History of theatre and performance research at UW-Madison

and the development of the MA/PhD in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies

The graduate program in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies (ITS) is heir to a rich legacy of progressive collaborations between theatre practice and theatre research, one whose focus has always been the intensive study of the most advanced forms of both.

Since 1974, when the Division of Theatre and Drama moved from the Department of Communication Arts (formerly the Department of Speech) into the College of Letters and Science as an autonomous Department, the graduate programs in Theatre Research have sought to integrate the practice of theatre within its own programs. With regard to the MA and PhD programs, students combined a program of practical theatre work (as dramaturgs, directors, assistant directors, actors and even designers) with their studies in dramatic literature and criticism, theatre and performance history, and theatre theory. The course of study prepared MA and PhD students to enter the academy or other fields prepared to teach, conduct research, and serve the profession and society across a wide variety of disciplines. Outstanding faculty worked in Asian performance, dance history, feminist theatre, acting theory, theatre of the holocaust, and other subfields, often directing shows for University theatre or participating in productions in other important ways. Their students are now leaders in the field, holding tenured and tenure track positions at liberal arts colleges and research universities alike, as well as making significant contributions to theatre production.

As the professionalization of all the graduate degrees programs (the MFA as well as the BA and PhD) became more narrow, UW-Madison still maintained its emphasis on the broad education that came from combining theatrical practice and theatre research, even as its direct participation in University Theatre became less common. A new generation of faculty emerged in the 1990s to diversify the study of theatre in its global context, and to expand the notion of performance into new areas. Once again, graduates of the program went on to successful academic and artistic careers (please see our Alumni Page).

The new Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies graduate program is well situated to capitalize on the evolution of our field, allowing a twenty-first century cohort of students to engage even more fruitfully with the newest developments in research, methodology, and practice. Our collaborations with University Theatre will now be complemented by new production opportunities in devised, site-specific, intermedial and ambulatory performance, among others. New partnerships are developing with an expanded cluster of affiliate faculty, whose expertise in theatre and performance range across a wide field of disciplines, methodologies and geographies.