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PhD Requirements

Before beginning the PhD, students must complete either coursework in the department’s MA program, or equivalent coursework within another accredited university’s MA or MFA program. Students may transfer up to 30 credits from MA/MFA-level work. At the time of admission, the Director of Graduate Studies will examine each student’s prior coursework and identify any deficiencies to be addressed during the first year of study in the PhD program. Students applying to the PhD from UB’s MA program need not have completed their MA to receive admittance to the program, but generally should be scheduled to complete their thesis and MA degree before the start of the fall term.


  • Core Seminars
    • TH 610 Performance Research (non-UB MA)
    • TH 620 Performance Scholarship
    • TH 630 Performance Proseminar
  • Theatre & Performance Seminars in the following areas (see Courses):
    • Dramatic Literature, Theory Criticism
    • Performance Historiography
    • Advanced Study in Production
  • Cognates
  • Graduate Performance Studio (taken every spring in coursework)
  • Comprehensive Examination
  • Dissertation Guidance
  • Foreign Language Requirement
  • MA transfer credits (24-30 credits)

Total 72 credits

1. Core Seminars (6-9 credits)

To provide a consistent grounding in the methodologies of theatre literature, history, theory, and criticism, students are required to take three core seminars in the department. If students have not enrolled in the MA in Theatre at UB, they must take TH 610: Performance Research. Students who have completed either this course at UB or an equivalent course at another institution may select another graduate seminar in the department. This foundation course establishes a cohort among the Theatre & Performance students, linking both the MA class and PhD students as well as offering students outside the department the opportunity to explore research methods in Theatre and Performance Studies.

At some point during their coursework, all PhD students must take TH 620 Performance Scholarship and TH 630 Performance Proseminar. It is highly recommended that students take these seminars sequentially, one per year. These courses are also available to students in other departments and disciplines.

TH 620 Performance Scholarship is a grad-only seminar concentrating on the field of contemporary scholarship in theatre & performance. Building on the foundation of research skills from TH 610, students learn how current scholars translate their research into original contributions to the fields of theatre and performance studies. In particular, the seminar considers the way in which Theatre and performance scholarship intersects and distinguishes itself from other disciplines, including cultural studies, history, and literary studies. This is an introduction to the most current scholarship in the field and emphasizes the tools-textual analysis; historiography; and theory-needed to engage with and to produce original work. Students work toward the development of a sustained argument (e.g., one that will eventually become the basis for book-length publication), integration of critical theory and performance practice, and advanced writing practice in anticipation of sustained scholarly productivity in the future. Students develop these skills through short pieces of critical work, such as book reviews on current scholarship, with the goal of developing a paper of journal article length (approximately 6000-9000 words) by the end of the semester.

TH 630: Performance Proseminar builds on the skills of TH 610 and TH 620 to train students to turn research methods and scholarly argument into original, high-quality publications and presentations. In this seminar, students learn the fundamental professional skills required of Theatre faculty, including the production of a scholarly abstract, conference presentation, grant proposal, and either a scholarly essay or dissertation chapter. It is expected that ideas developed in the first two seminars will find synthesis and expression in this final core seminar. Students integrate their research with their critical reading of contemporary scholarship to produce original publications that advance the field and prepare them to develop a process for sustained scholarly production in the future. With the supervision of faculty, students are encouraged to submit completed work to academic conferences and journals, if appropriate. It is recommended that this course be taken during the final year of coursework, as students prepare for comprehensive exams and the research and writing of the dissertation.

Taken together, these three core seminars give students the intellectual and practical foundation to develop individual research agendas that will inform the process of the dissertation and future work in the field.

2. Theatre & Performance Seminars (9-12 credits)

To ensure that Theatre students have read both broadly and deeply in the field, students are required to take 9-12 credit hours of graduate-level seminars focused in the field of theatre, drama, and performance. Courses should be chosen to reinforce an individual student’s interests and research agenda, as well as to provide study in areas not previously covered in their education. Students and their advisors should ensure that each individual student has taken seminars in dramatic literature (both pre- and 20th-century drama), theatre history and historiography, critical performance theory, and advanced production study. For students with advanced production skills and experience, Advanced Production credits may be fulfilled through independent projects in suitable, professional venues (e.g., equity-contract theatres and recognized art institutions). Some of these courses may be taken outside the department in areas such as Comparative Literature, English, History, and Romance Language, but all should have drama, theatre, and performance as the central topic covered. All courses are selected in consultation with a departmental adviser and the DGS.

3. Cognates (6 credits)

With the understanding that Theatre & Performance Studies are inherently multidisciplinary, PhD students are required to take 6 graduate credits outside the department and the field of Theatre Studies. These courses are selected to enhance and enrich a student’s perspective through the study of other fields’ methodologies, literature, and scholarship. Courses may include those in the humanities, such as English, Visual Studies, Media Study, as well as those in relevant social sciences, such as Anthropology, History, and Sociology. Courses are selected in concert with the student’s stated field of specialization and in consultation with a departmental advisor and the DGS.

No more than 9 total credits may be taken outside the department of Theatre & Dance without explicit permission from the DGS.

4. Graduate Studio (6-9 credits)

TH 540/640 Graduate Performance Studio

The PhD in Theatre requires that students register for the Graduate Studio every spring of their matriculation. This weekly studio course is taught by the DGS and is designed to give all MA and PhD students in the program a practical outlet for performance theory studied in other courses. Based on a Practice as Performance in Research (PARIP) model, this studio course focuses on guided projects in the first semester and thereafter facilitates student-initiated collaborative work, experimentation, and critique of original performance-based projects (including work in the areas of design, directing, intermedial theatre, dance, acting, etc.). This session may also include work and discussion with guest artists, and provides students the opportunity to present their work to the university community. Performance projects are designed as workshop-level productions with minimal budgets, however, students are encouraged to apply for additional funding as available. The Studio will meet in the Katherine Cornell Theatre, a performance space run by the Department of Theatre & Dance and equipped with basic light and sound capabilities. (See “Facilities” for more information.) This course is repeatable for credit.

5. Comprehensive Examination (0 credits)

The purpose of a comprehensive examination (sometimes also referred to as preliminary or qualifying examinations) is to ensure that students have read broadly and deeply in the discipline and are prepared to begin dissertation research. Upon entering the program, students receive a list of 75 essential plays. Over their coursework, students compile an additional list of 25 key titles (including 5 essential plays) related to their individual interests (e.g., by geography; period; or theoretical approach). In preparation for the comprehensive exam, students submit their list of plays for approval by the exam committee. The comprehensive exam committee is comprised of all available PhD Departmental faculty members. The student may also request additional committee members from outside the department, if appropriate. This request must be approved by the DGS prior to approaching an external faculty member.

Once the student’s reading list is approved, the student and committee set two exam dates, approximately one week apart. On the first date, the student receives 5 essay questions, of which 3 must be answered. The student may bring any necessary materials to the exam location and has 6 hours to respond to the 3 questions. It is highly recommended that the student spend no more than two hours on each question. The exam committee will then review the student’s answers and prepare follow-up questions for an oral examination on the second date. This oral examination will focus primarily on the student’s written responses and may also consider potential gaps not addressed in the written answers.

6. Dissertation Guidance (12 credits)

The completed dissertation must represent an original and publishable contribution to the knowledge in the candidate’s field of study. It is expected that the dissertation will not only demonstrate expertise in the student’s designated area, but also advance an original argument suitable for publication in the field.

Once students pass their comprehensive examinations, they will submit an Application to Candidacy before the appropriate deadline dates for approval at the department, decanal, (divisional committee where required), and Graduate School levels. At this time, students will also select a major professor (Dissertation Chair), if they have not already done so. Thereafter, a committee, selected by the student with the approval of the Dissertation Chair and the DGS, oversees the remainder of the work toward dissertation completion. The committee must be comprised of the Dissertation Chair and at least three additional committee members, one of whom must come from outside the department. All of the dissertation committee members must be members of the UB Graduate Faculty.

After a committee has been formed, the student will submit a dissertation prospectus to be approved by the dissertation committee and the DGS. This prospectus will outline the central research question, research plan, objective, methodology, preliminary biography, and proposed timeline for completion. Upon approval of the prospectus, the student may proceed with research.

Following the completion of the dissertation, an oral defense must be held. The Oral Defense is a public event scheduled by the department and is attended by the candidate’s Dissertation Chair, graduate committee, members of the faculty from the department, and if required, the outside reader. Examination questions will focus on the arguments and implications of the dissertation. The defense should occur no later than six weeks prior to the UB Graduate School’s deadline for submission of materials.

7. Foreign Language Requirement (0 credits)

All PhD students must demonstrate competency (reading knowledge) in one foreign language. If students enter the program without meeting this requirement, they may take additional courses in the language departments to fulfill the requirement. Courses taken to fulfill the requirement do not count toward the total credits required for the PhD. It is highly recommended that this requirement be met in the first year of coursework.

8. Transfer of MA Course Credit

Students accepted into the PhD from the Department of Theatre & Dance MA program will automatically transfer 24 credits of coursework toward the PhD requirement of 72 credits. Students applying to the PhD with MA coursework from another program will need to have completed the MA (including thesis) prior to enrollment in the PhD. These students may transfer up to 30 credit hours from prior coursework. If appropriate, such students may need to complete TH 610 as part of the required core curriculum.