What is a Theatre Arts Degree?

Theatre arts degree programs teach the performing arts and the fields that support them. Some curricula may focus on a specific area, such as acting, dance, or music. Others may address more than a single aspect of the live theatre industry, covering a range of topics including theatre history, dramatic literature, playwriting, directing, and/or self-promotion. Still others may focus on or include the technical/supportive disciplines of lighting, scenic design, costume design, and make-up.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Theatre Arts - Two Year Duration
Theatre arts degree programs at the associate level typically take two years to complete. They are targeted at students who either plan to continue their studies at the bachelor’s level or to immediately pursue an acting career.

Coursework varies depending on each program’s concentration(s). These are some sample classes:

  • General education courses in reading, communications, literature, history, etc.
  • The Fundamentals of Acting – memorization; improvisation; characterization; conveying emotion
  • Voice and Speech – projection; intonation; authenticity
  • Dance and Singing
  • Theatre Careers – how to audition; resume and portfolio preparation; headshots; interview preparation
  • Introduction to Costume Design – how to design costumes that support character development

Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts - Four Year Duration
The four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts provides students with a more in-depth exposure to the various facets of the world of theatre, preparing them to pursue a wider scope of work in the field. As is the case with associate programs, different schools structure their curriculum differently. The following are examples of courses that may be offered at this level:

  • Theatre History
  • Theatre Acting – acting techniques that are unique to the theatre medium
  • Dramatic Literature
  • Dramatic Techniques – voice and speech mechanics; physical coordination; singing postures
  • Performing Shakespeare – the demands of performing works of Shakespeare
  • Music History and Composition
  • Harmonies and Voice
  • Music Performance
  • Musical Theatre
  • Dance Technique
  • Dance and Culture
  • Jazz and Modern Dance
  • Stage Performance Projects – students perform their own scripts and oversee set design, costume design, and all other elements of production
  • Audition Workshops – students attend casting calls
  • Lighting and Stagecraft

Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts - Two to Three Year Duration
Most master’s programs in theatre arts take between two and three years complete. At this level, students tend to choose a concentration in an area like acting, dramatic writing, directing, or design (scene, lighting, or costume). Coursework, therefore, depends on students’ individual specialization. Classes may include:

  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Playwriting
  • American Theatre – heritage and traditions of American theatre
  • Script Analysis and Interpretation – taking different approaches to the same material
  • Performance – movement, monologue, and dialogue on stage; singing on stage
  • Costume Design
  • Scene Design
  • Lighting Design
  • The Business of the Stage – auditioning, casting, rehearsing, contracts, actor support systems, finding an agent

Doctoral Degree in Theatre Arts - Five to Six Year Duration
At the doctoral level, theatre arts students have considerable freedom to design their own curriculum. They may focus on theatrical literature, periods, and styles. They may concentrate on the design elements of theatre, from theatre architecture to scene, lighting, and costume design. Or they may choose to conduct research on how theatre reflects society and social issues.

Because doctoral degree programs are so flexible, coursework varies widely, but may include classes such as these:

  • Ancient Theatre
  • Performance Studies
  • Cultural Influences on Theatre
  • The Intersection of Comedy and Tragedy

Degrees Similar to Theatre Arts

Acting is one of the performing arts that is, of course, aligned to the theatre field.

Theatre and choreography go hand in hand. The choreographer’s job is to create compelling dance movements that help to tell the story of a musical theatre production.

Degrees in dance prepare students to work in various aspects of the dance world, from performance to choreography to teaching. Degree programs may focus on a specific genre – like ballet, jazz, contemporary, dramatic, or folk – or they may take a more general approach. Programs exist at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels.

A degree in drama certainly has a connection to theatre, which is a form of dramatic expression. While theatre is a very specific performing art form, a drama degree program offers a more general study that can be applied to performing in or producing both live theatre and film.

In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

Exhibit and Set Design
The world of set and exhibit design for large exhibitions and movie, television, and theatre sets offers yet another option to students with a theatrical bent.

Film Production
Strictly speaking, the five components of ‘producing’ a film are finding and developing the script, recruiting a director and actors, finding sources of funding, managing the budget, and managing the production team. The typical film production degree program, though, covers more than just these responsibilities of the film producer. It covers aspects of all of the key disciplines of filmmaking: screenwriting, directing, cinematography, producing, production design, and editing.

This degree field presents another option to students drawn to theatre. Depending on the level of degree, programs in this discipline may include courses in music theory, composition, and performance; as well as production techniques and methods and the business of music.

Musical Theatre
The focus of the musical theatre degree is training in acting, singing, and dancing.

Skills You’ll Learn

Theatre is about acting, producing, directing, designing, and writing plays and musicals. Each of these activities calls for a set of skills that is welcome not only in the world of theatre, but beyond. Graduates of theatre arts programs, therefore, bring the following to any kind of work they do:

  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Ability to concentrate and learn quickly
  • Self-confidence / positive self-image
  • Motivation and dedication
  • Ability to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Memorization
  • Respect for deadlines
  • Pride in ‘getting it done right’
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Ability to bounce back after disappointment
  • Persistence
  • Physical stamina
  • Enjoyment of their work

What Can You Do with a Theatre Arts Degree?

Students study theatre with the intention of working in theatre. These are the various theatre degree jobs:

  • Acting
  • Singing
  • Dance
  • Casting
  • Directing
  • Producing
  • Editing (also known as ‘dramaturgy’)
  • Lighting Design
  • Sound Design
  • Set Design
  • Props Acquisition and Management
  • Stage Management
  • Costume Design
  • Make-up
  • Artist/Business Management

Arts Administration / Marketing
Those who work in arts administration and marketing are the people who keep the arts alive, both on international stages and in community settings. They run drama, music, and dance companies, organize shows and show tours, create marketing campaigns, and manage the many details that these responsibilities entail. These administrative occupations exist with theatres, symphony orchestras, opera companies, museums, community centers, and foundations.

Broadcast Journalism
The field of broadcast journalism offers theatre graduates a different way to use their voice training, performance skills, and stage presence as television, radio, and online broadcast presenters. Employers include local, national, and international broadcasting and production companies. Opportunities may exist in entertainment, cinema, and theatre reporting.

Creative Arts Therapy
Creative arts therapies, also called ‘expressive therapies,’ are an integral part of psychotherapy and counseling. They are used to support health and well-being and treat and rehabilitate patients with physical, mental, or emotional illnesses or disabilities.

The goal of creative therapists is to help the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Depending on individual cases, they may be focused on helping a patient express emotion, express creativity, experience less pain and anxiety, be more relaxed and sleep better, or simply make their hospital stay more positive. Theatre graduates may be well-equipped to work in drama therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, poetry therapy, or visual arts therapy.

With the appropriate teaching qualification, degree holders can use their knowledge to teach theatre, either on a freelance basis or with a high school, theatre school, art institute, college, or university.

The arts of acting and modeling are quite similar. Both fields are very demanding and call for stage presence and charisma.

Voice and Dialect Coaching
Voice coaches or dialect coaches help actors develop their vocal technique and adopt appropriate character accents.


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