Ph.D. Program

Founded by the distinguished theatre historian Barnard Hewitt, the Ph.D. 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 130 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.
Recent books by Department of Theatre Faculty:
Peter A. Davis, The Writing of Androboros:  A Microhistory of America’s First Play
Valleri J. Hohman, Russian Culture and Theatrical Performance in America, 1891-1933Robert B. Graves, Lighting the Shakespeare Stage, 1567-1642

Admission to the Ph.D. Program normally requires the presentation of a master’s degree in theatre or in a closely related field. A student finishing an M.A. 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, contact the Chair of the M.A./Ph.D. Program (

Admission Requirements:

  • 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 resume 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.

Application deadline: January 15 (decisions are ordinarily announced by March 1 in the spring preceding enrollment). Contact Peter Davis ( if you have any questions.

Financial aid is available to most Ph.D. 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 Chair of the M.A./Ph.D. program 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.

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 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 twenty-four 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.


  • 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.

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.

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 Ph.D. program in theatre, but the dissertation director may be a UIUC faculty member outside of the program.

All students in the Ph.D. 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.

At the end of the second year in the program, the student must also submit the Ph.D. Program Plan form to the Chair of the M.A./Ph.D. program.

Students must complete at least forty hours of coursework before taking the Preliminary Examination. The Preliminary Examination, usually given at the beginning of the third year beyond the master’s degree, consists of two parts: (1) A Comprehensive Examination that tests the student’s knowledge of theatre history, dramatic
literature and critical theory; and (2) A Special Field Examination that tests the student’s expertise in a particular topic, which is determined in consultation with his or her advisor. Both exams must be taken at the same time. The Special Field Examination is intended to test the candidate’s knowledge of the principal historical, theoretical, and pedagogical issues of the particular area of theatre and drama in which the dissertation topic lies and in which the student will likely teach.

At least one year before the examination, the student must form his or her examination committee, which should consist of at least four voting members, three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty and at least two tenured.

The Preliminary Examination is written over four consecutive school days and is based on reading lists developed by the student with the assistance of members of his or her examination committee. The examination should cover four areas (theatre history, dramatic literature, theory, and special field), and students are expected to spend the entirety of one day (about six hours) on each area. Each committee member will write the examination questions in consultation with the student.

At least three weeks before the written examination, the student must submit the Preliminary Examination Form to the Chair of the M.A./Ph.D. program. The form should detail the dates, types of questions, number of questions, number of hours required for each question, 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.

The examination committee will review the test with the student in an oral examination, which must be held within two weeks of the written examination. A failed Preliminary Examination may be retaken only once.

After passing the Preliminary Examination, candidates should form a dissertation committee, which is also his or her final examination committee. The committee must be composed of at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty and at least two members tenured. 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 dissertation 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.

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 after the student passes 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.

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

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.

The candidate must complete all requirements for the Ph.D. 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.