Doctor of Philosophy in Theatre and Performance Studies

Philosophers of Theatre

The PhD program in Theatre History and Performance Studies is distinguished by its emphases on historical and contemporary engagement with exigencies of mobility, ranging from exile, migration, and diaspora to translation and adaptation. The program prioritizes the transnational, the global, and the decolonial in theatre history and performance studies. Gender, race, ethnicity, and class function as primary areas of scholarly and artistic enquiry across historical, historiographical, literary, performance, and practice-based research methodologies. The program prioritizes the integration of scholarship with teaching and artistic practice.

The PhD program in Theatre History and Performance Studies trains scholars in historiographical methodology; performance studies; critical theory; historical, performance, and textual analysis. By the completion of their training, students are expected to demonstrate fluency with established scholarly paradigms of the field as well as facility with emergent and cross-disciplinary approaches. The rigorous five-year curriculum is comprised of departmental seminars offered by the graduate faculty and complemented by a range of seminars from across the University’s thriving intellectual departments and communities, including History of Art and Architecture, Film Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Global Studies Center, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, and the Cultural Studies program, among others. The PhD program mentors a students’ professionalization by actively supporting publication, conference participation, and membership in professional organizations. The program prepares students to participate in and contribute to scholarly conversations nationally and internationally. 

The program’s scholarly training is directly linked to teaching and artistic creation. All PhD students instruct a variety of undergraduate courses under mentorship of the faculty, which may include history, dramatic analysis, and/or performance. The PhD program is integral to the department’s BA’s stated goals of training the next generation of artist-citizens as well as to the creative and critical work of the department’s production season. Graduate students often serve as undergraduate mentors and advisors as well as artistic collaborators with the faculty. Through the Special Option, PhD students are mentored on an individual basis towards enhancing a primary, or developing a secondary, fluency with artistic practice and production processes, most often in the area of directing, dramaturgy, or playwriting. The PhD program welcomes applicants with MAs, MFAs, and other Masters degrees.

The PhD program in Theatre History and Performance Studies develops versatile, flexible graduate students with unique creative and critical aptitudes. Graduates of the program are well-qualified and competitive candidates for academic positions at a variety of institutions, post-doctoral research opportunities, and non-academic employment sectors.

We recommend that you read the online Graduate Handbook (PDF) before applying.

Curriculum (Beyond the MA degree)

Curriculum and Requirements for the Completion of the Degree


A minimum of three years or six terms of full-time residency is required.  It is not possible to complete the degree on a part-time basis.


72 credit hours, of which 24 can be granted for an approved Master’s degree or its equivalent, are required past the BA, made up of courses stipulated in the curriculum and electives (including independent study, directed study, in-training programs, and dissertation credits).

Required Course Program

  • One, Two, or three sections of World Theatre (as designated by the Diagnostic Exam)
  • Nine seminar-level courses in history, literature, and critical theory of theatre and performance studies. During the first two semesters of a full-time PhD student’s program, she or he must take at least three of these seminars in the Department of Theatre Arts.
  • At least seven of the nine required courses will be advanced graduate seminars in the Department of Theatre Arts (2000 series). The others may be graduate-level (2000 series) listed in any appropriate University department. Courses labeled “research,” “directed study,” or “independent study” cannot be used to fulfill this requirement, except by approval of the Graduate Faculty. The student’s advisor will regularly monitor selection of courses, and approve the overall sequence chosen. No lower-level undergraduate courses numbered 0001-0999 may be applied toward a graduate degree. 

Minimum Grade Requirement

Students in the PhD program must maintain a 3.0 QPA in courses after completion of the MA. Students who have completed at least 9 quality point credits and whose GPA falls below 3.00 will be placed on academic probation by the dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Science Graduate Studies.  Academic probation subjects a student to academic suspension and restriction from registering for classes.  Students on probation are not eligible to take the PhD preliminary evaluation exam, or the MA or PhD comprehensive examination, or to be graduated.

Language Requirement

Students are required to demonstrate advanced knowledge in one foreign language sufficient to read criticism and drama in the language and sufficient to allow them to attend a play in the language and understand it reasonably well. The language requirement may be fulfilled in four ways. 

  1. Pass a test administered by the identified language department. Testing procedures, which are worked out on an individual basis with the foreign language departments at the University, require students to translate portions of critical studies and plays. An auditory component may also be required. 
  2. Pass the fourth semester of a language class with a grade of “B” or better. 
  3. Pass with a grade of “B” or better in an upper division course (1000 series of above) with a significant segment on dramatic literature. 
  4. Qualify out of the language requirement by requesting acceptance of a similar course taken no more than three years prior to the term in which the PhD Comprehensive exam is taken. 

Diagnostic Exam

All entering PhD students will be asked to take the Diagnostic Test in World Theatre History before the first week of classes in the Fall. A general knowledge of world theatre history is necessary for all graduate degrees in the department. Scores on the diagnostic exam determine which courses in the 3-semester theatre history sequenc should be taken by each graduate student.

Preliminary Evaluation Examination

All students who enter the PhD program are required to take the preliminary examination. Students who enter with an MA or MFA from another institution should plan to take their prelim exam at the end of their first full-time year of residency. As described below, all prelim exams are administered after the end of Spring term classes. 

Special Option

Concurrent with preparation for scholarship and research in the field, the candidate prepares an additional specialization in theatre or performance practice under the guidance and mentorship of a Special Option advisor. The Special Option advisor need not be the student’s primary academic advisor, but must be a member of the graduate faculty of the department. The Special Option is most often centered in directing, dramaturgy, and/or playwriting. A student may work with his or her advisor to construct a special option in a field other than directing or dramaturgy, subject to the approval of the graduate faculty. In recent years, students have completed special options in devising and choreography, for example.

Working with the Special Option advisor, the student proposes a compendium of 12-15 credits for the Special Option, which must be approved by the graduate faculty. Students are expected to submit their Special Option for approval by the graduate faculty by the end of their first year of coursework.

Special Option credits may be comprised of a combination of practical training, production work (either as lead artist or as faculty assistant), coursework, directed study, and independent study. Most credits are completed within the department, but extra departmental study, training, and production work may also be approved as part of the Special Option. An essential feature of the program is its flexibility, intending to be responsive to the educational objective of the individual candidate.

The special option program is meant to train graduate students in practical, hands-on abilities desirable in teachers of theatre and performance--i.e. it is intended to make University of Pittsburgh students who complete the doctoral degree increasingly marketable.

While it is valuable to work in more than one area of theatre, it is not permissible to declare more than one option. If there is significant expertise in more than one area, faculty will address this in letters of recommendation. It is understood that some students come into the program with a history of practical work in the theatre, in some cases with completed MFA degrees. Such students should normally choose a second area of interest for their Special Option.

Comprehensive Examination 

By the end of their second year, students should begin to consider and discuss with faculty areas for their comprehensive exam that fall into the three categories below. By the beginning of their third year, three areas of study should be approved. Through the comprehensive examination, students demonstrate both breadth and depth in regards to theatre and performance history, theory, and practice.

The Prospectus

The prospectus proposes the subject and plan for the completion of the dissertation. The graduate faculty member who will serve as chair for the student’s dissertation committee will provide guidance for the completion of the prospectus. Once the committee chair has approved the prospectus, the student will schedule a defense with all of the members of their PhD committee.

The Dissertation

The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate and Professional Bulletin outlines the requirements for the final stage of the degree, which is the preparation and defense of a dissertation. This written work, which must embody an extended original investigation of a problem of significance to theatre arts or performance studies, is the capstone to the research program of a student’s training.  

For application information please see admission requirements.


For questions or information regarding the application process, please contact:

Josh Oliver
Graduate Student Services Administration

For questions or information regarding the Theatre Arts Graduate Programs, please contact:

Michelle Granshaw
Director of Graduate Studies