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Theatre Studies Dissertation Topics

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Published: 16th Aug 2021 in Dissertation Topic

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Tagged: Theatre

We have provided a selection of example theatre studies dissertation topics below to help and inspire you.

Historical Theatre

A very popular topic in the subject of theatre, looking back at the origins of performance, exploring Shakespeare, historical theatre settings and the evolution of script and costume.

Example historical theatre dissertation topic 1:

Recreating theatre within outdoor historical settings: An investigation

Noting the increased use of historic backdrops to outside theatre – such as Romeo and Juliet at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, Dad’s Army (The Lost Episodes) at Tolethorpe Hall, Rutland, and To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park – this dissertation evaluates through primary and qualitative data collection and analysis the added benefits that audiences receive from such productions compared to those staged within normal theatres.Evaluating seven different audiences through the summer season of 2013, and examining the work of several playwrights, this is a dissertation the findings of which have a number of implications for funding bodies relating to the staging of such theatrical productions.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hill, P. G. (1962). A theatre for the outdoor historical drama.Educational Theatre Journal, 14(4), pp. 312-317.
  • Kamenou, S. (2006).Promoting drama activities in outdoor environments for elementary school children.Doctoral dissertation, Linkoping, Sweden.
  • Scollen, R. (2011). Does the’Shakespeare’in Shakespeare in the Park matter?An investigation of attendances and attitudes of the USQ Shakespeare in the Park Festival.Applied Theatre Researcher, 1(12), Article 6.

Example historical theatre dissertation topic 2:

An analysis of theatre trends in the provinces 1980-2010

This dissertation seeks to analyse the dominant (and changing) trends in theatrical productions (and other shows commissioned within theatres) over a 30 year period. Using past programmes as well as contemporary critics reports of the shows, it seeks to demonstrate the cyclical nature of productions as well as commenting on those that have not ‘stood the test of time’. This is a dissertation that could be used as a starting point for a far larger doctoral thesis and thus, whilst it is initially envisaged that the study would concentrate on the major theatres in Newcastle, Norwich, Northampton, Nottingham, and Nuneaton, there are obvious possibilities for enlarging the study base to include the key theatres of each county and to expand the study period to cover the entirety of the post-war period – thereby also enabling the research to comment on the decline of the popularity of theatre to cinema in the early 1960s and its rebirth thereafter.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Doustaly, C. (2012). The glory of the garden: Regional theatre and the Arts Council 1984-2009. Cultural Trends, 21(4), pp. 339-341.
  • Hughes, G. (2011). Clocking on at the Play Factory: Some thoughts on running a regional theatre.New Theatre Quarterly, 27(01), pp. 14-27.
  • Turnbull, O. (2008). Bringing down the house: The crisis in Britain’s regional theatres. Bristol: Intellect Press.

Example historical theatre dissertation topic 3:

Shakespeare with boys – a return to original casting

Working with the student theatre group from Manchester Metropolitan University, this is a study that comprises both written and production elements. This dissertation charts the preparations, training, public reactions to its announcement, and audience enjoyment of a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream using only male actors. In these days of political correctness, the idea of staging a Shakespeare production in accordance with the acting regulations of Elizabethan England is a bold proposition. Charting the progress of the endeavour as well as reactions to it, this is an exciting dissertation proposal that will require the writer to look beyond exist cultural norms as well as testing their own artistic and directing/casting strengths.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Tribble, E. (2009). Marlowe’s boy actors.Shakespeare Bulletin, 27(1), pp. 5-17.
  • Wells, S. (2009). Boys should be girls: Shakespeare’s female roles and the boy players. New Theatre Quarterly, 25(02), pp. 172-177.

Werner, S. (2001). Shakespeare and feminist performance: Ideology on stage. London: Routledge.

Example historical theatre dissertation topic 4:

From music hall to variety nights: Popular theatre of yesteryear

Where once the music hall ruled supreme, in terms of popular culture and theatre, such institutions no longer exist in any meaningful number. Replaced, to some extent, by ‘end of the pier shows’ and variety shows on television in the 1970s and 1980s, these too, as popular culture has altered, have become increasingly marginalised. Indeed, where once SundayNight at the London Palladiumwas the most watched programme on television, there are now very few of that generation and type of ‘all round’ entertainer left – Sir Bruce Forsyth being one. Exploring the declining fortunes of this type of theatre this study builds upon the seminal work of Alan Butler on music halls of Nottingham and updates his work to take account of present day developments in popular culture and entertainment.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bignell, J. (2005). And the rest is history: Lew Grade, creation narratives and television historiography. In, Johnson, C. and Turnock, R. (eds),ITV cultures: Independent television over fifty years.Buckingham: Open University Press,pp. 57-70.
  • Bordman, G. (2001). American musical theater: A chronicle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Frith, S. (2002).Music and everyday life.Critical Quarterly, 44(1), pp. 35-48.

Gender Theatre

This is a good topic to explore if you are interested in the role of gender in the theatre it’s portrayal through performance.

Example gender theatre dissertation topic 1:

Sex and the theatre – a critique of two productions: The Vagina Monologues and Puppetry of the Penis

Diametrically opposed in terms of genitalia, these two productions have courted respect and controversy since their initial openings. Commenting firstly on the contents of both shows, this dissertation thereafter seeks to address two further academic points. First, to what extent do the productions represent a wider societal acceptance of the normalisation of intimate pornography into the daily lives of citizens? Secondly, are there noticeable age and gender differences to the acceptability of the themes discussed within both shows? Accordingly, this is a dissertation that combines theatre studies theory with practice as well as contextualising two contemporary shows.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bala, J. (2010). A dead baby and a scar, but no genitalia in sight. Is Bieito’sJenfa really a Bieito? Studies in Musical Theatre, 4(2), 141-154.
  • Houchin, J. (2008). Bodily fear: Recent American performance controversies. Theater, 38(3), pp. 5-21.
  • Paul, J. S. (2006). Body of work: Sexuality in recent American drama. Annual Review of Sex Research, 17(1), 200-214.

Theatre Audiences

This is a very good topic to choose if you are interested in the way a performance engages with the audience.

Example theatre audiences dissertation topic 1:

Dressing down for the theatre: Lessons from the Opera House?

Noting the plans of the Royal Opera house to encourage younger audience members by suggesting that they should ‘attend the opera in jeans’, this dissertation queries whether such gimmickry is appropriate within the visual arts. Arguing, that it is the quality and contents of the productions that should be used to encourage greater audience numbers, this dissertation questions the appropriateness of the marketing direction under taken by the Royal Opera House. In so doing, it not only identifies and critiques the dress-wear of theatre goers at five theatres over a three month period but also interviews, within intervals, such theatre goers, as to their opinions as to whether ‘what they wear’ makes any difference to their engagement with the productions.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Christiansen, R. (2012). Dress up for the theatre – It’s a matter of good manners. Daily Telegraph, 29th November 2012.
  • Gerhards, J., Hans, S. andMutz, M. (2012). Social class and highbrow lifestyle – A cross-national analysis.BSSE Working Paper No. 24.
  • Pitts, S. E. (2005). What makes an audience? Investigating the roles and experiences of listeners at a chamber music festival.Music and Letters, 86(2), pp. 257-269.

Example theatre audiences dissertation topic 2:

The value of theatre in a time of sustained austerity: A qualitative survey

Depending upon personal ideological viewpoints, funding for the arts, especially within a period of sustained economic depression, is either a luxury that cannot be afforded, or an essential service that should be maintained as a mark of the civilisation and civility of a given society. Having reviewed such philosophical approaches, the second part of this dissertation seeks to gauge public reaction to the necessity of sustaining public funding for theatre during the present economic crisis In so doing, it deliberately chooses two very different communities so that any differences in responses can also be analysed with regard to underlying socio-economic factors. Accordingly, this is a dissertation that combines theory with practical primary research in the town of Barrow in Furness and Cheltenham.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Stanziola, J. (2012). Good And Plenty: The Creative Success Of American Arts Funding. Cultural Trends, 21(2), Pp. 179-180.
  • Radbourne, J., Johanson, K., Glow, H.AndWhite, T. R. (2011).Audience Experience: Measuring Quality In The Performing Arts. International Journal OfArts Management, 11(3), Pp. 16-29.
  • Katz-Gerro, T. (2012). Do individuals who attend the arts support public funding of the arts? Evidence from England and the USA.Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure And Events, 4(1), Pp. 1-27.

Example theatre audiences dissertation topic 3:

Bridging the gap: Engaging children with full scale theatre productions

The enduring appeal of children’s shows at the seaside – in the form of Punch and Judy is well documented. So too, is their enjoyment of pantomime and puppet theatre. However, thereafter, such young enjoyment and interaction with theatrical experiences tails off in teenage years with the cinema being favoured over live productions. Seeking to understand why, this dissertation interviews five groups of primary school-aged children and five groups of secondary school-aged pupils to gauge the reasons as to why some children seem to abandon their love of theatre. Using a range of interview techniques with schools in the Stockport area, this is a dissertation that will require a thorough knowledge of ethical research issues – particularly with regard to the safeguards involved in the interviewing of minors.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Jackson, A. (2000). Inter-acting with the past-the use of participatory theatre at museums and heritage sites.Research in Drama Education, 5(2), pp. 199-215.
  • McCammon, L. A., Saldaña, J., Hines, A. andOmasta, M. (2012). Lifelong impact: Adult perceptions of their high school speech and/or theatre participation. Youth Theatre Journal, 26(1), pp. 2-25.

Schonmann, S. (2006).Theatre as a medium for children and young people: Images and observations. Dordrecht: Springer.


If you are interested in the performance side of theatre this could be the topic for you! You could take a look into topics such as solo or group performances, performances at the opera, in the street or on the stage.

Example performance dissertation topic 1:

Start-up street theatre: An investigation

Building upon the premise that art should be open to everyone and that its production should not be confined by either premises or timetables, this is an energetic, interactive dissertation that requires significant people management skills. The purpose of the study is to gauge the public’s response to ‘unannounced’ theatre in the form of a group of six colleagues spontaneously improvising outdoor style theatre (in a manner akin to flash mobbing) in a variety of locations in and around Hillingdon – the home of Brunel University. Tapping into existing literature into public engagement, and the flash mobbing phenomenon this is a dissertation that would benefit from the production of an accompanying film of the activities of the group as they prepare and deliver ‘street theatre’ to an unsuspecting audience.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Duran, A. (2006). Flash mobs: Social influence in the 21st century. Social Influence, 1(4), pp. 301-315.
  • Mason, B. (1992). Street theatre and other outdoor performance.London: Routledge.
  • Nicholson, J. A. (2005). Flash! Mobs in the age of mobile connectivity.Fibreculture Journal, 6.

Stage and Screen

The link between the theatre and the big screen is something which forms the origin of performance. You could talk about how adaptations are taken from the big screen to the stage, the logistics of this and how TV and Film has helped the theatre evolve in recent years.

Example stage and screen dissertation topic 1:

From screen to stage: An analysis of the extent to which such adaptations are successful with specific reference to three productions

Using the following three productions,The King’s Speech, Yes, Prime Minister, and Coronation Street, this dissertation analyses the extent to which the adaptation of each from respectively, large screen to theatre, small screen to theatre and small screen to theatre, were successful – in terms of viewer/audience perception, performance critiques and the integrity of the productions. As a consequence of the Coronation Street musical (Street of Dreams) running for just two productions – whereas the stage version of The King’s Speechis still enjoying rave reviews, this is a dissertation that will have to use a variety of data collection techniques.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bradley, L. (2010). Adapting King Lear for the stage. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Cartmell, D. (ed.) (2012). A companion to literature, film, and adaptation. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Berger, R. (2012). Active adaptations: Killing the girl with the dragon tattoo. 42nd Annual PCA/ACA National Conference, April 11-14, 2012, Boston, MA.

If these example dissertation topics have given you some inspiration and you now feel ready to choose a topic, see our guide to choosing a dissertation topic for further guidance.

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