The Top 30 College Theatre Design and Tech Programs for 2019-2020

Baldwin Wallace University

Baldwin Wallace University

At the beginning of each new school year, we here at OnStage Blog like to announce what we feel are the best performing arts for the coming year. For those of you wondering how we select these schools, it starts in the previous spring.

Starting in April, we tasked a committee of just over 20 people to research these programs. They consisted of theatre educators, students, alumni, and parents. We wanted people who knew how to evaluate a performing arts program and what questions to ask. This is what we feel separates us from every other college ranking article, these folks know what’s important in theatre education.

This year we based our criteria on a number of factors including Cost vs. Scholarships, Quality of Facilities, Performance/Production Opportunities, and Post-Graduate Support. We also asked questions about the diversity of students as well as the faculty.

Each year, we also like to include a new category that factor into our rankings - on/off-campus safety. We feel this is a factor that is often not made a priority. So in addition to cold-calling the schools, we also took a look at their Clery Reports and asked questions about how proactive these schools are when it comes to safety.

This year we also decided not to rank the schools 1-30. When looking at the scores, often these schools were separated by one to two points. So rather, this year we’re simply naming who we feel are the best, in no particular order.

We must also preface this by saying that while these are some great schools to start your search with, ultimately the best college theatre program out there is the one you feel most confident and comfortable attending.

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The entertainment industry is constantly being impacted by the evolution of technology. Because of this, college theatre design and tech programs have to evolve with it. Programs are offering new classes, bringing in innovative guests and implementing the newest stage technology into their productions. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be in theatre design and tech.

Here are 30 programs we feel are doing some amazing things onstage and behind the scenes.

Point Park University - Pittsburgh, PA

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Why we love it: Theatre production students will take a professional preparation course to develop resumes, portfolios and interviewing skills. These students also have an opportunity for sponsorship to the USITT or SETC conferences for networking, career exploration, and job interviews.

Ball State University - Muncie, IN

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Why we love it: Esteemed faculty include Kathryn Rohe. A prolific designer across the country, she has been the Resident Costume Designer with Transport Theatre in New York since 2002. She has also worked on several Broadway shows including The "Lion King," "Mamma Mia!," "Hairspray," and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

UNC School of the Arts - Winston-Salem, NC

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Why we love it: Alums have worked with world-renowned organizations like Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Berkeley Ballet Theatre, Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company.

Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University - New Brunswick, New Jersey

Why we love it: Each semester there is regular shop time and focused assignments in construction, assisting a technical director, sound design and electrics that develop theater practice. The final semester includes advanced classes, including a professional development seminar and career transition study. Training is completed by serving as a technical director on a Rutgers Theater Company production.

SCAD - Savannah, GA

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Why we love it: Production design alumni are employed around the world at 20th Century Fox, Discovery Communications, Food Network, HBO, HGTV, MTV Networks, NBC Universal, New American Shakespeare Tavern, Nickelodeon and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Carnegie Mellon University - Pittsburgh, PA

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Why we love it: 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.

University at Buffalo - Buffalo, NY

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Why we love it: BFA students in Design and Technology receive comprehensive training in all aspects of production including Scene, Lighting, Sound, and Costume Design as well Stage Management, Technical Direction, Live Event Production, and more.

Emerson College - Boston, MA

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Why we love it: As a student in a design program focused exclusively on undergraduates, you’ll have unique access to the College’s performance and production spaces, which include five theatres ranging from the seating-flexible Jackie Liebergott Black Box to the 1,186-seat Cutler Majestic Theatre.

DePaul University - Chicago, IL

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Why we love it: Technicians are trained in scenery and props construction, rigging, drafting, welding, lighting technology, audio technology, pneumatics, hydraulics, automation, problem-solving, and project management.

LIU Post - Brookville, NY

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Why we love it: The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Design and Production is a pre-professional degree that combines a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of theatre with concentrations in costume, scenic, lighting or sound design; technical production; and stage management.

The University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ

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Why we love it: Theatre productions are supported with large well-equipped shop spaces. The scenery shop includes a steel working area, large assembly space, and dedicated paint shop with movable paint frame for both frame and floor painting. The costume area has separate teaching labs and costume production labs which include fitting rooms and laundry as well as a separate costume crafts shop and dye room. Properties has its own shop for both soft and constructed props.


Ithaca College - Ithaca, NY

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Why we love it: The bachelor of fine arts degree in theatre production and design is an intensive pre-professional program that combines conservatory-style training in theatre design and technology with a broad liberal arts education. The theatre technology concentration is for students interested in the areas of technical direction, scenic carpentry, sound technology, sound mixing, properties, scenic art (painting), or lighting technology. Students take intensive studio classes in all aspects of technical design and production. The theatrical design concentration is for students interested in scenic, costume, lighting, and/or sound design.

Baldwin Wallace University - Berea, OH

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Why we love it: BW faculty are practicing professionals with contacts at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater, Cleveland Public Theatre, Beck Center for the Arts and Dobama Theatre, as well as Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

Kent State University - Kent, OH

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Why we love it: Lighting design faculty include Jakyung Seo. She has worked as a professional lighting designer and assistant lighting designer in USA regional theatre including Steppenwolf and Congo Square Theatre (Chicago), Eye to Soul (NYC), CATCO (Columbus), Prothouse and Lodestone Theatre (LA).

Pace University - New York City, NY

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Why we love it: Courses include “Acting for Production and Design”. This course covers the basic principles of acting for designers and technicians to provide them a practical and hands-on understanding of the actor's process and tool kit. Students learn theatre games, character development, techniques to explore locations and environments, scene study methods and analysis.

Auburn University - Auburn, AL

Why we love it: Second-year courses include “Costume Construction”. This course covers fundamentals of machine sewing techniques, pattern drafting and draping, fabric dyes, and craftwork as they relate to theatrical costuming.

Catawba College - Salisbury, NC

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Why we love it: Study abroad opportunities have taken Catawba Theatre Arts students to the U.K. and Italy and have allowed them international experiences and artistic residencies in Costa Rica, Greece, Germany, Japan, and Estonia.

Virginia Commonwealth University - Richmond, VA

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Why we love it: Training in three major areas of design and technology: scenic, costume, and lighting are emphasized. costumes at SETC 2011Courses and practical work in sound design, prop construction, makeup and wig design are also offered.

CalArts - Valencia, CA

Why we love it: The professionally managed and maintained 5,000-square-foot scene shop consists of an expansive wood shop, metal shop, CNC room with router, lathe and vacuum form, as well as a fully stocked rigging room and tool cage.

UCONN - Storrs, CT

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Why we love it: Informal assessments by the Design/Technical faculty in the student's freshman and sophomore years are helpful in providing feedback, sharpening focus and encouraging candidates with demonstrated an aptitude to continue in the program.

Penn State University - University Park, PA

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Why we love it: The professional producing arm of the School of Theatre, Penn State Centre Stage, enables costume students even greater and more direct contact with artists working in the industry. In addition, students are exposed to “hands on” research in their historic clothing collection of over 1,000 garments and accessories.

Baylor University - Waco, TX

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Why we love it: Each year, students take on the responsibility of stage managing three to four regular-season mainstage productions, two midsummer mainstage productions, two musical theatre workshop CaBEARet fundraisers, and over twenty workshop productions ranging in content from devised work to musicals.

Syracuse University - Syracuse, NY

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Why we love it: You will work from 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 their intimate Loft Theater.

SUNY Purchase College - Purchase, NY

Why we love it: More than 86 percent 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.

Wichita State University - Wichita, KS

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Why we love it: Designers and technicians with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Shakespeare Center, Casa Mañana, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Cirque du Soliel, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Goodman Theatre, Huntington Stage, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Utah Shakespeare Festival, and on Unusual Suspects, Modern Family, True Blood, CSI: NY and more.

Boston University - Boston, MA

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Why we love it: Before officially declaring their BFA degree major, each first-year student entering the School of Theatre is admitted into a Freshman Core Curriculum, in either Performance or Design & Production. The Freshman Core experience helps to establish a base vocabulary that will serve as the foundation for a student’s progression into his or her BFA degree program.

Missouri State University - Springfield, MO

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Why we love it: A unique opportunity with the Tent Theatre, the only company in the area that houses an Equity Membership Candidate Program. As a student, you will have the opportunity to build equity candidacy points. You will work with performers who have been recruited throughout the nation to participate in this professional experience.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Champaign, IL

Why we love it: The costume shop features advanced millinery, dyeing, and leather-working facilities, while a makeup and wig studio produces prosthetics, ventilated wigs, and facial hair.

Oklahoma City University - Oklahoma City, OK

Why we love it: The BFA in Stage Management currently has an exchange with Rose Bruford College located in London. With this exchange, stage management students have the opportunity to spend the spring semester of their junior year studying at Rose Bruford.. This experience is designed into the curriculum and allows the student to stay on track to graduate in the standard four years.

College-Conservatory of Music - Cincinnati, OH

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Why we love it: Lighting design students will gain valuable hands-on experience working with our professional quality equipment in inventory. A selected listing of lighting gear includes: Philips Vari-Lite & Martin Automated Fixtures and Wyrbon Color Scrollers. Consoles such as: ETC EOS, Element, High End Hog, Strand, and ETC Source Four Conventional Fixtures.