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M.F.A. in Theatre

Perform. Grow. Inspire.
Direct your future.
The theatre has become your home and you’re ready to take the next step. Earning an M.F.A. in Theatre at Penn State will build upon what you have learned and help you to grow into the artist you dream of becoming. Our world-class faculty is ready to help you advance your career and discover your artistic voice with highly specialized instruction tailored to your goals. Our M.F.A. degree includes programs in theatre design and technology, directing for musical theatre, and music directing for musical theatre.
Earn an M.F.A. in Theatre at Penn State

The next chapter of your theatre story is waiting to be written. Stay in the spotlight and take your career to another level.

Our M.F.A in Theatre program has proven to be an incubator for elite theatre talent. By offering a wide range of degree concentrations, Penn State is a place where you will have room to grow as an artist while being part of one of the most respected theatre programs in the country.

Graduate students enrolled in our M.F.A. in Theatre program focus on theatre design and technology, directing for musical theatre, or music directing for musical theatre.

The highly specialized theatre design and technology concentration offers students the opportunity to focus on costume design, costume technology, or scenic design.

If a career in directing musical theatre is in your future, our highly competitive and groundbreaking directing and music directing for musical theatre programs offer training from industry leaders that will prepare you to be a uniquely skilled director in the evolving musical theatre landscape.

All of our degree concentrations offer various professional production opportunities and collaborative educational experiences with established theatre professionals that will help you to hone your skills while making invaluable connections to the industry.

Is an M.F.A. in Theatre right for you?

The M.F.A in Theatre program is one of the most unique and well-respected theatre education programs in the country that consistently exists as a conduit to Broadway and beyond.

Collaboration is at the core of the educational experience at Penn State, as evident in our assistantship opportunities. The program’s wholistic approach to developing artists and acts as a model for modern theatre education.

The strength of the three-year graduate training programs lies within our students who are committed to growth, accept challenges, and are eager to perform in a program that encompasses both rigorous classwork and demanding production experience.

M.F.A. Theatre student showcasing his costume design work.
Stage and lighting scene rehearsal for the play Albatross.

Degree Options

Our goal is to develop well-rounded theatre professionals, critical thinkers, and collaborative artists who bring artistry and technology together, and have the skills to succeed in today’s job market.

Explore the M.F.A. degree concentrations housed within the Design + Technology, Directing and Music Directing program options.

Design + Technology (Scene, Costume)

Design + Technology

The strength of our design and technical programs lies in our students who are committed to growth, who accept challenge, and who are eager to perform in a program that encompasses both rigorous class work and demanding production experience. Students who leave Penn State with the M.F.A. degree are well prepared to launch their professional careers.

Students in design (scenic, costume) and technology (costume) have, as a common academic core, background and enrichment courses in theatre literature and production. In addition to intensive and extensive course work in the chosen area of emphasis, it is critical for the M.F.A. candidate to have sufficient course work in design and technical areas outside the area of specialization to ensure the capability of understanding and contributing to the collaborative production process.

Degree Options

Scenic Design

The Scenic Design option balances focused studio training with practical design experience. Students take course work in design and related graphic areas such as figure drawing, scene painting, 3D CAD, and presentation techniques, with particular emphasis placed on integrating contemporary digital techniques into the design process. Instruction in projection and digital media is also possible in our individually focused curriculum.  Students also receive a strong core education in dramatic literature and theory, and period styles

The School of Theatre houses three theatres where we annually produce shows in a wide variety of dramatic styles and historic periods. Student design work is present in virtually all productions. Dan Robinson is the head of the program.

  • Highly individualized three-year studio training in traditional and contemporary design presentation techniques
  • Outstanding teacher/student ratio
  • Mainstage design opportunities in area of concentration
  • Collaborate with directors of diverse backgrounds and approaches, including professional guest directors
  • Program is tailored to each student’s individual interests and abilities
  • Career planning and preparation
  • Course work and technical training available in disciplines outside of student’s main area of concentration
  • Study in theatre literature, history, and pedagogy
  • Focus on text analysis and applicable design responses
  • Opportunities for teaching undergraduate classes in areas of expertise
  • Full tuition and stipend for all admitted graduate students

Costume Design

A studio setting supports the instruction of design with supplemental work in figure drawing, presentation techniques, computer graphics, website design, and the logistics of entering the profession. Design curriculum is enhanced by a rotation of costume technology classes, as well as a core education in dramatic literature and theory, and fashion history.  Students work closely with faculty and guest artists designing and mounting their work in three distinctive theatrical venues supported by a professional staff. The flexibility of programming and personal faculty attention to each student allows the ability to explore areas of special and individualized interest. Richard St. Clair is the head of the program.

  • Highly individualized three-year studio training and mentorship in traditional and contemporary design techniques
  • Full tuition and stipend for all admitted graduate students
  • Realized production and design opportunities in straight theatre and/or musical theatre
  • Collaborate with directors of diverse backgrounds and approaches
  • Every program is tailored to each student’s interests and abilities
  • Outstanding teacher/student ratio
  • Career planning and preparation all three years through close mentorship
  • Training in both costume design and costume technology
  • Study in theatre literature, history, and pedagogy
  • Opportunities for teaching undergraduate classes in areas of expertise

Costume Technology

The Costume Technology option offers an in-depth exposure to costume construction and crafts, enhanced by a design studio in the first year. A strong core education in the history of fashion and dramatic literature and theory, as well as three study abroad opportunities in London, Italy, and Eastern Europe, supports the education of the costume technologist. Intensive and practical study in draping, flat patterning, construction, tailoring, millinery, and related theatrical crafts prepares the graduate student for immediate entry into the profession. Students work closely with faculty and guest artists mounting their work in three distinctive theatrical venues supported by a professional staff. The flexibility of programming allows each student the ability to explore areas of special and individualized interest. Laura Robinson is the head of the program.


Degree Program Structure

Designers and technicians work closely with directors and actors in their corresponding M.F.A. programs. Collaboration is taught in the classroom and fostered in the production program

Each degree program is taught by professionally working faculty and is specifically dedicated to individual student development and professional training leading to employment. In addition to course work in the academic core and in emphasis-related classes, students are given challenging production assignments appropriate to their areas of interest each semester. Scenic, costume, and lighting designers are expected to design at least one major production in each of the school’s major production facilities: The Playhouse, a 450-seat proscenium theatre, the Pavilion, a 300-seat arena/thrust theatre, and the Downtown Theatre, a 150 seat jewel box proscenium theatre.

Production Opportunities

As audience members, our students have access to one of the oldest University-based performing arts series in the country, and as production students, they can work with professional touring companies in the 2,600-seat Milton S. Eisenhower Auditorium, the 900-seat Schwab Auditorium, or in the 16,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center, which hosts major rock concerts and large public events. Penn State’s public broadcast studio, WPSX-TV, may provide Penn State Centre Stage, a resident regional summer theatre on the Penn State University Park campus, offers employment opportunities to qualified students, who work with professional designers, cutters, technicians, painters, sound specialists, hair designers, and directors from all over the country.

Faculty

Practical experience and work with a professional faculty are strengths of the Penn State Theatre program. In addition, professional designers, technicians, and craftspeople are often brought in to augment faculty expertise. These visiting artists design productions, give lectures, conduct workshops, hold seminars, and sometimes design specialized portions of shows, such as sound and special effects. Whatever their mission, they always work closely with students, consulting and critiquing work in progress. Students work as assistants to visiting artists, gaining invaluable experience and contacts and the potential for professional work after graduation.

Facilities

The Theatre Arts Production Studios (TAPS) are among the most comprehensive teaching and production facilities in the country. They include classrooms, a rigging and automation laboratory, studios for scenery construction, painting, properties, a costume construction studio and costume stock. A sound and media convergence laboratory and lighting laboratory are housed across campus in the Visual Arts Building. The Theatre Building houses the Playhouse Theatre, acting and design studios, classrooms and a historic fashion archive. A major collection of historic lighting equipment is stored in Eisenhower Auditorium.

Professional Liaison

When M.F.A. students finish their programs at Penn State, they are trained practitioners with solid backgrounds combining experience and theory, ready to move into the professional theatre and the performing arts. Many have gone on to become nationally recognized in their fields. Among our graduates are Broadway and off-Broadway designers, designers in major commercial entertainment firms, design assistants, and technicians. Our students’ names frequently scroll on television and film credits. Graduates are in place as designers, technical directors, cutters, assistants, property artists, and painters in major regional and university theatres. The broader Penn State network includes working actors, directors, and producers trained with the same care and attention to professional development as are designers and technicians. In moving beyond the academy and into the larger world of theatre, Penn State graduates find a constant and growing professional resource in alumni and guest artists who have worked in Penn State theatres.

Admission

There are several steps that need to be followed in order to apply to our design program. First, we ask that you send us examples of your design work and a copy of your current transcript. This will allow us to get to know you and your work, and to determine if you are a good candidate for our program. The work that you send can be either print or digital such as a link to a webpage or a pdf or power-point portfolio. If we think you might be a good match for our program, we will ask that you come to campus for a visit. This give us a chance to meet you personally and to answer all your questions. You can also see our facilities, meet our current graduate students and sit in on some classes. We hope to provide as complete an experience of our program as is possible in order for you to determine if we are a good program for your own training goals. After the campus visit, if we both decide that Penn State is a good match for you, then we will make an offer for admission. We tell all prospective students to wait until you have our formal offer before you submit an application. This limits the cost of the application fee to only the students we would make offers to. There is no deadline for application as we will continue the process for as long as it takes to fill our available assistantships. For URTA candidates, the URTA interview takes the place of sending us a portfolio and transcript, as these are both part of the URTA interview process.


For more information contact:

Scenic Design:
Dan Robinson
Head of Scenic Design
School of Theatre
The Pennsylvania State University
116 Theatre Building
University Park PA 16802
(814) 863-8591
email: DIR2@PSU.EDU

Costume Design
Richard St. Clair
Head of Costume Design
School of Theatre
The Pennsylvania State University
116 Theatre Building
University Park PA 16802
814-863-6739
email: RHS18@PSU.EDU

Costume Technology
Laura Robinson
Head of Costume Technology
School of Theatre
The Pennsylvania State University
116 Theatre Building
University Park PA 16802
814-865-2684
email:  LKR13@PSU.EDU

Directing

Applying:

The M.F.A. in Directing is not currently accepting applications. Recruitment for this program will begin in Fall 2021 to enroll in Fall of 2022.

The School of Theatre at Penn State offers graduate training in directing for the musical theatre stage. This unique Master of Fine Arts degree program combines traditional director training with the special tools needed for directing in the professional musical theatre.
Head of Directing for Musical Theatre: (until June 2021) Susan Schulman.
Co-Heads of Directing for Musical Theatre (after June 2021) Steve Broadnax III and Rick Lombardo.

Contact: jcd5665@psu.edu

Please include the following in your packet:
-Letter of Intent, no more than three pages in length, discussing your reason for applying to the program at PSU and your goals and aspirations for residency.
-Résumé
-Unofficial transcript from your undergraduate institution. Should you be accepted into the program, you will be required to have an official transcript sent to the graduate school at Penn State.

Please send these materials digitally as a pdf to:
MFADirectingApplicationsPSU@gmail.com

Program Overview

The School of Theatre at Penn State offers graduate training in directing for the musical theatre stage. This unique three-year Master of Fine Arts degree program combines traditional director training with the special tools needed for directing in the professional musical theatre. Integrated into the School’s other MFA programs and its nationally recognized Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre program, the applicant will train with acting, dance, voice, and design faculty. The degree candidate will direct a minimum of five projects including a fully mounted thesis production. Additional opportunities include a semester internship with a director of a professional Musical Theatre production.

We believe that a student learns to direct by directing. With a small enrollment every other year, the directing program emphasizes constant practical directing experience. Further, learning to direct in musical theatre requires a solid foundation in directing non-musical plays, acting, and dramatic analysis. Ultimately, a director must be prepared to stand alone — to survive, to make a statement, to share a vision, to challenge the conventional, to create exciting and stimulating theatre.

Believing that theatre functions as an artistic ensemble in which the director serves as a creative leader, we train directors who are collaborators. The faculty works much the same way, providing the student director with diverse input while sharing a common belief in what constitutes quality theatre. Graduate directors will work closely with musical theatre faculty, performance faculty, and design faculty. The director training program emphasizes preparation for work in the professional musical theatre where the broadest spectrum of training and experience is necessary. The program offers a balance between seminars, tutorials, classes, studios, projects, and production assignments.

Structure

The first year of training focuses on process — play selection, text analysis, casting, rehearsal methods, and working with actors. Directors take two directing courses, two years of theatrical literature research/seminar courses, a costume history course, and direct at least two studio projects. They also take the first semester of graduate acting studio. Most material in the first year centers on contemporary American and British realism and includes staging for the proscenium, arena and thrust. The first-year director also serves as assistant director on a mainstage production directed by faculty or professional guest artists.

The second year of training emphasizes the visual aspects of production and directing for the musical theatre stage. Students also have an opportunity to continue their studies in dance and/or voice. During the second year the graduate director directs at least two projects, a one act musical and another studio project TBD. Projects increase in length, complexity, and production values during the course of the training, and the faculty adviser serves as a mentor for each project. Directing students enjoy access at all times to the expertise of the entire professional faculty for assistance in vocal and dialect coaching, fight choreography, dramaturgical advice, and other aspects of directing.

One semester of the third year centers on directing a fully mounted musical theatre production, and one semester offers an internship with a professional director in the Broadway, Off Broadway or Regional arena.

Assistantship

All graduate directors participate in the Theatre 100 Company. This creates additional opportunities to direct advanced graduate actors in scenes of different genre and styles. Further, graduate directors serve as teaching assistants in several of the BFA musical theatre performance classes.

Class Size and Candidate Profile
Two directing candidates are admitted each recruiting year depending upon the quality of applicants and availability of assistantship support. Enrollment is small to in order to provide student directors with an appropriate number of actors, faculty guidance, and production facilities. Because directing students impact and interact with all areas in the School of Theatre, prospective candidates must possess both maturity and directorial credits beyond the classroom or lab theatre level. The applicant should possess a substantial professional and/or academic musical theatre background. Candidates with dance and choreographic background should also feel encouraged to apply. For more information contact jcd5665@psu.edu

Music Directing

The M.F.A. in Music Directing is not currently accepting applications. Recruitment for this program will begin in Fall 2021 to enroll in Fall of 2022.

The first two years of the three-year course of study will be on campus in University Park, PA. Courses include a repertoire class, arranging and orchestrating, notation software, sound design, and conducting. Additional international opportunities are available and encouraged. In the third year, the candidate will music direct a large on-campus production one semester and intern or assist in a regional, New York, or international production the other.

The program includes a graduate assistantship that will cover all tuition plus a stipend. Initial auditions/interviews will be handled via Skype. The next interviews will occur in the spring of 2022, and the next two candidates will start in the fall of 2022. Selected applicants will then travel to Penn State to continue the audition/interview process. All applicants should be pianists by trade. Playing auditions is a big part of this training, so sight-reading skills and familiarity with the repertoire are crucial.

 

Considering the M.F.A. in Theatre? Consider this.

Focus on design & tech, directing for music theatre, or music directing for music theatre.

  • Highly specialized courses and individualized attention prepare you for the industry.

  • Numerous opportunities to interact with and learn from guest artists with a range of experiences.

  • Collaborate with experienced faculty and undergraduate students

Being 'scene'

Student's costumes and set designs from initial sketches through final fabrication.

Alumni Spotlight

You’ve gotta work hard to play hard. Sure, some people can skirt by without working as hard as others, but that will only take them so far.
Penn State Musical Theatre alumna Brinie Wallace

Alumni Spotlight

Brinie Wallace

B.F.A. in Musical Theatre 2016

Brinie Wallace is currently an ensemble member in the North American tour of The Book of Mormon after premiering the musical in Australia. She says her Penn State education reinforced in her the need to be “present and persistent” in the musical theatre profession, so you are ready to take on whatever challenges come your way.

Brinie Wallace, second from the right, performs as a member of the ensemble in the nationally touring Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon.” Wallace is a 2016 Penn State School of Theatre graduate. IMAGE: The Book of Mormon (c) Julieta Cervantes 2019

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