PhD in Theatre Studies

Learn in one of the oldest and most respected doctoral program in the country which has produced leading scholars, writers, educators, and administrators in the field.


The PhD Program is not currently accepting external applications. Information regarding application processes will be updated in the near future.

Student recieves doctorate at graduation

What to Expect

The Theatre Studies Program at the University of Illinois 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, dramaturgy, and the development of dramatic criticism through the ages and across borders, with particular emphasis on American theatre. Established under the guidance of Barnard Hewitt, the program has granted more than 150 degrees to date and has affiliated faculty spanning the campus, from English to Classics, from New Media to Medieval Studies. The program supports students developing a nuanced understanding of the history, literature, and theory of theatre in its social and cultural contexts. The University Library is ranked among the top in the nation for the breadth and depth of its holdings.

Highlights of our Program

  • Opportunities to work with Theatre Faculty Affiliates in many different units
  • Potential for up to four years of funding
  • Build expertise in a range of spoken and lyric dramatic forms: Ancient Greek, Early American, Early Modern, Eastern European, German Theatre, Medieval Drama, Multimedia Music Theatre, and Opera
  • Curriculum oriented toward historiography, production history, criticism, gender theory, critical race theory, adaptation studies, cold war studies, diaspora studies, and devised theatre
  • Opportunities to develop a teaching and mentoring portfolio in courses such as Introduction to Theatre, Dramatic Analysis, Modern Drama, and Theatre History
  • Online and face-to-face teaching options
  • The chance to mentor undergraduates in directing, dramaturgy, and artistic management
  • Strong academic placement history
  • Outstanding Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection in Theatre
  • Access to all the University of Illinois Library has to offer.

Production Opportunities

  • Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, that regularly supports new work in development and gives students the chance to be part of the process
  • The Armory Free Theatre, a blackbox performance space used by students and faculty to create and present cutting-edge work
  • Lively campus and local theatre community, including The Station Theatre and Parkland College
Student recieves doctorate at graduation


Admission to the PhD program typically requires the presentation of a master’s degree in theatre or a closely related field. A student finishing an MA degree in theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign must apply formally. The Admissions Committee prioritizes applicants who present a solid array of theatre and dramatic literature courses as well as a real promise of earning their degree 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 Jeffrey Eric Jenkins.

Anyone interested in applying should obtain an Application for Admission to the Graduate College. Follow the application process on the Graduate College website.

Applicants are required to complete the online application 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 (recommended, but NOT required).
  • 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 thought. These may be papers written for earlier courses and should demonstrate the applicant’s competence in writing, and in addressing a significant theatre/drama-related topic.
  • A statement of academic and professional intentions.
  • A resumé of activities in theatrical production.
  • International students must submit recent TOEFL or IELTS scores. The minimum score for consideration is 550. In addition, the Test of Written English (TWE) is strongly encouraged for non-native speakers.

For fullest consideration of financial support, the deadline for applications is December 15. Applications will be accepted up until March 15.

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 with all assistantships and fellowships. Financial aid is typically provided for four academic years to students who remain in good standing and successfully complete their assigned duties.

Special funding opportunities to note:

Visit the Graduate College Fellowship & Grant Competitions website for more information on these and others.

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 must 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.

Information for Current Students

Summary of Requirements for the PhD

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


  • A master’s degree or its equivalent (the equivalent is at least 32 hours at Illinois or 32 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 32 of these hours counted as Thesis Research (THEA 599).
  • At least 16 hours of the above-listed 64 hours must be in 500-level theatre seminars.
  • Maximum of eight hours of the above-listed 64 hours can be used for Colloquium in Theatre Research (THEA 591 TR).
  • Independent Studies may not be used towards the above-listed 64-hour requirement.


  • At least 40 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.


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.


All students in the PhD program must meet with the core faculty for their annual evaluation at the end of the 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 following documents to the chair of the program:

  1. Transcript of graduate courses taken at UIUC
  2. Term papers written during the year
  3. Current curriculum vitae
  4. 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 40 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 the 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 and include 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 Prospectus Guidelines):

  • A tentative title for the dissertation.
  • The initial premise or hypothesis from which the research will begin.
  • An appraisal of the need for this study in the light of previous scholarship, including other dissertations.
  • A consideration of the probable methods of research and analysis.
  • A description of the resources necessary for the writing of the dissertation and their availability.
  • 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; this period may be extended at the request of the unit, as 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.


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.

Learn How to Apply

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