The Top 10 BFA Theatre Design & Tech Programs in the Country for 2016-17

The end of August is usually a time where college seems to be on everyone's mind. Whether it's incoming freshmen getting ready to move into their residence halls or high school seniors preparing their applications, college is a constant discussion. 

For theatre students, where you attend can certainly have an impact on your career with the type of training you receive. It's also important to note that while each school listed here is excellent, a college degree doesn't guarantee success nor is one required to become successful in this industry. 

Here at OnStage, we take months to research the best BFA programs to come up with our own lists. We base it off tuition, curriculum, faculty, career support, basically everything you yourself would consider before making a college choice. We even have gone as far to call admission offices to ask them questions. 

We're going to do separate lists for each type of degree field. We've already done Musical Theatre and Acting. 

Today we move onto Theatre Design & Technology.

10. Coastal Carolina University - Conway, SC

Notable Facts: 

- The design/technology program provides intensive hands-on experience for students. The program is a four-year sequence of courses in design, theatre technology, script analysis and visual arts. The intensive class work is complement ed with the variety of practical production experience available via our aggressive production schedule. Students have the opportunity to build a strong professional portfolio that will help them enter the professional theatre or seek further training at top graduate design schools.

- The total program provides training from basic drawing to exploration of scenic, lighting, and costume design for theatrical production.

- Facilities include the Edwards Black Box Theatre is a state- of-the-art flexible space able to host everything from student cabaret events to modern musicals. The theatre was completed in 2000 and has hosted a myriad of events since then. The theatre seats up to 150 and is 18' to the suspended tension grid. The theatre has a lighting inventory of over 125 instruments and dimmers.

- Scholarships include the Department of Theatre for the Visual and Performing Arts Scholarship.  Students who have applied, been accepted and have received a recommendation will receive an award of $2000.00 (In-State) or $6500 (Out-of-State).

9. Helmerich School of Drama at Oklahoma University - Norman, OK

Notable Facts:

- Facilities include four fully-equipped performance spaces: the Elsie C. Brackett Theatre, a 600-seat proscenium house; the A. Max Weitzenhoffer Theatre, a 225-seat state-of-the-art flexible house; The Lab Theatre, an 80-seat proscenium house; and, the Gilson Studio Theatre, an intimate blackbox.

- The Design degree serves undergraduate students interested in pursuing a career in scenic, costume, or lighting Design.

- Stage management students should expect to assistant stage manage and/or stage manage at least one production per semester, with opportunities in all performance genres: straight plays, ballet, modern dance, opera, and musical theatre.

- Internships include Alley Theatre, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Second Stage [NYC], Music Theater of Wichita, Santa Fe Opera, Trinity Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Dallas, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and Williamstown Theatre Festival.

- Alumni are currently employed by Cirque du Soleil, Carnival Cruise Lines, Stage West Theatre (Ft. Worth, TX),, Theatre-Hikes, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Emerald City Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Paper Mill Playhouse.

8. SUNY Purchase College - Purchase, NY

Notable Facts: 

- The freshman year is an exploratory common program that stresses fundamental coursework and assigned tasks on actual productions. After the freshman year, the following concentrations are available: scenic design, costume design, lighting design, costume technology, stage management, technical direction/production management.

- The unparalleled technical and design resources of the Performing Arts Center—and its busy schedule of dance, musical, and dramatic productions—provide students with professional experiences few commercial theatres can match. Classes are conducted in modern design studios, where students have their own workspace and personal drawing tables. Private and semiprivate design studios are often provided for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Opportunities for apprenticeships in professional studios and shops in New York City and throughout the country provide valuable career-related experience and contacts.

- More than 86% of theatre design/technology graduates are working in their chosen profession. Many alumni are now members of USA local 829, IATSE, and AEA and have received Tony, Emmy, Obie, and Drama Desk Awards, among other honors. Their extensive design credits include Broadway, Off Broadway, dance, film, television, industrials, and Las Vegas.

- Faculty include David Grill, Emmy winning lighting designer for the Super Bowl Halftime Shows. 

- Alumni include Mayne Berke, Brian MacDevitt, Kenneth Posner and David Gallo.

7. University of North Carolina School of the Arts - Winston-Salem, NC

Notable Facts: 

- Offers rare program in Wig & Makeup Design. Students will have opportunity to learn all areas of this field including: design, wig making, period hairstyling, makeup techniques, mold making and prosthetic arts. 

- Sound Design program has close relationships with sound equipment manufacturers, and both Broadway and regional sound designers conduct specialized workshops that are available to students during a two-week period every year.

- In the Costume Technology program, students will study advanced level pattern development and construction for live models, both flat patterning and draping. 

- Alumni include Elisheba Ittoop, Brittany Steele, Milton Davis and Tony Winning Costume Designer for Hamilton, Paul Tazewell. 

6. Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts at Webster University - St. Louis, MO

Notable Facts: 

- Program has partnerships with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis are located on campus and perform in the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts.

- The Stage Management Program is unique to the Conservatory, and no more than five students will be accepted into the first year. The program boasts an exceptionally high placement record with 100% of its graduates placed upon graduation.

- Offers rare program in Concert Design. The thrust of the program is a blending of our scene design and lighting design curriculum. In addition, students will complete an internship with Bandit Lites in Nashville during the second semester of the junior year. Bandit has agreed to partner with Webster on this unique venture, to help to train the students on the latest concert lighting technology. Seth Jackson a Conservatory alumnus, who has won many design awards for his work in the field, has joined the Webster faculty to head up this new program.

5. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, MI


Notable Facts: 

- Core courses cover all facets of design and production, including aesthetics, theory, history, literature, graphics, management, technology and crafts.  Academic and studio classes are augmented with practical experience in our professional production shops.

- Every year the UM School of Music, Theatre & Dance presents 10 fully-staged productions and a number of studio productions in the areas of drama, opera, musical theatre and dance in three different theatres.  Students work as stage managers, shop assistants and technicians for each production. 

- Faculty include Rob Murphy, who has almost 200 theatre, dance, and opera design credits for a wide range of professional and academic companies including designs created for the Guthrie Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Play House, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the Court Theatre, Missouri Repertory, and New York Theatre Workshop. 

- Facilities include the Arthur Miller Theatre. This variable seat theatre, named after the esteemed American playwright and U-M alumnus, represents the most public component of the Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center. A highly flexible courtyard format the theatre is designed for proscenium productions and able to accommodate an orchestra of up to 16 players or as a wide thrust stage configuration with seating on three sides and extraordinarily intimate dimensions between actor and audience.

- Alumni include Heather Chockley, Joel Silver, Alix Claps and Edward Morris. 

4. Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University - New Brunswick, NJ

Notable Facts: 

- Theater Design students at Mason Gross School of the Arts are part of a dynamic 3.5-year professional training conservatory program offering a unique semester abroad at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

- Located only 45 minutes from New York City, our MFA program provides a strong foundation in theater history and theory with rigorous training in the skills needed to work in the entertainment business. Professional internships in New York City are an integral part of the program. 

- Scenic Design students will take courses such as Elements of Design, in this course students will learn basic perspective, sketching methods and media, model making and basic design theory and play analysis specific to set design. In the second semester, you join the designers in other specialties for a course in collaboration and design theory.  

- Offers a BFA in Technical Direction, which provides an excellent broad-based knowledge, understanding and respect for all aspects of theater. A key goal is a deep understanding of designers and the design process. Core Curriculum classes in theater history and global theater assure a sound foundation and worldwide perspective. 

- Alumni include Dan Lawson, Larry Brown, Laurie Churba, April Curtis and Stanley Meyer. 

3. Depaul University - Chicago, IL

Notable Facts: 

- Technicians are trained in scenery and props construction, rigging, drafting, welding, lighting technology, audio technology, pneumatics, hydraulics, automation, problem solving, and project management. Theatre Technology graduates are well-equipped to be the skilled labor force executing designs and serve in managerial positions. Employment is possible in theatre production, film, television, commercial scenic production, touring theatre and concerts, and many other areas of entertainment. All of the Theatre Technology training is based upon emulating the professional experience.

- At the end of each year, The Theatre School hosts a Graduate Showcase event to showcase the work of our graduating design students. Under the guidance of the faculty, graduating technicians prepare a showcase exhibit of their portfolio – which is presented in Chicago for technical directors, artistic directors, alumni, and other members of the theatre, film, and television industries.

- Second year sound design students, focus on the specifics of sound design and technology for the theatre through an introduction to the history of sound design, sound acoustics, and the science of sound. Students learn to work with software including Pro-Tools, Logic, Peak, and QLab to begin creating, editing, sequencing, and arranging sound cues. 

- Alumni have worked on Broadway productions of A Chorus Line, August: Osage County, Addams Family the Musical, Gypsy, In the Heights, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Legally Blonde, Mary Poppins, The Seagull, West Side Story, Wicked and Zanadu.

2. California Institute of the Arts - Valencia, CA

Notable Facts: 

- Capitalizing on Los Angeles as a global hub for media and creative professionals, these interrelated, multidisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs offer intensive professional instruction in the arts of scene, costume, lighting and sound design, as well as in technical direction.

- Scenic Design program is under the leadership of scenic designer Christopher Barreca, whose teaching is informed by his active design practice in international, regional and Broadway venues, the curriculum explores all aspects of live performance as a collaborative process, giving special attention to the shaping of artistic vision, aesthetic sophistication, critical thinking and craft.

- Every student is assigned a faculty mentor who is responsible for guiding the student through the artistic and academic programs. CalArts emphasizes the creation of strong student-to-faculty relationships which enable students to draw from their instructors’ knowledge and creative spirit.

- Facilities include the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, a comprehensively outfitted performance space can be transformed into several different configurations, from thrust and end stage to in-the-round, while adaptable seating can accommodate an audience of 250. The theater features superb acoustics, with moveable panels that can be adjusted according to the requirements of each performance. The space is also equipped with 35mm, 16mm and digital projection systems.

- Alumni include Brandon Baker, Kille Knobel and Phil Widmer.

1. Carnegie Mellon University - Pittsburgh, PA

Notable Facts: 

- With as many as 25 annual productions in the School of Drama—among them The New Works Series, devised work, traditional theater, musicals, opera, dance, television and film—students have ample opportunity to design. Partnerships with professional theaters in Pittsburgh provide additional experiences for advanced students.

- Non-classroom opportunities such as Dance/Light and the Playground Festival provide costume design students with a myriad experiences to expand and hone their skills. Internships include assistantships and paid positions with Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera and City Theatre Company.

- Students can gain experience in lighting design through national internships with professional designers and lighting firms including Lightswitch, Visual Terrain, Nyx Design, Focus Lighting, Full Flood Lighting, Nautilus Entertainment Design and Reveal Design Group.

- Offers rare program in Video & Media Design. It is an intensive three-year course of study providing a solid theoretical grounding in the history and contemporary issues surrounding media technologies and extensive practical experience through class-work and productions.

- Notable alumni include Jen Caprio, Jules Fisher, Peggy Eisenhauer and Doug Huszti