Javanese public showing

The PhD program in Theatre is designed for those who intend to be theatre scholars working in an academic environment.  Our program is unique in its commitment to an “on stage” approach to the history, theory and practice of theatre.  We liberally define “stage” to be inclusive of performance traditions from around the world and contemporary performance inventions.  We encourage our PhD students to engage in the practice of theatre while at CU either as directors, dramaturgs, writers, performers, or through applied theatre.  To complete the program, students must:

  1. Demonstrate proficiency in academic coursework;
  2. Demonstrate reading competency in at least one foreign language;
  3. Pass a comprehensive exam after completing the academic coursework; and
  4. Prepare and successfully defend a dissertation.

The program is designed to be completed in four years for students entering with a Master’s degree.  Conventionally, the first and second years focus on coursework, while the third year is spent preparing for and taking the comprehensive examination and completing the dissertation prospectus.  The fourth year is spent writing and defending the dissertation.  While it is possible for a student entering the program to finish in three years, it is not uncommon for students to take five years to finish.

Academic Work

Thirty credit hours of coursework beyond the Master’s are required at the 5000 level or above (typically, students carry 9 credits a semester).     

PhD students are encouraged to take courses in other departments, especially as they relate to the anticipated dissertation topic.  When approved by the student’s advisor, the thirty required credit hours can and should include courses from related disciplines.  All coursework applying towards the degree must be taught by graduate faculty members holding current appointments with the Graduate School.  Students may transfer a limited number of graduate credits into the program (maximum 9 hours). 

In addition to the 30 credits of coursework, 30 dissertation credits (THTR 8999) are required.  These will be described in the dissertation section.

Required Coursework

THTR 5010            Introduction to Performance Studies
THTR 5011            Theory and Criticism
THTR 6009            Research Strategies and Techniques

and three On-Stage Studies courses:

THTR 6011            On-Stage Studies: Global Ancient and Classical Theatre
THTR 6021            On-Stage Studies: Shakespeare
THTR 6031            On-Stage Studies: American Theatre
THTR 6041            On-Stage Studies: Global Modern Theatre
THTR 6111            On-Stage Studies: Global Contemporary Theatre

The PhD program is based upon a core of required courses, which emphasize the interrelatedness of theory, history, and practice.  The "On-Stage Studies" courses place dramatic texts and performance traditions in the context of contemporary performance.  They are designed to pose questions like "How might this play work on the stage today?  What problems does it present the contemporary director/dramaturg? In what ways is it socially relevant?  How have directors like Jonathan Miller, Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Stein, etc. solved them?"  In a nutshell, the aim of the On-Stage Studies curriculum is to teach students to think as dramaturgs and directors, as well as scholars.

Students standing in masks Students studying in classroom

Graduate students make masks in THTR 6011, On-Stage Studies: Global Ancient & Classical Theatre and then perform with them at Sunrise Amphitheatre on Flagstaff Mountain.

Elective Coursework

Graduate Seminar Courses are offered in the areas of theatre history, dramatic literature and theory.

Graduate Independent Studies may not be used as an avenue for taking undergraduate courses in the major department.  Although there is no limit to the number of independent study credits a doctoral student may take, they should be held to a minimum.  Independent studies contract forms are available online and in the Main Office.

Production Research and Practicum Courses (in acting, directing, design and dramaturgy) may be taken for 1-3 credits.  A limit of 3 credits in each may apply toward the degree.  All courses are supervised by members of the graduate faculty; regular meetings with the instructor of record are required. 

     Guidelines for flexible credit are:

  1. one credit for successfully completing the project
  2. two credits for completing the project and submitting a written record of it (e.g. an actor’s journal, a director’s regiebuch)
  3. three credits for doing all of the above and writing a pertinent research paper, topic to be determined in consultation with the advisor

Coursework Not Applying Toward Degree:  Undergraduate major courses taken to make up deficiencies may not be counted in the minimum number of credit hours required for the degree, however grades for any such courses taken will be included in the GPA.  Students taking graduate or undergraduate coursework not applying toward their degree may do so either for a letter grade, no credit or pass/fail.  If taken for a letter grade the course will be calculated in the student’s graduate GPA.  If taken pass/fail, a failing grade will be calculated into the GPA.  Note: courses taken for no credit are not covered by tuition remission.

A student may not receive graduate credit toward a degree for more than 15 hours per semester, fall or spring.  A student may not receive graduate credit toward a degree for more than six hours in one five-week summer term or more than ten hours in one summer session.

Theatre Production

THTR 5071, Advanced Directing, and THTR 5049, Problems in Theatre: Conceptualization for the Theatre, help prepare PhD students for theatre production work as directors.  Besides taking these courses, the student is strongly encouraged to serve as either a dramaturg or assistant director on a departmental or Colorado Shakespeare Festival production.  To be considered for directing University Theatre productions, students must have demonstrated proficiency in production courses (or have the equivalent background) and as dramaturgs or assistant directors.

Foreign Language Requirement

Reading competency in at least one foreign language is an important skill for the theatre scholar.  It allows the student to consider a dissertation topic beyond the limits of English-speaking theatre, thereby significantly broadening his/her research and eventual publishing possibilities.

A student must demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language before the comprehensive exam may be taken.  Such proficiency can be demonstrated in a number of ways:

  • by passing an undergraduate language course at the second-semester level with a grade of B- or better during the course of PhD studies or within the four year period immediately prior to the PhD matriculation.
  • by passing a reading intensive course in a foreign language with a grade of B- or better.  At CU, such courses tend to be offered over the summer.
  • by taking the foreign language placement test at CU and placing beyond the second semester
  • by equivalent example, e.g. advanced coursework in a foreign language

Students who have worked or studied abroad can petition the Theatre Graduate Committee for special consideration.  Students with a native language other than English may, through the normal process of successful coursework, prove English to be their second language and thereby meet the requirement.

The Comprehensive Exam

The PhD Comprehensive is a qualifying exam, successful completion of which formally admits the student to doctoral candidacy and signals his/her preparedness to write a dissertation. It is taken after the student has fulfilled the course and foreign language requirements. The comprehensive exam is based on the student’s academic coursework and the PhD Reading List in effect when the student is enrolled in the program. A five member examining committee administers the exam. The student receives either a passing or failing mark; no course credit or grade is given.

The Comprehensive Exam should be taken in the third year of the program, after the student has completed coursework and the foreign language requirement, and has completed a dissertation prospectus approved by the faculty advisor.

The Comprehensive Exam has five components:

  1. Dissertation Prospectus
  2. Article submitted for publication
  3. Book or performance review submitted for publication
  4. Written Exam
  5. Oral Exam

Detailed information on the Comprehensive Exam can be found in the PhD Handbook.


The PhD program culminates in a dissertation based upon original investigation and showing mature scholarship and scholarly judgment, as well as familiarity with tools and methods of research.  This major research document must make a “significant and original” contribution to the field of theatre studies.  The dissertation is written with the approval and supervision of an advisory committee of five members of the University of Colorado Graduate Faculty, but particularly under the guidance of the advisor and a second reader.  While researching and writing the dissertation, the PhD student will enroll in dissertation hours (THTR 8999).  A minimum of 30 dissertation hours are required to graduate.