The Top 10 BFA Theatre Design & Tech Programs in the Country for 2017-18

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 dance today we move onto Theatre Design & Technology.

10.  SUNY Purchase College - Purchase, NY


Notable Facts: The school features 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. 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.

9. University of Connecticut - Storrs, CT


Notable Facts: Undergraduate Design/Tech majors have the opportunity to study and work in all areas, including Scenery Design, Construction & Rigging, Costume Design and Construction, Lighting Design, Properties Design & Construction, and Sound Design. Course work combines with practical work on Connecticut Repertory Theatre productions. Advanced undergraduates with particular promise often serve as assistant designers or designers for CRT Studio Works productions. The program also features study abroad connections with Bournemouth University College of the Arts and London University Wimbledon College of the Arts in the UK.

8. Emerson College - Boston, MA


Notable Facts: This program is based on a hands-on, apprenticeship model of teaching, where students learn from highly skilled faculty; and coursework in scenic, lighting, sound, costume, props, and technical design is quickly applied to work done at professional internships or in the College’s producing laboratory, Emerson Stage. Facilities include a studio that houses a drafting and rendering area, CAD lab, sound station, and craft space. Additionally, a 400-square foot light lab sits adjacent to the main studio for lighting design instruction and the testing of designs.

7. Savannah College of Art & Design - Savannah, GA


Notable Facts: Facilities include a scene workshop to create backdrops and props and learn building techniques used for set construction along with three distinctive theaters, the Mondanaro Theater (150 seats), Trustees Theater (1,100 seats), Lucas Theater (1,200 seats). Given the film production boom in Georgia, SCAD production design alumni are also employed at 20th Century Fox, Discovery Communications, Food Network, HBO, HGTV, MTV Networks and NBC Universal along with New American Shakespeare Tavern, California Shakespeare Theater and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. 

6. Syracuse University - Syracuse, NY


Notable Facts: Students will have the opportunity to design Department of Drama main stage productions and work collaboratively with faculty directors and designers—and with the professional staff and company of Syracuse Stage—to see designs realized by a professional production team. Students will work in their newly expanded and renovated Theater Design Center, which includes three design studios, crafts rooms, a LightBox, CAD lab, and a design library. Their theater complex provides opportunities to work in a variety of performance spaces, including a 500-seat proscenium; a 250-seat theater that can be configured as a proscenium, thrust, or avenue stage; and the intimate Loft Theater.

5. 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. December graduation launches students into the theater profession 5 months before graduates of other programs. By cultivating professional contacts developed with the Mason Gross faculty and staff and through professional internships, Mason Gross design graduates are ahead of the game in their transition into the profession. Alumni include John Lassiter, who was nominated for a 2017 St. Louis Theater Circle Award for best design for his lighting design of Follies at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. 

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, MI


Notable Facts: 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. 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.

3. 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.  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.

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


Notable Facts: Offers rare program in Wig & Makeup Design. Students will have the opportunity to learn all areas of this field including: design, wig making, period hairstyling, makeup techniques, mold making and prosthetic arts. Alumni include Elisheba Ittoop, Brittany Steele, Milton Davis and Tony Winning Costume Designer for Hamilton, Paul Tazewell. 

1. Carnegie Mellon University - Pittsburgh, PA

Ragtime's Resonance.jpg

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. 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.