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Program of Study


The MFA in Directing program is a terminal degree based on nine quarters of full-time study, with a minimum course of three classes each quarter. Students in the program are expected to complete all coursework for the degree in three years, with up to two additional years to complete the written thesis and the accompanying oral defense.

The program focuses on three categories of core study: Artistic Collaboration, Theatrical Storytelling, and Theater History and Context.  Through these lenses, we seek to develop:

  • Foundational knowledge from which the director develops a fuller body of practice, including text analysis, aesthetic styles, and the historical and cultural function of theatre
  • A developed and articulated point of view that sets a production apart and which is informed by a text’s political, social, cultural, and historical implications
  • Constructive and practical leadership of an artistic and collaborative team
  • The ability to articulate one’s individual, informed, creative vision
  • Fluency in the language of acting, playwriting, and design, including the development of a powerful visual vocabulary
  • The innovation of one’s artistic process through exposure to and experience with physical and non-traditional rehearsal techniques and methodologies.

Core courses include:

Text Analysis, Director/Designer Collaboration, History of Directing, Dramaturgy, Theatre History, Advanced Directing Seminars, Illuminating Shakespeare, Rehearsal Techniques and Artistic Process Innovation, Alternative Performance, Physical theatre, Direct Address from the Stage, and a special, multi-faceted sequence of courses that hone theatrical storytelling techniques, including Devising, Theatrical Adaptation, Site Specific Theatre, and Toy Theatre. Course work in this program focuses on a variety of contemporary aesthetic approaches, while steadily developing creative leadership, clear spoken and written articulation of directorial point of view, and informed awareness of the theatre artist’s powerful role in a greater social and community context. Electives and special topics courses include a wide variety of offerings in Performance Studies, Theatre History, Art History, Comparative Literature, and many other fields; students often choose their later courses to complement the development of the thesis.

Productions and Thesis

Completion of the MFA degree culminates in a written thesis and oral defense. The written thesis reflects on the student’s three independent directing projects, one staged each year in the program, and each of which has equal weight in the thesis development process. Our facilities include two black-box theatres, two main stages, and a complete costume and scene shop.

The first-year directing project is a Classroom Workshop production that takes place in a simple space with no design, and focuses on a theatrical question of particular interest to the student.   The student then explores this question through production work with actors, negotiation of spatial relationships, understanding and application of basic principles of design, development of storytelling and text analysis techniques, and discussion with faculty and professional mentors.  Students document this process through a journal, a detailed production notebook, and a written paper.

In the second year, students each direct a Studio production that is performed in one of the Department of Theatre’s two black box spaces as part of the MFA Lab Series. This production is born out of the Collaboration: Contemporary Drama class, in which each director is teamed with a group of MFA designers with whom they move through the entire pre-production process of a larger-scale performance with the support of faculty and professional mentors. Again, students document the process via a journal, production notebook, and written paper.

Assuming successful completion of all course and production requirements, the third-year production becomes part of the Mainstage Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts season, where student directors fully participate in the experience of directing/programming for a major theatre. In their third year, students meet with the thesis advisor in preparation for presenting the written portion of their thesis, which provides a comprehensive and clearly articulated overview of the documentation of the last three years. Once the written portion of the thesis is submitted and approved, it is followed by a visual presentation and oral defense.

In addition to the three required directing projects, other production opportunities available are sometimes available within the Department of Theatre; the Director of the program determines such assignments.

All work is produced in the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, which contains four performance spaces:

  • The Ethel Barber Theatre – 439 seat, thrust stage
  • The Josephine Louis Theatre – 369 seats, proscenium stage
  • Two experimental lab theatres – 150 seats, black box spaces

Student Handbook