The 5 Most Underrated MFA Theatre Design Programs for 2018-19

Unlike other industries, getting a master’s degree isn’t necessarily a requirement for theatre professional to succeed. However, for those looking to teach or further their training, there are many strong MFA programs all over the country.

In the past we’ve done a list of who we felt were the best MFA programs out there. This year, we thought we would changing things up by highlighting programs we felt offer excellent educational opportunities that don’t get enough attention.

Just as how we evaluated undergraduate programs, we looked at the following criteria to come up with our selections:

Quality of Facilities

Cost / Scholarship Opportunities

Quality of Faculty (Terminal degrees, professional experience, and full-time vs adjunct)

Admissions / Auditions / Selectivity

Quality of Curriculum 

Career & Alumni Support

Performance Opportunities

So without further ado, in no particular order, here are our picks for the five most underrated MFA Theatre Design programs for this year.

Northwestern University - Evanston, IL

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Fast Fact: “Graduate students in the MFA Stage Design Program are supported by full assistantships, which include a full tuition waiver and an annual stipend for 2017–18 of $23,787. Assistantship duties are fulfilled by production shop assignments in respective areas of study, supervising production crews, designing main stage productions, and teaching undergraduate design classes. The stage design program utilizes the resources of The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University. The Wirtz Center produces approximately eight main stage productions annually directed by faculty, graduate students, and guest artists. These productions include both classic and contemporary plays, dance performances, musical productions, and performance based work. Starting in their second year all M.F.A. design students design for these productions.”

Boston University - Boston, MA

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Fast Fact: “BU’s Scene Design program focuses on the development of skills, knowledge, and understanding needed to become a valuable professional theatre artist in the increasingly diverse theatre communities found nationally and internationally today. Under the leadership of Associate Professor James Noone, whose teaching is informed by his extensive work on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in regional theatre, and with many major opera companies, students are exposed to a variety of artistic challenges with the focus on how design can inform, reveal, and transform a story into a potent and meaningful theatrical event.”

University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ

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Fast Fact: “This fully functioning school has three theatres, along with production shops, production facilities and post-production laboratories, and state-of-the-art equipment, and a faculty made up of working professionals. The School of Theatre, Film & Television at the University of Arizona provides an exciting opportunity to learn about the art and craft of storytelling and the workings of the entertainment industry in an incredibly rich learning environment. Professional screenings like "I Dream in Widescreen," and our professional theatre training company, Arizona Repertory Theatre, provide real, hands-on creative opportunities and experiences to practice your craft.”

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, NE

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Fast Fact: “The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers an MFA in Stage Design with emphases in; Scenic Design or Production, Lighting Design or Production, Technical Production, or Costume Design. This intensive three-year program focuses on guiding the student to hone their skills as a visionary artists and designers." Nebraska Repertory Theatre is the professional wing of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”

University of Maryland - College Park, MD

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Fast Fact: “An exciting feature of the MFA in Design program in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is the annual public portfolio exhibit and review. Each year the Cafritz Theatre is transformed into a gallery where all MFA Design students display their set, costume, and lighting designs. A multi-day affair, the first day is open to the general public when professional designers and directors from the Washington, DC theatre community have an opportunity to respond to student work and where students often make important professional contacts. The second day involves longer one-on-one critique sessions with the nation’s leading designers and directors.”