The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Academics

Graduate Specializations

We offer five MFA programs at UMass Amherst, which require a minimum of 60 credits for graduation and normally take three years in residence to complete. 

The program begins with a first-year curriculum designed to create community and a shared language. First-year students also participate in production through the studios and workshops in their areas of specialty. In an average year, the Department of Theater presents about five fully mounted main stage productions. It also hosts a number of other co-productions and special events. Additionally, there are numerous occasions to create student work independent of the mainstage season.

In the second and third years, students focus more closely on their MFA program area. Depending on their interests, students may also take advantage of the academic resources of UMass as a whole and the other institutions in the Five College Consortium. All programs culminate in a third-year thesis project. Many students complete an intensive internship in their second or third years. Students in the design program sometimes assist faculty designers with their professional commitments.

While each individual program has its own requirements and benchmarks, all students will graduate having achieved a set of shared benchmarks. The shared benchmarks are listed on the Graduate Program main page and in the Graduate Handbook, which can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Directing

The Directing Program provides an ongoing forum for faculty and peer response to production and studio work as well as a focus on directorial tools such as action and storytelling, analysis and conceptualization, organization and preparation, and working with collaborators. In addition to directing one project each semester they are enrolled, students are exposed to an array of experiences that can help them to cultivate the sensibilities, strategies and creative responsiveness necessary for a sustained professional life as a theater practitioner.

Benchmarks for the Directing MFA program (PDF).

Sample plan of study for the Directing MFA program (PDF).

Email professor Gil McCauley.

Email professor Gina Kaufmann or visit her website.


Dramaturgy

The Dramaturgy Program is rooted in production work and in learning how to work collaboratively as part of a creative team. Dramaturgy students work on at least one production each year, receiving one-on-one faculty mentoring through each of these production assignments. In addition to hands-on production experience, students learn a variety of approaches to their craft in the weekly Dramaturgy Workshop, where other important dramaturgical skills—including translation, adaptation, playwriting, and critical writing—are nurtured. Rigorous academic work, coupled with this intensive dramaturgical training, prepares students for the creative and analytical challenges they will face working as leaders in the professional theater, developing and curating the theater of the future.

The Dramaturgy Program provides flexibility for students to draw upon the larger resources of the Five Colleges to take classes in areas of particular interest and passion. A major component is an original thesis project, undertaken in the student’s third year.

Benchmarks for the Dramaturgy MFA program (PDF) »

Sample plan of study for the Dramaturgy MFA program (PDF) »

Email professor Harley Erdman.

Email professor Chris Baker.

Email professor Megan Lewis.

Email professor Priscilla Page.

 


Costume Design

Photostream: Production Costume Designs

The Costume Program provides a rigorous laboratory in which students develop sophisticated skills in research; conceptualization; oral, written and visual communication; design, rendering and drawing; management; and pertinent technical areas. Much of this training is acquired through assignments directly linked to Department of Theater productions. Working on these productions, students not only gain design experience but also receive strong technical grounding in construction and pattern making through work in the costume shop. Practical work is augmented with paper projects to develop a well-rounded, professional portfolio. As students progress through the program, all projects are individually mentored to best enhance the student's training and the development of skills suited for working in the professional theater.

Benchmarks for the Costume MFA program (PDF) »

Sample plan of study for the Costume MFA program (PDF) »

Email professor Yao Chen.

Read a profile introducing Yao Chen to the community.

Email costume shop manager Kristin Jensen.


Lighting Design

Photostream: Production Lighting Designs

The Lighting Program is fueled by passion — passion for the ability of light to transform, and for the potential of the theatrical event. Technical and creative training in class is augmented by yearly production assignments. Designing and assisting on realized productions affords our students the opportunity to articulate their artistic voices and to learn to work effectively as part of a collaborative team. Students are mentored individually to uncover their own voices in a supportive yet challenging environment, both in the classroom and in the theater. This close mentoring relationship is an integral part of our lighting program — each graduate class is kept small to allow for an honest and challenging one-on-one relationship between professor and student. At the same time, the graduate student will have the opportunity to practice teaching both inexperienced and experienced undergraduates, and will be mentored in developing his or her own educational skills as part of the program. These close relationships often lead to further academic and professional opportunities after graduation. When they leave the department, students will enter into a valuable network of UMass graduates in the professional field. Graduating students will be equipped with artistic, technical and professional skills that render them prepared for the rigors of working in the professional theater as well as for teaching.

Benchmarks for the Lighting MFA program [PDF] »

Sample plan of study for the Lighting MFA Program [PDF] »

Email professor Penny Remsen.

Email department master electrician Michael Dubin.


Scenic Design and Technology

Photostream: Production Photos

The ambition of scenic design is to signal that something is about to happen here and to welcome in the story.

Scenic Design & Technology is an intensive three-year program where students experience hands-on learning through the design and implementation of a mainstage production season that serves as a teaching laboratory. 

Students pursue a rigorous core curriculum, as well as special topics in design and technology often connected to the mainstage season where they have room to experiment, risk, and grow as designers and makers – see the slideshow above. Our classes are small, allowing for personal mentorship by professionals and the opportunity to customize.  A student’s curriculum and production experience can be crafted to focus more on scenic design as well as more on technical design. We occasionally support dual design interests (e.g. scenery and costumes), depending on a student’s level of experience. 

A strong collaborative ethic is the backbone of our practice in the classroom, in design meetings, and in the scenic shop. Through production assignments and Teaching Assistantships, students are involved with every production on our mainstage in ever-shifting roles ranging from design and technical direction to props and scenic painting. As a TA in the scenic shop, working an average of 20 hours/week and completing high intensity tasks involving technical design, project management, and innovative fabrication techniques, each student receives one on one mentorship in the creative application of technology which in turn enriches their design perspective. By the end of their three years, their practical experience as well as their team-playing experience are grounded in twelve productions. Additionally, since they begin to design for the mainstage season in their first year, they typically have at least three mainstage production designs in their portfolio by the time they graduate.

We welcome international students and students with nontraditional theater backgrounds. We do not require the GREs for admission to any of our MFA programs, but international students will need the TOEFL or IELTS exam for admission. This year we have a late-admissions cycle with a June deadline. 

PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: Students have the opportunity to assist faculty for credit during the summers. Recent assistants have worked on productions for the Miami City Ballet, Baltimore Center Stage, Syracuse Stage, Triad Stage, The Weston Playhouse. The department also has connections with the nearby Hartford Stage and Shakespeare & Co. 

FINANCIAL AID: We believe that no student should finish an MFA program in debt. All graduate students receive full tuition-waivers, health benefits, and graduate assistantships during their three years. For 2019-2020, the assistantships are slated to be approximately $23,000 for September-May duties which include 20 hrs/week in the scenic shop. 

Benchmarks for the Scenic Design and Technology program (PDF).

Sample plan of study for the Scenic Design & Technology Program [PDF] »

Email Assistant Professor of Scenic Design Anya Klepikov

Read a story about how Professor Anya Klepikov meshes teaching and creative practice

Email Faculty Technical Director Michael Cottom

Watch a video or read an article about Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen scenic designer David Korins '99, who received his theater degree from UMass.

Undergraduate Master Electrician Tom Kelleher documented two scenic transitions in The Lily's Revenge, choreographed by Faculty Technical Director Michael Cottom; click here to view the video on Youtube.

Photostream: Scenic Design in Progress

 

Directing

The Directing Program provides an ongoing forum for faculty and peer response to production and studio work as well as a focus on directorial tools such as action and storytelling, analysis and conceptualization, organization and preparation, and working with collaborators. In addition to directing one project each semester they are enrolled, students are exposed to an array of experiences that can help them to cultivate the sensibilities, strategies and creative responsiveness necessary for a sustained professional life as a theater practitioner.

Benchmarks for the Directing MFA program (PDF).

Sample plan of study for the Directing MFA program (PDF).

Email professor Gil McCauley.

Email professor Gina Kaufmann or visit her website.

Dramaturgy

The Dramaturgy Program is rooted in production work and in learning how to work collaboratively as part of a creative team. Dramaturgy students work on at least one production each year, receiving one-on-one faculty mentoring through each of these production assignments. In addition to hands-on production experience, students learn a variety of approaches to their craft in the weekly Dramaturgy Workshop, where other important dramaturgical skills—including translation, adaptation, playwriting, and critical writing—are nurtured. Rigorous academic work, coupled with this intensive dramaturgical training, prepares students for the creative and analytical challenges they will face working as leaders in the professional theater, developing and curating the theater of the future.

The Dramaturgy Program provides flexibility for students to draw upon the larger resources of the Five Colleges to take classes in areas of particular interest and passion. A major component is an original thesis project, undertaken in the student’s third year.

Benchmarks for the Dramaturgy MFA program (PDF) »

Sample plan of study for the Dramaturgy MFA program (PDF) »

Email professor Harley Erdman.

Email professor Chris Baker.

Email professor Megan Lewis.

Email professor Priscilla Page.

Costume Design

Photostream: Production Costume Designs

a scene from The Lily's Revenge

Click to view a photostream of UMass Theater costume design work.

The Costume Program provides a rigorous laboratory in which students develop sophisticated skills in research; conceptualization; oral, written and visual communication; design, rendering and drawing; management; and pertinent technical areas. Much of this training is acquired through assignments directly linked to Department of Theater productions. Working on these productions, students not only gain design experience but also receive strong technical grounding in construction and pattern making through work in the costume shop. Practical work is augmented with paper projects to develop a well-rounded, professional portfolio. As students progress through the program, all projects are individually mentored to best enhance the student's training and the development of skills suited for working in the professional theater.

Benchmarks for the Costume MFA program (PDF) »

Sample plan of study for the Costume MFA program (PDF) »

Email professor Yao Chen.

Read a profile introducing Yao Chen to the community.

Email costume shop manager Kristin Jensen.

Lighting Design

Photostream: Production Lighting Design

Dream Play production image

Click to view  a photostream of UMass Theater lighting designs.

The Lighting Program is fueled by passion — passion for the ability of light to transform, and for the potential of the theatrical event. Technical and creative training in class is augmented by yearly production assignments. Designing and assisting on realized productions affords our students the opportunity to articulate their artistic voices and to learn to work effectively as part of a collaborative team. Students are mentored individually to uncover their own voices in a supportive yet challenging environment, both in the classroom and in the theater. This close mentoring relationship is an integral part of our lighting program — each graduate class is kept small to allow for an honest and challenging one-on-one relationship between professor and student. At the same time, the graduate student will have the opportunity to practice teaching both inexperienced and experienced undergraduates, and will be mentored in developing his or her own educational skills as part of the program. These close relationships often lead to further academic and professional opportunities after graduation. When they leave the department, students will enter into a valuable network of UMass graduates in the professional field. Graduating students will be equipped with artistic, technical and professional skills that render them prepared for the rigors of working in the professional theater as well as for teaching.

Benchmarks for the Lighting MFA program [PDF] »

Sample plan of study for the Lighting MFA Program [PDF] »

Email professor Penny Remsen.

Email department master electrician Michael Dubin.

Scenic Design and Technology

Photostream: Production Photos

The set of Water Station, which resembles an abstract sculpture, populated with actors moving about the space

Click to view a photostream of UMass Theater production photos.

The ambition of scenic design is to signal that something is about to happen here and to welcome in the story.

Scenic Design & Technology is an intensive three-year program where students experience hands-on learning through the design and implementation of a mainstage production season that serves as a teaching laboratory. 

Students pursue a rigorous core curriculum, as well as special topics in design and technology often connected to the mainstage season where they have room to experiment, risk, and grow as designers and makers – see the slideshow above. Our classes are small, allowing for personal mentorship by professionals and the opportunity to customize.  A student’s curriculum and production experience can be crafted to focus more on scenic design as well as more on technical design. We occasionally support dual design interests (e.g. scenery and costumes), depending on a student’s level of experience. 

A strong collaborative ethic is the backbone of our practice in the classroom, in design meetings, and in the scenic shop. Through production assignments and Teaching Assistantships, students are involved with every production on our mainstage in ever-shifting roles ranging from design and technical direction to props and scenic painting. As a TA in the scenic shop, working an average of 20 hours/week and completing high intensity tasks involving technical design, project management, and innovative fabrication techniques, each student receives one on one mentorship in the creative application of technology which in turn enriches their design perspective. By the end of their three years, their practical experience as well as their team-playing experience are grounded in twelve productions. Additionally, since they begin to design for the mainstage season in their first year, they typically have at least three mainstage production designs in their portfolio by the time they graduate.

We welcome international students and students with nontraditional theater backgrounds. We do not require the GREs for admission to any of our MFA programs, but international students will need the TOEFL or IELTS exam for admission. This year we have a late-admissions cycle with a June deadline. 

PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: Students have the opportunity to assist faculty for credit during the summers. Recent assistants have worked on productions for the Miami City Ballet, Baltimore Center Stage, Syracuse Stage, Triad Stage, The Weston Playhouse. The department also has connections with the nearby Hartford Stage and Shakespeare & Co. 

FINANCIAL AID: We believe that no student should finish an MFA program in debt. All graduate students receive full tuition-waivers, health benefits, and graduate assistantships during their three years. For 2019-2020, the assistantships are slated to be approximately $23,000 for September-May duties which include 20 hrs/week in the scenic shop. 

Benchmarks for the Scenic Design and Technology program (PDF).

Sample plan of study for the Scenic Design & Technology Program [PDF] »

Email Assistant Professor of Scenic Design Anya Klepikov

Read a story about how Professor Anya Klepikov meshes teaching and creative practice

Email Faculty Technical Director Michael Cottom

Watch a video or read an article about Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen scenic designer David Korins '99, who received his theater degree from UMass.

Undergraduate Master Electrician Tom Kelleher documented two scenic transitions in The Lily's Revenge, choreographed by Faculty Technical Director Michael Cottom; click here to view the video on Youtube.

Photostream: Scenic Design in Progress

student small model of stage set

Click to view a photostream of UMass Theater student designs in progress.