Graduate Programs in Performance Studies

The field of performance studies encompasses a broad range of both performances (like dances and concerts) and gatherings (like ceremonies and trials). The arts are an obvious point of focus for those interested in performance studies, but certain areas in the social sciences and humanities also intersect with this field.

This is a young academic field that is still being shaped, so students should expect programs to potentially vary greatly in their course content and direction. The following are some general components of the performance studies programs that currently exist and expectations for admission.

Types of Degrees

Universities currently offer both master's and doctoral options in performance studies, though not all schools that have a performance studies department offer both options.

Performance studies often falls under the purview of the arts, dance, theater, or communication department. Regardless of the specific department, students should anticipate encountering a mix of academic disciplines in their coursework.

Coursework in Performance Studies Programs

Graduate programs in performance studies can be light on required core coursework. Some programs at both the master's and doctoral level ask that students take as little as two or three required core courses. These courses usually cover the foundations of performance studies as well as contemporary methodology and topics. Some programs have additional required courses from within the department that administers the performance studies program (for example, a theater department may require students take a few theater courses regardless of their personal concentration).

Most of the remaining credits are obtained from elective graduate seminars within the department or from certain outside classes selected by the student and approved by the department head. Some programs offer a small amount of credit for a leadership role in a performance piece or a similar project that develops the student's artistic or research profile.

Career Options for Performance Studies Graduates

Students may move on from a performance studies master's degree to a diverse range of fields such as administration or management of arts programs, choreography, videography, film direction, and in various roles in the theater or in acting.

PhD students often move on to a career in academia performing research in areas such as communications, race and gender studies, sexuality studies, anthropology, or media studies among other options.

General Admissions Requirements

Requirements can vary greatly by program. As the field is so broad, undergrad degree requirements tend to be flexible. Schools may ask for letters of recommendation, a personal statement or an academic writing sample. They may also require specific scores on the GRE. International applicants may be asked to take an English proficiency test.

PhD Dissertations

PhD students should expect to conclude their program of study with a dissertation. Due to the open-ended nature of these programs, the possibilities for students here can be very broad. Examples of dissertation topics range from the costuming or nationalist theater of an individual country to historical studies rooted in race, gender or sexual identity.

Even though performance studies is a relatively new field, there are already a number of graduate degree options out there. Both master's and doctoral programs are available, and in many cases programs are very flexible in terms of structure.

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