Every year, OnStage Blog deep dives into college theatre programs to find what we feel are some of the best in the nation. While the perfect programs is the one that fits best with the student, schools can become that fit with fantastic facilities, strong faculty, multiple performance opportunities, among other things. In truth, there are some schools that do that better than others and should be recognized for it.
At the end of the summer, we will be publishing our top 25 theatre program rankings. But as we start to close the books on this academic year, we felt it’s time to name some programs that did exceptional work this year. So here is our 2019 list of the best theatre programs in each state.
The criteria these schools were scored on were as follows - Cost/Scholarship, Selectivity, Performance Opportunities, Faculty with Terminal Degrees/Experience, Facilities, Post-Grad career support, location resources.
University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa, AL
Fast Fact: In 1997, The University of Alabama was chosen by American Ballet Theatre for the first American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive ever to be held outside of New York or in partnership with a university.
University of Alaska, Anchorage - Anchorage, AK
Fast Fact: Each season the department produces four plays and two dance concerts on its “modified thrust” Mainstage and in the Jerry Harper Studio Theatre, a fully-equipped black-box space. Student-directed scenes, one-acts and full-length plays are also presented yearly in the Harper.
University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ
Fast Fact: All Freshman BFA Acting majors are in the Debut ensemble, and create and perform an original production focused on the process of acting. Freshman Musical Theatre majors perform in a specially-created revue which celebrates the Broadway musical and the American Songbook.
University of Arkansas, Little Rock - Little Rock, AR
Fast Fact: Multiple community partnerships including Arkansas’ foremost professional ballet company, Ballet Arkansas; UAMS Center for Simulated Medicine; Lucky Dog Audio; Murry’s Dinner Playhouse; Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
California State University, Long Beach - Long Beach, CA
Fast Fact: Theatre Threshold is a professionally modeled producing company within Theatre Arts Department Showcase class at CSU Long Beach. Housed in the intimate Studio 24/26, the company produces 12-14 free-admission one-act productions per semester. The company is managed by student staff members who are overseen and mentored by an Advisory Board of Theatre Arts Department staff and faculty mentors. Students engage as participants who direct, design, act, stage manage, and crew the productions.
University of Northern Colorado - Greeley, CO
Fast Fact: UNC stages more than 30 productions a year, giving students an extremely broad range of opportunities to showcase their skills. Students can audition for roles beginning in their first year. In addition to performing during the academic year, students can take the stage alongside industry professionals in UNC’s’ Little Theatre of the Rockies, a top-notch summer stock program that draws talent from across the country.
The Hartt School at University of Hartford - Hartford, CT
Fast Fact: During the fourth year, students are in residence at Goodspeed Musicals for three weeks in January working on a festival of new works. Music Theatre students may also audition for the Hartford Stage Company's annual production of A Christmas Carol as well as other Equity productions in the company's season. Many students join the Equity Membership Candidate Program during their time at Hartt.
District of Columbia
Corcoran School of the Art and Design at George Washington University - Washington, D.C.
Fast Fact: Faculty include, Carl Gudenius. In addition to teaching scenic and lighting design at GW and directing its Graduate Production Design Program, Professor Gudenius is an active professional designer. Recent work has included Art Direction/Production Design for ABC (including Good Morning America and Nightline), C-SPAN, PBS' (including In Performance at the White House), and Discovery.
University of Delaware - Newark, DE
Fast Fact: Through the offering by the Resident Ensemble Players (REP), UD's professional resident acting company, the REP provides an extraordinary cultural resource to the student body by affording undergraduates the opportunity to see quality productions of the major plays and playwrights that comprise UD’s dramatic heritage.
Florida State University - Tallahassee, FL
Fast Fact: This year the School of Theatre welcomed the Founder and Executive Director of Intimacy Directors International, Tonia Sina, for a series of presentations and training workshops designed to address a mindful approach to the complex, often difficult circumstances of the stories told both onstage and in the classroom. Leading the charge for equality in the arts, Intimacy Directors assume the responsibility for the emotional safety of the actors and all others within the rehearsal space while they are present. The directors are trained in best practices for movement pedagogy, body language, consent, sexual harassment, title IX, mental health, and various other topics that aid in ensuring safe spaces for all.
Savannah College of Art & Design - Savannah, GA
Fast Fact: Students increase exposure and experience at auditions hosted by the SCAD Casting Office, the only on-site, professionally run casting office in higher education. The office holds professional casting sessions for Georgia, New York and Los Angeles markets and also places actors in animated, voiceover, music video and student-run projects. More than 200 SCAD actors have been cast in major motion pictures such as "Baywatch," "The Birth of a Nation," "Dirty Grandpa" and "The Do-Over," and in a variety of television series, including "Underground," Hulu's "When the Street Lights Go On," HBO's "Vinyl," and Amazon's "Z: The Beginning of Everything."
University of Hawaii at Manoa - Honolulu, HI
Fast Fact: The program’s centerpiece is their yearly training residency, in which students have the exciting opportunity to undergo long-term, intensive training in a traditional Asian theatre form with renowned master artists of the genre, who provide rigorous training in semester-long movement, voice, and instrumental courses, as well as individualized instruction in the performance of specific roles and instruments.
Boise State University - Boise, ID
Fast Fact: Excellent faculty include Raquel David. New York credits include: LEAR and [UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW] (Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company), Paradox of the Urban Cliché and Dutch Masters (LAByrinth Theatre), End Days (Ensemble Studio Theatre), STRETCH: a fantasia (Living Theatre), Removable Parts (Here Arts Center), A Bright New Boise (Partial Comfort), FUTURA (NAATCO). Raquel is a resident designer at The O’Neill Playwrights Conference. She studied design at Middlebury College and received her MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
DePaul University - Chicago, IL
Fast Fact: The Theatre School’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in Costume Technology is designed to train students as theatrical craftsmen, drapers, cutters, and costume shop managers. Costume Technology students learn to translate designs into the garments and clothing actors wear. Students learn a variety of allied arts and crafts and take a progression of business management coursework. Students collaborate with directors, dramaturgs, designers, and DU’s professional costume shop staff.
Ball State University - Muncie, IN
Fast Fact: In association with the Discovery Group of Ball State and the Provost Immersive Learning Initiative, the Department of Theatre and Dance has created the Discovery New Theatre Festival. Students play a vital role in reviewing and screening submissions, choosing finalists, and then working with writers, directors, actors, and other festival personnel to present the Discovery New Theatre Festival annually in May.
University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
Fast Fact: University of Iowa students who take classes in dance, music, and theater not only learn from accomplished faculty members, but also from more than 200 guest artists every year, broadening their academic experience and boosting job placement after graduation. Guests of the Division of Performing Arts visit campus for a day, a week, or even a semester at a time. While here, they teach master classes, create dances, lead rehearsals and workshops, and participate in Q&As.
Kansas State University - Manhattan, KS
Fast Fact: Three theatres are available for use by the production program. McCain Auditorium has a large stage, orchestra pit and seating for 1,800 patrons. The new 130-seat Purple Masque Theatre is a thrust theatre that opened in spring 2015. Nichols Hall houses most of the school’s productions. It has classrooms, four studio spaces and the Mark A. Chapman Theatre, a thrust theatre seating 237 patrons.
University of Louisville - Louisville, KY
Fast Fact: Founded in 1993, the African American Theatre Program is the first (and only) graduate program in African American Theatre in the region. The program is committed to staging works by new and established African-American dramatists, developing a broad audience for African American theatre, and offering an in-depth curriculum that focuses on the theory and craft of acting, directing, and designing for Black Theatre.
Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge, LA
Fast Fact: Swine Palace was founded in 1992 in association with LSU Theatre as a nonprofit professional theatre company supporting the educational mission of the School of Theatre. Today, the school remains one of a handful of programs in the country with an affiliate Equity theatre providing our students the opportunity to work alongside leading professionals and giving patrons access to some of the brightest talent in the country.
Bates College - Lewiston, ME
Fast Fact: The Robinson Players is the one and only Bates College student theater organization. Founded in 1922, the club takes pride in being all-student run. From casting to directing, designing to stage managing, the students work independently to produce between six and ten productions a year.
Towson University - Towson, MD
Fast Fact: Students in all areas of theatre have engaged in internships at theatres ranging from Everyman Theatre and Center Stage in Baltimore to theatres across the nation, including the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, The New York Public Theatre, and the Alley Theatre in Houston. Students have also applied their theatre education to experience in other professional settings, such as Disneyworld, Vectorworks, and HHC Marketing.
Boston Conservatory at Berklee - Boston, MA
Fast Fact: In the first two years of the program, students move through a four-semester progression of foundational courses in acting, dance (ballet, jazz, and tap), movement on stage, voice and speech, musical theater repertoire, ear training, and piano. They also receive weekly private voice lessons with notable Conservatory voice faculty. Through crew assignments for mainstage productions, students gain an intimate understanding of off-stage work and the many details of running a show. At the same time, students begin to audition and perform in various Conservatory and Boston-area productions.
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, MI
Fast Fact: The student run theatre organization, Basement Arts, presents a variety of work fully conceived and produced by students. The company produces 15-20 shows each year on weekends, in the Newman Studio. Theatre students also produce, direct, design and perform in plays produced by various university groups such as the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, MUSKET, the Rude Mechanicals, and others.
University of Minnesota - Minneapolis, MN
Fast Fact: Peer advisors are student voices and ears: they represent students to the faculty and vice versa. Selected through an application process, three peers represent each key area of the department as a whole—dance, BFA acting, and BA theater. Peers orient new students to the department, hold weekly office hours, attend faculty meetings, and communicate through the bi-weekly Backstage Pass newsletter and the peers Facebook page. Peers also develop and curate TADTalks around issues of interest to the student body and department and assist with all-departmental celebrations such as Frameworks, Winter Carnival, and Awards Day.
University of Mississippi - University, MS
Fast Fact: The Department produces 5 shows a year and also provides support for numerous student productions. On any given year, between department shows and student-produced work, there are over 20 films, shows & opportunities to perform (Through Ghostlight Repertory Theatre, Mississippi: The Dance Company, Opera Theatre, Ole Miss Student Dance, student produced films, etc). Throughout your 4 years here, the season rotation will provide opportunities to do productions in a variety of styles and in multiple venues. There is a musical produced by the department every year and every four years, there are two musicals in the season.
Southeast Missouri State University - Cape Girardeau, MO
Fast Fact: The Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre is a 200-seat black box theatre that can accommodate almost any style of performance: intimate plays, dance concerts, or musical theatre performances. State-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment support the six performances presented in the Rust Flexible Theatre each academic year.
University of Montana - Missoula, MT
Fast Fact: Montana Repertory Theatre is the professional theatre-in-residence at the University of Montana. It provides professional opportunities for the students through the following programs: the National Tour, sending plays of distinction from the American canon throughout the country on a three month tour with professionals working along side the students; the statewide Educational Outreach Tour, which is designed, built, and performed by University of Montana students and graduates; the Missoula Colony, an annual playwriting/screenwriting workshop and festival billed as "a gathering of artists in support of the writer’s craft;" and Visions and Voices, bringing innovative theatre and ways of looking at performance to the Missoula community.
Nebraska Wesleyan University - Lincoln, NE
Fast Fact: McDonald Theatre in the Elder Memorial Theatre Center is home to NWU Theatre’s main stage performances. The large venue gives students the opportunity not only to act, but also to perfect skills in sound and lighting design. Students build sets for main stage performances immediately behind the McDonald stage.
University of Nevada Las Vegas - Las Vegas, NV
Fast Fact: Students are eligible to audition for all Main Season and Second Season productions of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre (NCT), the production arm of the Department of Theatre. The NCT regularly features guest artists from around the country.
Keene State College - Keene, NH
Fast Fact: Master classes for actors are frequently presented by the professional performers who come to Keene State as part of the Redfern Arts Center subscription series, as well as by alumni of their program who have gone on to either further study (in graduate schools across the U.S., as well as in the School at Steppenwolf in Chicago and the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City) or professional employment.
Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University - New Brunswick, NJ
Fast Fact: Esteemed faculty include Barbara Marchant, who was awarded the teacher of the year award at Rutgers University and is the co-founder and director of the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Marchant was trained by William Esper and, for the past 23 years, has taught at the William Esper Studio in New York City. Her acting credits include numerous productions in New York both on Broadway and off-Broadway, U.S. regional theaters and on network daytime television.
University of New Mexico - Albuquerque, NM
Fast Fact: The X – Experimental Theatre is a 40′ x 60′ “black box” flexible space with a 19′ high tension wire grid and a 12′ high catwalk gallery on three sides. The theatre can seat 100 + depending on the configuration. Similar to Rodey Theatre The X, provides cutting edge performance and opportunities for exploration and collaborations across disciplines. It is fully equipped with professional lighting and sound equipment to provide performers and audience with the best artistic and creative environment possible.
Pace University - New York, NY
Fast Fact: The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting for Film, Television, Voice-overs, and Commercials (FTVC) major at Pace School of Performing Arts is the first undergraduate university program in the U.S. focused entirely on training the actor for work in front of the camera and microphone. FTVC re-examines the training of the contemporary actor and media performer from top to bottom. It offers a fresh approach to acting as well as physical and vocal preparation. With studio classes, performance opportunities, and individual attention all in the heart of New York City, Pace Performing Arts’ FTVC major readies the young actor for entry in to today's multi-faceted industry.
UNC School of the Arts - Winston-Salem, NC
Fast Fact: The final year in the Acting program will consist of a season of classical and contemporary plays, and at least one musical. In the spring, graduating seniors are presented in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles to major agents, casting directors, artistic directors and management from all branches of theater, film and television. Students will also take part in a year-long project, Keys to the Kingdom, in which the class presents a season of independent work alongside the main-stage productions to encourage and explore artistic entrepreneurship.
North Dakota State University - Fargo, ND
Fast Fact: The Newfangled Theatre Company strives to challenge and enlighten audiences by presenting bold, innovative works of theatre. Each Newfangled Theatre production is entirely student-directed, designed, and produced. The company is a branch of Theatre NDSU, and combines the commitment to theatrical excellence with the daring, "newfangled" vision of the next generation of theatre artists.
Baldwin Wallace University - Berea, OH
Fast Fact: Wonderful collaborations include productions with Playhouse Square and Beck Center for the Arts, as well as opportunities with Great Lakes Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. BW produces an annual New York Showcase attended by the industry, resulting in 100 percent of BW students being signed by top agents for the past 10 years.
Oklahoma City University - Oklahoma City, OK
Fast Fact: Design and production majors typically spend their summers working in the profession. In recent years, OCU students have earned positions and internships with: Cirque du Soleil, Santa Fe Opera, Walt Disney World, Great River Shakespeare Festival, Music Theatre of Wichita, Glimmerglass Opera, Busch Gardens Theme Park, Shakespeare Festival of New Jersey, Dallas Shakespeare Festival, Creede Repertory Theatre, and Black Hills Playhouse.
University of Portland - Portland, OR
Fast Fact: The theater program produces four main stage productions each season. Over the course of study a student can expect to be exposed to a majority of theatrical genres: Greek, Shakespeare, Moliere, Restoration and 18th century, 20th century realism, Brecht, and the best of contemporary writers. In addition, the program is closely involved with The Mocks Crest Light Opera company. Now in its 24th season, this company does a professional production of a G&S show every summer for three weeks in June. In addition, students direct senior projects and are part of qualifiers and thesis productions in the Master of Fine Arts program in directing. Students are also often asked to perform in outreach projects, join downtown companies, as well as audition for film, television, and commercial opportunities.
Carnegie Mellon University - Pittsburgh, PA
Fast Fact: School of Drama students have studied in programs such as NIDA in Sydney, the Moscow Art Theatre, London’s Drama Centre and other approved schools in France, South Africa, China and South Korea. Another special experience is a unique partnership of the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the national American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (CLO). Through this partnership, students work with professional musical theater leaders to create and present a new musical work. School of Drama alumnus, Stephen Schwartz, (of “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin” among other works) often returns to the School of Drama during this time to lead workshops and support this collaboration.
Brown University - Providence, RI
Fast Fact: A unique and special thing about Brown Theatre is that students have a great deal of responsibility in the department's production season. The season is selected by the Sock & Buskin board, a team of students and faculty. Sock & Buskin produces a numer of major productions each year and plans the schedule for the next year. Students are more numerous than faculty on the board and so have a greater vote when the final season is decided – a situation unmatched at any other university.
Coastal Carolina University - Conway, SC
Fast Fact: The B.F.A. in physical theater is at the forefront of theater studies within American undergraduate institutions. It draws upon the European performance and study traditions to blend acting, voice and movement technique to a variety of applied physical performance methods. The first three years of the program take place on the campus of Coastal Carolina University, focusing on a thorough regimen of acting technique, script analysis, theater history, criticism, voice and movement. The final year of the program will be in residence at the Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy.
University of South Dakota - Vermillion, SD
Fast Fact: Partnerships include the Black Hills Playhouse (BHP), a non-profit, professional, summer stock theatre located in Custer State Park near Center Lake. Each summer, theatre professionals, professors and students from across the nation gather to create theatre in this unique environment. The playhouse produces four to five shows each season including musicals, comedies, dramas and classics in a 327-seat theater. The BHP was founded in 1946 by Warren M. Lee, a former professor of theatre and dean of fine arts at the University of South Dakota.
Belmont University - Nashville, TN
Fast Fact: The Department of Theatre and Dance is very proud to be the home for three professional companies in residence. These three resident theatre companies - Actors Bridge Ensemble, The Nashville Shakespeare Festival and Verge Theatre - along with the many other professional partnerships listed below, offer a unique professional training ground for student actors, directors and designers.
Texas State University - San Marcos, TX
Fast Fact: If you are interested in a career as a theatre teacher at the high school, middle school, or elementary level, Texas State University offers one of the most comprehensive Teacher Certification programs available.Texas State University offers BFA Certification majors the unique experience to participate in a wide variety of professional development opportunities that will help cultivate skills necessary as a future theatre educator.
Brigham Young University - Provo, UT
Fast Fact: The Theatre Department has an ambitious, varied season and produces plays and musicals on four different stages. There are three levels of production work. First, there is an active 9-show main stage season guided by the faculty. Students work at all levels of production, but are generally assigned roles after participation in classes that prepare them for this work. The second level is the platform season, which supports smaller budget, cutting edge shows.
Middlebury College - Middlebury, VT
Fast Fact: Since 1987, Middlebury College has supported a professional theatre company that presents a two-month summer season in New York City featuring Middlebury College students working side by side with professional actors.
Hollins University - Roanoke, VA
Fast Fact: HTI provides exciting internships at some of the country’s most prestigious professional theatres, including: Cleveland’s Cleveland Play House, Houston’s Alley Theatre, Washington DC’s Arena Stage, New York’s Amas Musical Theatre, and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre. Other internships are being arranged at other theatres around the country on a regular basis.
Cornish College of the Arts - Seattle, WA
Fast Fact: Diverse class offering includes exploring Neo-Burlesque and Cabaret as forms of solo performance and dramatic storytelling. Study the evolution of the art form, modern examples of Neo-Burlesque, and fair business practices for today’s cabaret performer. Develop a character persona and generate a solo piece, along with the necessary performance skills that are unique to the genre of burlesque. Learn makeup and costuming techniques, use of music, and how to employ existing acting/dance skills in service of the ‘art of the tease.’
West Virginia University - Morgantown, WV
Fast Fact: The Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre is a 1,440 seat house with a proscenium stage 60 feet in width. This facility has a new double-purchase rigging with an ETC lighting console controlling 280 dimmers with a large inventory of new ETC SourceFour fixtures. The theatre is also equipped with full sound system, 12 trap doors in the stage floor, a stage lift that covers four different levels, 45 line-sets, 3 winched electrics, and a full orchestra shell.
Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee - Milwaukee, WI
Fast Fact: Students are involved with all of the city’s professional theatre companies, including the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, First Stage, Skylight Music Theatre and more.
University of Wyoming - Laramie, WY
Fast Fact: Performance opportunities are many during the regular production season, as the department is focused on undergraduate work and actors. Many more opportunities open up for student actors in Musical Theatre workshop, during the annual one-act play festival, in senior projects, and in productions sponsored by our recognized student organization, the Associated Students for the Performing Arts (ASOPA).