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Student Blog: Why a Ph.D. in Theatre is Worth It

Going into why a Ph.D. in theatre is a beneficial option to those that want to explore multiple disciplines within this industry

Student Blog: Why a Ph.D. in Theatre is Worth It

As I approach the end of my second year of undergrad at UC San Diego, I start to think about my potential pathways post-graduation. The culmination of a ~3-6 year Ph.D. program is an original dissertation that is sometimes coupled with directing a theatrical production.

My exposure to a Ph.D. program has mainly been through my school. Within my theatre department, there are three-degree programs - the B.A. in Theatre, the M.F.A. in Acting, Design, Stage Management, Directing or Playwriting, and the Ph.D. in Performance Studies. What is unique about our department is that students in all of these programs interact frequently. Whether it is in a student/TA scenario, director/actor situation, or simply hanging out during rehearsal breaks, we all get to know each other fairly well.

What I learned from the Ph.D. students is the wide range of skills and disciplines one can acquire from this particular type of degree program. I've seen Ph.D. students become professors, directors, dramaturgs, dancers, etc. As someone who is drawn to dramaturgy, but still finds joy in other areas of theatre, I am interested in pursuing a path that allows me to explore different roles in the theatre. A Ph.D. can seem like it is solely focused on research and more individualized study, but students also gain communication skills, problem-solving skills, and other abilities that relate to successfully working with others.

Many think that theatre is an easy path. There are a lot of actors and actresses who did not get formal training at a highly accredited university or even pursued higher education at all. Indeed, many successful performers and even creative team members do not need a degree to have a career, but that does not mean that something like a Ph.D. program would not be worth it. For example, I think learning how to research a character, a play, acting techniques, and thematic trends makes any actor, director, stage manager, or playwright a more informed voice in the room. It sparks more interesting conversations in tablework and throughout the production process. One can absolutely acquire these skills without going through a formal Ph.D. program, but there is a stronger emphasis on gaining these versatile abilities and experiences within that academic setting.

After a Ph.D. program, many go on to be artistic directors, writers, dramaturgs, and production managers which all require a more big picture point of view. Actors, on the other hand, look at a play from a very specific lens and that is through the eyes of their characters. In thinking about the jobs that people tend to gravitate towards upon completing a Ph.D., I think that gaining a more comprehensive and expansive perspective on productions/performance studies is one of the main priorities in higher education in theatre. Not only that, but I think a primary takeaway from a Ph.D. program is that it allows students to find what truly excites and interests them about the theatre. Then, they can hone in and become experts on that subject upon completing a dissertation. There are so many aspects of theatre that can be explored and pursuing a graduate-level study of theatre is something that provides unique opportunities to try everything. While I think this is one of the less traditional paths in theatre, I think it is very beneficial to those who think about theatre from a wider, academic lens.

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