Degrees, Requirements, Funding

Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Degrees

  1. M.A. (earned as part of the Ph.D. degree): Students who successfully complete the first-year requirements receive an M.A. in Theatre and Performance. (Note that Columbia does not offer a freestanding M.A. in Theatre: only students admitted to the Theatre and Performance Ph.D. program are eligible for an M.A. in Theatre. Applicants interested in the M.F.A. in Theatre should contact the School of the Arts at Columbia.)
  2. M.Phil. (earned as part of the Ph.D. degree): Students who successfully complete the first three years of the program and pass their oral examinations receive an M.Phil. in Theatre and Performance.
  3. Ph.D.: Students receive a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance upon successful completion of all of the requirements and successful defense of the doctoral dissertation.

GSAS Residence Unit Requirements

Columbia GSAS requires a full-time student to register for a full Residence Unit, Extended Residence, or Matriculation and Facilities each semester, whether or not the student is taking courses. Students in Ph.D. programs may not register part-time. Two Residence Units are required for the M.A. earned as part of a Ph.D. degree; four additional Residence Units, for a total of six overall, are required for conferral of the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. For further information, see the GSAS Student Guide.

Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Requirements for the Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance are as follows. If in doubt about requirements, please consult one of the Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Co-Chairs. (The Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Program is partly housed in and administered within the Department of English and Comparative Literature, but some of its requirements diverge from those of the English Ph.D. program. Nevertheless, students should also consult the English Department requirements, as these requirements describe the year-by year timetable in useful detail.)


  1. Course load/points: Theatre and Performance Ph.D. students must successfully pass four courses per semester in both years of coursework. Students must earn a minimum of 12 points per semester, though they usually earn more. (Note that GSAS charges tuition if students enroll in courses that add up to more than 20 points per semester.)
  2. Advising: Each semester, students discuss their intended programs with their advisors. The advisor signs the student’s Registration Worksheet, indicating approval of the final program. Students should speak to their advisors about any potential issues (for instance, whether a course fulfills a given requirement, how to manage points, possible exceptions to the above distribution, etc.).
  3. Required courses:
    1. First Year: ENGL GR5001 MA Seminar (fall);
    2. Second Year: ENGL GR6913 Teaching of Writing (spring)
  4. Course selection requirements: Students may take courses in any department. There are no period or other “distribution” requirements for Theatre and Performance Ph.D. students. However, there are several content-neutral requirements. (Note that some courses will fulfill more than one of the requirements listed below.)
    1. First and second years:
      1. Graduate seminars: At least two courses per semester should be graduate seminars on academic topics (equivalent to 6000-levels in the English Department). The M.A. Seminar counts as a graduate seminar. Courses that do not count as graduate seminars include the following: lectures, mixed graduate-undergraduate seminars, practice courses such as playwriting, ENGL GR6910 Teaching Tutorial, and ENTA GR8999 Independent Study.
      2. Seminar-length papers: In two courses per semester, students should write seminar-length papers (a minimum of 20pp.) on a topic related to drama, theatre, or performance. These courses need not be graduate seminars. Students should consult with their advisors in the first week of the semester to select the two courses in which they expect to write these papers (and discuss any change in plans with their advisors). Note that we strongly encourage students to take courses from Theatre and Performance doctoral program faculty and write seminar-length papers in those courses.
      3. Drama, theatre, or performance: At least two of these per semester should deal directly with the study of drama, theatre, or performance. (Students with little background in drama, theatre, or performance may be required to take specific courses.)
      4. Performance practice courses: No more than two courses per year may be performance practice courses (i.e. directing, playwriting, acting, etc.).
      5. Grading: All courses must be graded except ENGL GR6913 Teaching of Writing.
      6. M.A. Essay:  Each student submits the M.A. Essay (an independent essay of 25-30pp. shaped as an article for a professional journal) by 1 August following the first year of study. The essay may be a revision of a paper written for a seminar or a new essay. It should be discussed with a faculty sponsor, and the M.A. Essay declaration form (student’s name, provisional essay title, sponsor’s name, brief abstract) must be submitted to the graduate coordinator by 1 May. The completed essay is sent by 1 August to the sponsor, the graduate coordinator, and the program Co-Chairs; the Co-Chairs assign a second reader, and the evaluation (pass/not pass and comments) are sent to the Co-Chairs, graduate coordinator, and student, by 15 August. Having passed the essay, students may confirm registration for the fall semester.
    2. Second year only
      1. Consortium: In the second year, students may take up to two courses offered through the consortium (two maximum per year. Note that Inter-university rules do not allow first-year students to take courses in the Consortium.)
      2. TA-ing: In the second year, students normally TA for one course per semester. Theatre and Performance students TA for one or sometimes two courses in the Department of Theatre at Barnard College, which delivers the undergraduate Theatre major to Barnard and Columbia students; they may also be assigned to teach in the Department of Dance at Barnard or in the Columbia English department. Since the TA position is employment, it cannot be counted for course credit.
        Fall: In the fall, students may elect to take 4 courses (i.e. in addition to serving as a TA in another course) OR engage in an Independent Study. This Independent Study does not count toward the graduate seminar requirement, but it may count toward the Theatre and Performance course requirement if it deals centrally with Theatre and Performance. The Independent Study might serve as the basis for an orals field or dissertation, or serve as the foundation for a course a student might teach in the future, or it may speak to other intellectual desires. The Independent Study should require written work equivalent to the work students would produce in a course, i.e. either: a) the kind of writing required for a 4000-level course, for instance an annotated bibliography, short essays, or revision of something written previously with an eye to publication; or b) a seminar-length 20pp-minimum essay on a topic in Theatre and Performance, satisfying one of the two seminar-length-paper requirements.
        Spring: In the spring, there is no Independent Study option. Students TA and, in addition, take 4 courses, one of which is the Teaching Writing seminar.
    3. Language courses: The required four courses per semester do not include language courses. Any students interested in taking a language class should discuss it with their advisor.The Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance requires fluency in ONE language beyond English.
    4. Transfer credit: The Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Program does not grant transfer credit, and only under very exceptional circumstances allows a lighter courseload in view of coursework taken elsewhere.

Theatre and Performance Colloquium

In addition to fulfilling the requirements listed above, all students in the Theatre and Performance Ph.D. program are required to participate in the year-long, non-credit, monthly Theatre and Performance Colloquium, in which Theatre and Performance faculty and students convene to discuss work-in-progress and professional concerns.

Orals list preparation

  1. Preparatory discussions: In the second semester of the second year, students should begin discussing potential orals fields and examiners with one of the Co-Chairs. Using these discussions as a general framework, students should then approach potential individual examiners, who will help them formulate field topics more precisely and begin to shape their lists.Students may be examined in either 3 fields (a major field with two examiners, and two minor fields, with one examiner each) or 4 fields (one examiner for each field).
  2. Submitting lists: Students must submit tentative orals lists to  all four examiners for approval in May of the second year, and to one Co-Chair for preliminary approval.  A final version of the orals lists is submitted to the Co-Chairs in mid-September of the third year. The orals proposal includes:
    1. statement: a statement of the overall logic of the three or four fields and their relationship to the student’s scholarly interests (1-2 paragraphs);
    2. lists: a major list (for a one-hour exam with two examiners), and two minor lists (for half-hour exams, each with one examiner); or four lists (for half-hour exams, each with one examiner). Each list should have:
      1. a core list of texts and/or media;
      2. a short rationale (1-3 paragraphs, inevitably tentative, suggesting questions for exploration and advancing hypotheses rather than conclusions);
      3. a short secondary bibliography
  3. Suggestions for formulating fields / lists:
    1. Work in theatre and performance is interdisciplinary, and often draws on multiple academic and artistic disciplines. Students are strongly encouraged to consider the nature of the field today, in which a range of objects (drama, theatre, performance), periods, and critical orientations are assumed to be within the teaching purview of a successful candidate for a position.
    2. Students should conceive of each field as a possible teaching field, reflecting areas in which they expect to teach, and representing the range of a student’s potential teaching interests. Some fields might be more theoretical, some more textual, some more concerned with contemporary performance or performance history. Some may be as broad as “Early Modern Theatre” or “Modern Dance History”; others might reflect more specific field interests. Recent examination fields have included: “Theatre and Dance in the AIDS Epidemic,” “Feminist Theatre and Performance,” “Theories of Character,” “Global Shakespeare in Performance.”
    3. In the course of exam preparation, students generally begin to formulate the inquiry of the dissertation, and present a brief pre-prospectus a few weeks following the examination.
    4. For sample Theatre and Performance Program orals lists, see the graduate administrator for the Theatre Program, in the English department office.

Teaching University Writing

All students teach sections of University Writing in the third and fourth years; see details at the English Department website.

Orals preparation and exam:

  1. Before proceeding to orals and candidacy for the M.Phil. degree, students must first successfully complete all course and language requirements.
  2. Submissions of final lists: Students must submit a preliminary orals list to all four examiners and to one Co-Chair in May of the second year; the lists are re-approved in September of the third year by both Co-Chairs.
  3. Meeting with examiners:
    1. Students meet with each examiner at least twice, often more, over the course of the year.
    2. We recommend that students prepare a short piece of writing for each meeting (examiners may specify its nature).
    3. While examiners offer guidance and assess progress, students are expected to work largely independently.
  4. Setting the date:
    1. The exam is taken in March or early April, and no later than 15 April. Students are responsible for setting the date for the exam (in consultation with their examiners), and communicating this date to all concerned, including the graduate coordinator, who will assign space for the exam.
    2. The examiners communicate with one another prior to the exam, considering strengths and/or areas of concern. In rare cases, examiners will decide that a student should postpone or not proceed to orals.
  5. The exam: The exam is two hours long, followed by up to 30 minutes:
    1. About 25 min for each examiner;
    2. About 15 min for discussion of results.
  6. Exam outcomes: There are three possible exam outcomes:
    1. pass: student passes and continues to dissertation (the outcome of most exams).
    2. low pass: student receives a low pass, and receives the M.Phil. for having successfully completed the requirements of the program, but is not approved for entry into the Ph.D. program.
    3. fail: student fails the exam and is not granted the M.Phil.; retake is not normally permitted. In very rare circumstances, and only with a unanimous recommendation, the committee may authorize the student to retake the exam (with the same faculty covering the same fields). The student must retake the entire exam by the end of the following semester and only one retake is allowed. The retake exam may lead to any one of the three outcomes specified here.
  7. Dissertation discussion: following the formal examination, students who have passed the exam are invited to discuss the dissertation plans with the examiners for up to 30 minutes, understanding that some or several members of the examination committee may not be invited to join the dissertation committee.

Dissertation preparation / pre-prospectus

  1. Successful completion of all M.Phil. requirements (including the oral examination) and approval by the Co-Chairs are conditions of entry into the Ph.D. program.
  2. Formulating a dissertation topic:
    1. Preparatory discussions: Students who successfully pass the oral exam should begin discussing their dissertation topic with potential dissertation advisors and refining their topic.
    2. Selecting advisors: Students should invite three faculty members to serve as advisors. Members of the committee may be drawn from the Theatre faculty or from the graduate faculty at large, and may include a member of the Consortium faculty. The faculty member who serves as “sponsor” must be eligible to direct dissertations in the doctoral program in Theatre.
    3. Pre-prospectus: By May 15, the student must submit to the Co-Chairs and potential dissertation advisers a short (2-4pp.) pre-prospectus, describing the prospective dissertation topic and its rationale. Advisers will confer, offering suggestions for reformulation, clarification, etc. Advisers may ask for several versions of the pre-prospectus before suggesting that a student moves on to the prospectus.


  1. Dissertation fellowship year: All students in good standing are granted a year-long fully-funded dissertation fellowship with no teaching obligations held in either the fifth or sixth year. Students must have completed a working draft of one dissertation chapter by February 15 of the fourth year to be eligible to take the fellowship in the fifth year. Upon request, students may elect to take the fellowship in the sixth year.
  2. University Writing: Students generally teach University Writing in the fourth and sixth years. However, there are several alternatives, including the Teaching Scholars Program and Teaching in the Columbia College Core Curriculum.
  3. Teaching Scholars Program: Students who have completed the M.Phil. requirements are eligible for Teaching Scholars fellowships. Fellowships are competitive, and based on a description of the specialized, upper-level course to be taught. Those selected teach an undergraduate seminar (generally in the English Department and often cross-listed with the Barnard College Department of Theatre) instead of University Writing. For more information, see the Teaching Scholars website.
  4. Teaching in the Core: Students who have completed the M.Phil. requirements are eligible for Core Preceptorships. Preceptorships are competitive. Those selected teach either Literature Humanities or Contemporary Civilizations instead of University Writing. For more information, see the Core Preceptorship website.


  1. Prospectus: By 15 August, prior to entering the fourth year, having passed the oral examination, students are required to submit a dissertation prospectus to the dissertation committee. In the course of developing the prospectus, students work closely with their dissertation committees. The prospectus is typically 12-15pp. in length. It should include:
    1. a sustained discussion of the scholarly context from which the dissertation emerges, the issues it will explore, its potential significance, and its methodology;
    2. a description of projected chapters;
    3. a working bibliography.
  2. Prospectus approval:
    1. Students should submit the prospectus to the entire committee, and arrange a date for the defense of the prospectus; the defense is normally scheduled as early in September as possible. Committee members often ask for additional revision before final approval.
    2. The prospectus must be approved by the three members of the committee and the Theatre and Performance Ph.D. Co-Chairs by 20 September of the fourth year.
  3. Chapter submission and meetings:
    1. Students must complete one chapter in draft by 15 February of the fourth year to be eligible for fellowship in the fifth year; otherwise the fellowship is taken in the sixth year.
    2. Students submit each completed chapter to the committee, and arrange a chapter meeting in which the whole committee participates (generally no more than a month after the submission of each chapter and often more quickly). Note that committee members often ask for chapter revisions.
    3. Students are required to present their work at least once at the monthly Theatre and Performance Colloquium.
  4. Dissertation defense: To earn the Ph.D. degree, students must defend and deposit a dissertation in accordance with GSAS regulations.
    1. Defense date: Students are generally defend their dissertations at the end of the sixth year (or during the summer that follows). Students who would like to attend commencement should consult with GSAS on the date by which the dissertation must be defended and deposited for the candidate to be eligible for commencement: it is usually about mid-April.
    2. Committee composition Students put together a 5-member defense committee, in consultation with the dissertation committee; the defense committee moderator (who cannot be the dissertation sponsor) or the sponsor must formally invite the additional members. The committee consists of the three advisors and two additional scholars (from Columbia or area universities). At least three members of the defense committee must be Columbia Theatre and Performance  Ph.D. faculty members. At least one member of the defense committee must be someone not on the Columbia Theatre and Performance Ph.D. faculty.
    3. GSAS regulations For further details, see the GSAS Student Guide.

Funding/Financial Aid

The program provides full funding (which include the prevailing stipend and appropriate tuition and health fees) to all M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. students. Support is renewed annually as long as satisfactory progress is maintained, through the sixth year. Students complete an annual progress report which is reviewed by the Committee on Guidance and Evaluation. Teaching is considered an important part of graduate training, and so financial support normally includes teaching in the third, fourth, and fifth (or sixth) year. A dissertation fellowship free of teaching obligations is available to all students in the fifth or sixth year of study. All students are, additionally, required to seek external fellowships.