction to Theatre, Dramatic Analysis, Modern Drama, Theatre History
  • Online and face-to-face teaching options
  • Mentor Undergraduates in directing, dramaturgy, artistic management, and research projects
Among the Best Research Libraries in the World
Production Opportunities
  • Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
  • Armory Free Theatre is a blackbox performance space used by students and faculty to create and present cutting-edge work
  • Lively campus and local theatre community
Engagement with World Renowned Theatre Artists
  • Krannert Center for the Performing Arts offers lectures and workshops and supports new work development involving visiting artists
  • Strong Academic Placement History
ADMISSION

Admission to the PhD Program normally requires the presentation of a master’s degree in theatre or in a closely related field. A student finishing an MA degree in theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign must apply formally and will be considered in competition with applicants who have taken master’s degrees elsewhere. Because applications for admission usually far exceed capacity, the selection process is highly competitive.

The committee on admissions tends to select those applicants who present a solid array of theatre and dramatic literature courses, knowledge of a foreign language, and real promise of earning degrees within a reasonable time. Preference is given to applicants who will be full-time students and active degree candidates.

While interviews are not required, we strongly recommend prospective students visit the Illinois campus to meet with faculty and students. To arrange an interview or for further information, contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Valleri Robinson at valleri2@illinois.edu

Anyone interested in applying should obtain an Application for Admission to the Graduate College. The application process can be found at http://www.grad.illinois.edu/admissions/apply

Applicants are required to complete this form, pay a processing fee, and supply the following material:

  • Transcripts of all previous college work.
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores in the verbal section.
  • Three letters of recommendation, preferably from instructors of the applicant’s theatre and drama classes or from experienced theatre professionals (to be sent separately by the letter writers).
  • Two writing samples consisting of original scholarly or critical essays. These may be papers written for earlier courses or newly written papers for the application. They should demonstrate the applicant’s competence in writing and in dealing with a significant topic in theatre or drama.
  • A statement of academic and professional intentions.
  • A resumé of activities in theatrical production.
  • International students must submit recent TOEFL scores. The minimum score for consideration is 550. In addition, the Test of Written English (TWE) is strongly encouraged for non-native speakers.

The deadline for applications is January 15, and decisions are ordinarily announced by March 1 in the spring preceding enrollment.

FINANCIAL AID

Financial aid is available to most PhD students admitted to the program. The Department offers several teaching and research assistantships and a limited number of fellowships. Tuition and fee waivers are included in all assistantships and fellowships. Financial aid is ordinarily provided for four academic years to students who remain in good standing and successfully complete their assigned duties.

Current students needing assistantship in the following academic year must write an email to the Director of Graduate Studies describing all previous assistantships the student has had at UIUC and list two ranked choices for desired assistantship in the following academic year. A brief explanation should be given as to why the student is qualified to take on the assistantship. All current students may submit the email, but preference will be given to those in their first three years of the program. Assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis, and the faculty considers the student’s performance in coursework and previous assistantships when making the decision. The email must be received by February 1.

SUMMARY OF REQUIREMENTS FOR THE PHD

Students should be familiar with all of the doctoral degree requirements as stated in the Graduate College Handbook.

COURSEWORK
  • A master’s degree or its equivalent (the equivalent is at least thirty-two hours at UIUC or thirty-two semester hours of acceptable graduate work at another university).
  • Sixty-four semester hours of graduate courses beyond the master’s level, with no more than thirty-two of these hours counted as thesis research (THEA 599).
  • At least sixteen hours of the above-listed sixty-four hours must be in 500-level theatre seminars.
  • Maximum of eight hours of the above-listed sixty-four hours can be used for Theatre 591 TR (Colloquium in Theatre Research).
  • Independent Studies may not be used towards the above-listed sixty-four hour requirement.
RESIDENCE
  • At least forty-three hours beyond the master’s degree must be earned in courses meeting on the Urbana-Champaign campus or Chicago campus, or in courses meeting in other locations that have been approved by the Graduate College.
  • Once residence has been completed, students may petition the Graduate College for permission to register in absentia.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE

A reading knowledge of at least one foreign language is required. This requirement may by satisfied in three ways: (1) by completing the appropriate 501-level language course with a grade of A or B, (2) by presenting the equivalent of three years of college-level language study, or (3) by receiving a score above 500 on the Graduate Student Foreign Languages Tests (GSFLT). The GSFLT is a national test administered on campus.

ADVISOR

A faculty member is temporarily assigned as the advisor for all incoming doctoral students. By the end of the second year, each student is required to select a permanent advisor who typically also serves as the dissertation director. The advisor must be a core faculty member of the PhD program in theatre, but the dissertation director may be a UIUC faculty member outside of the program.

EVALUATION

All students in the PhD program must meet with the core faculty for their annual evaluation at the end of spring semester. Those who have not passed their Preliminary Examination may be asked to meet at the end of every semester. In preparation for the meeting, the student should email the Chair of the program the following documents: (1) transcript of graduate courses taken at UIUC; (2) term papers written during the year; (3) current curriculum vitae; (4) a brief statement describing the student’s progress in the program. The student must pass the annual evaluation satisfactorily in order to continue in the program and to be eligible for financial aid.

PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION AND DISSERTATION PROSPECTUS DEFENSE

Students must complete at least forty hours of coursework before taking the preliminary examination, which is usually taken at the beginning of the third year beyond the master’s degree. At least six months before the exam, in consultation with their academic advisor, the student must form their exam committee, including one member willing to serve longer term as research director.

The exam committee should consist of at least four voting members, three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two tenured faculty members. The preliminary exam is written over two consecutive school days (six hours of writing per day, during regular business hours) and is based on reading lists and topics of study developed by the student in consultation with each member of their committee. The research director will test the candidate’s knowledge of the particular area of theatre and drama in which the proposed dissertation topic lies, and oversee the development of the dissertation prospectus.

The examination committee will review the written tests with the student in an oral exam, which must be held within two weeks. A failed preliminary exam may be retaken only once. Following a successful oral exam, the committee will proceed immediately to the candidate’s defense of their dissertation prospectus. If the exam committee requests the candidate to revise and resubmit the prospectus, the exam committee must reconvene for a new defense.

At least three weeks before the written examination, the student must submit the “Preliminary Examination Form” to the Chair of the MA/PhD program. The form should detail the dates, hours, whether the examination is open or closed book and other requirements for the examination. The form is available on the Department of Theatre website and in the Department of Theatre office.

PROSPECTUS: Due 3 weeks prior to written examination

At least three weeks before the written examination, the student must circulate to the examination committee their dissertation prospectus, following research director approval.

The written portion of the prospectus should be 5-10 pages double-spaced, plus a full bibliography. The prospectus should demonstrate the student’s potential to write a dissertation that makes a substantial contribution to the literature relating to the project. It should also describe the scope of the project, which is expected to be completed within 2 years. The following items must be included in the prospectus (see further details here):

  1. A tentative title for the dissertation.
  2. The initial premise or hypothesis from which the research will begin.
  3. An appraisal of the need for this study in the light of previous scholarship, including other dissertations.
  4. A consideration of the probable methods of research and analysis.
  5. A description of the resources necessary for the writing of the dissertation and their availability.
  6. Tentative chapter divisions.
DISSERTATION COMMITTEE

After a successful prospectus defense, candidates should form a dissertation committee which will serve as their final examination committee. Typically, some or all preliminary examination committee members will be part of the final examination committee. In any case, the committee must be composed of at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty and a minimum of two tenured faculty members. This last requirement may be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period of three years following their resignation or retirement; that period may be extended at the request of the unit, so long as the faculty member remains actively involved in the graduate program.

If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members should be members of the Graduate Faculty. The research director normally serves as the chair of the committee, but exceptions are allowed. The chair of the dissertation committee must be a member of the Graduate Faculty but does not have to be a faculty member in the Department of Theatre. A contingent chair may be designated to serve as the chair of the dissertation committee should the original chair be unable to serve for any reason.

PROSPECTUS

After passing the Preliminary Examination, each candidate must submit a dissertation prospectus to his or her dissertation committee. The written portion of the prospectus should be between 10 and 15 pages. A bibliography should also be submitted. The prospectus must be approved by the dissertation committee within a maximum of three months of the student passing the Preliminary Examination. Extensions of time require the approval of the dissertation director and the dissertation committee.

The prospectus should demonstrate the student’s potential to write a dissertation that makes a substantial contribution to the literature relating to the project. It should also describe the scope of the project, which is expected to be completed in approximately 1-2 years. The following items must be included in the prospectus:

  1. A tentative title for the dissertation, emphasizing key topics addressed.
  2. The initial premise or hypothesis from which the research will begin.
  3. An appraisal of the need for this study in the light of previous scholarship, including other dissertations.
  4. A consideration of the probable methods of research and analysis.
  5. A description of the resources necessary for the writing of the dissertation and their availability.
  6. Tentative chapter divisions.
  7. A bibliography of relevant works.

The candidate may be requested by the dissertation committee to revise and resubmit the prospectus.

DISSERTATION

Guided by the approved prospectus, the candidate will undertake research in the dissertation topic under the supervision of the dissertation director.

FINAL EXAMINATION

Once the dissertation has been completed, it must be unanimously approved in a final oral examination by the candidate’s dissertation committee. See the Graduate College Handbook for more detail.

COMPLETING THE DISSERTATION

The candidate must complete all requirements for the PhD degree within six years of the first registration in the doctoral program on the Illinois campus. Time extensions are granted only when justified and approved by the advisor, the Head of the Department, and the Graduate College. If more than five years elapse between a candidate’s Preliminary and Final examinations, he or she will be required to pass a second Preliminary Examination. An examination committee must be formed, and the format of the examination should be decided by the candidate’s advisor.

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