The MFA in Dramaturgy is central to the mission of training theatre artists who will create the theatre of the future by building on theatrical traditions of the past. While providing the training needed to work as dramaturgs on works of all periods and types, the MFA in Dramaturgy at Iowa focuses on the training of new play dramaturgs with special skills in the development of new work.
At Iowa, the tradition of new play dramaturgy extends back to the founding of the department in the 1930s. Along with such figures as Columbia's Brander Matthews and Yale's George Pierce Baker, Iowa's first Chair of Theatre Arts, E.C. Mabie, pioneered the development of drama as an independent discipline in which scholars and artists could train to create and lead the theatre of the future. Under the leadership of Oscar Brownstein in the 1970s, the MFA Program in Playwriting offered one of the country’s first courses in Dramaturgy, through which MFA candidates in Playwriting served as dramaturgs on department productions of established plays. In the 1990s, the department developed the MFA in Dramaturgy in close association with the Playwrights Workshop.
The Theatre Arts Department sponsors semester-long residencies and short-term workshops by leading playwrights, dramaturgs, and other theatre artists. Many of their courses and workshops are open to MFA Dramaturgs.
Admission for the Dramaturgy MFA is highly selective. The program currently enrolls 3 students for the degree and expects to maintain enrollment at this level.
We seek mature students with
- a strong background in theatre history, theory, literature and/or related fields
- well-developed analytical and writing skills
- a demonstrated ability in collaborating with theatre artists
- a vision of how you might ultimately serve the American theatre as a dramaturg in the future
To be considered for admission into Dramaturgy Program, you must:
- Make sure you are aware of all of the deadlines and that you meet the minimum requirements for entry.
Submit an application to the Graduate College. GRE exam is not required.
Submit to BOTH the Graduate College and to Theatre Arts
- official copies of all undergraduate transcripts clearly indicating a final GPA of 3.00 or better
Submit to directly to Dramaturgy Admissions in the Theatre Arts Department
- two samples of critical writing
- drama, theatre, or performance or
- one sample of critical writing and one portfolio of work as a production dramaturg (e.g, research, program essays, study guides)
- the writing samples should be long enough to demonstrate the candidate's capacity for sustained, cogent analysis of theatrical works
- the Admissions Committee also welcomes (but does not require) samples of dramatic writing which you deem relevant to your interest in the program’s focus on the creation of new works
- a resume of previous theatrical work, including experience as a dramaturg and in other theatrical disciplines
- three letters of recommendation by individuals familiar with your academic and theatrical experience and potential
- a personal statement (2-3 pages) detailing your personal, academic, and theatrical background, including your reasons for pursuing graduate study in dramaturgy and your professional goals after completing the MFA in Dramaturgy at Iowa.
If selected as a finalist for admission, the candidate will be interviewed by telephone. On-campus interviews are not required. However, if a prospective candidate visits Iowa City, he or she is welcome to meet with our students and us.
All MFA dramaturgs receive a tuition scholarship from the Graduate College, which offsets the amount of the current tuition. General fees are not included in this scholarship. Additionally, all MFA dramaturgy hold teaching or research assistantships, which currently pay at least $8,288. Departmental scholarships also may be awarded, with the amounts varying on an annual basis.
The application deadline is January 15, 2014 or by special request.
The MFA Program in Dramaturgy requires a minimum of 64 semester-hours of coursework in three areas: the MFA Core Curriculum (Orientation to Graduate Studies and Theatrical Analysis); Playwrights Workshop, Dramaturgy Practicum, and Dramaturgy Seminar; and elective coursework in theatre history, literature, and theory. Although you must fulfill particular course requirements, each plan of study is individualized in consultation with the Head of Dramaturgy. In addition to developing expertise in traditions of Western theatre, you are encouraged to situate your work in the context of nontraditional and non-Western forms. In the final year of enrollment, you are required to complete a thesis that represents their dramaturgical philosophy and its application to theatre practice.
While coursework in history, literature, and theory is essential to the program, so is the development of applied skills in dramaturgical research, analysis, and collaboration, through which you draw on their knowledge and skills in helping facilitate the creation of works for the stage. You are required to serve as dramaturgs in the Playwrights Workshop, the principal course of the MFA Program in Playwriting, and on the annual New Play Festival, a weeklong series of productions and readings developed by MFA playwrights in collaboration with students across department programs.
You are also expected to serve as production dramaturgs on the department’s Mainstage and Gallery productions. For interested students, there are production opportunities in the Iowa Summer Repertory Theatre and our department’s companion units in the Division of Performing Arts - the Department of Dance and the School of Music.
In the first semester of enrollment, you must complete a Plan of Study in consultation with the Head of Dramaturgy, who serves as the student’s academic advisor, and normally as the thesis advisor. The Plan of Study should indicate all required and elective courses you expect to take in completing the MFA. The Plan of Study should also indicate any graduate transfer credit to be counted towards the degree; whether or not transfer courses may substitute for department or program requirements; and any coursework you must take in order to fill gaps in his/her previous academic preparation.
Your Graduate Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve the Plan of Study. For MFA candidates in Dramaturgy, the Graduate Committee will normally consist of Professors Borreca, Mahone and Marra. If appropriate, an additional faculty member outside Dramaturgy may be chosen in consultation with the advisor. Once it has been established, the Head of Dramaturgy and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve any changes in the make-up of your Graduate Committee.
In addition to approving the Plan of Study, the Committee's responsibilities include: approving any subsequent changes to the Plan (in consultation with the DGS); overseeing your academic progress and your development as a dramaturg; providing feedback on department dramaturgical work; approving your satisfactory completion of the second-year review, including all components of the Comprehensive Exam (described below); advising and approving the MFA Thesis in the third year.
All major elements of the program—academic coursework, Workshop and Practicum, production dramaturgy—are interdependent in your progress and development. Concerns about your progress are discussed in regular conferences with and reviews by the faculty.
Accelerated Degree Policy
Accelerated degree status may be granted for graduate transfer credit that satisfies particular course requirements AND/OR for professional experience, which the faculty accept as equivalent to program requirements. In the Dramaturgy Program, accelerated degree status for previous professional work will be granted only to students with a significant record of professional production dramaturgy which reflects, in the view of the faculty, advanced achievement in the theatre.
Usually 9 to 12 semester hours of graduate coursework from another institution (1 full-time semester) will be applied to the MFA in Playwriting at Iowa, including the waiver of one semester of Playwrights Workshop. Accelerated degree status based on professional experience may include the waiver of up to two semesters of course requirements.
If you believe you might qualify for accelerated degree status, you should seek the advice of the Head of Dramaturgy either at the time of admission or in the first semester of enrollment. Applications for accelerated degree status will normally be reviewed and approved or denied in the same semester in which they are made.
See also the Department Accelerated Degree Policy.
Typical Plan of Study
All MFA candidates in Dramaturgy must complete a minimum of 64 semester hours and all of the following:
11 hours M.F.A. Core Curriculum:
Orientation to Graduate Studies (2 s.h.)
Theatrical Analysis (9 s.h.)
Playwrights Workshop (18 s.h.)
Dramaturgy Seminar (3 s.h.)
Dramaturgy Practicum (6 s.h.)
23 s.h. required electives, including 15 s.h. distributed as follows:
at least 9 s.h. in theatre history, literature, and theory/criticism, and/or foreign language/literature;
at least 3 s.h. in non-Western or non-traditional theatre or performance;
at least 3 s.h. in acting, directing, playwriting, design, stage management, or collaboration (e.g., The Collaborative Process)
(Some of these elective hours may be satisfied in courses outside the department.)
Thesis (3 s.h.; taken in the third year of enrollment)
Dramaturgy Practicum & Dramaturgy Seminar
In every semester of your enrollment, you take Dramaturgy Practicum, a 1 s.h. course through which your dramaturgical work in Playwrights Workshop and on department productions is supervised. The course also focuses on a special topic in dramaturgy, such as the history and theory of dramaturgy or critical and dramaturgical writing; and provides opportunities to practice such skills as script reporting.
Once in your 3 years of enrollment, you take Dramaturgy Seminar, an in-depth exploration of methods of structural analysis and/or a related subject of special interest to dramaturgs, as well as playwrights and directors.
Playwrights Workshop & Graduate Playwriting Courses
MFA Dramaturgs are required to enroll in 049:269 (THTR:7300) Playwrights Workshop for a total of 18 semester hours of credit over six semesters of enrollment. For fulfilling all dramaturgical responsibilities and assignments outlined in the Workshop syllabus, students receive a full 3-semester hours course credit.
Dramaturgy students who demonstrate substantial talent as playwrights may be permitted to enroll in 049:270 (THTR:6310) Special Topics in Playwriting. Consent must be given by the instructor of the course (or the program head in consultation with the instructor) and is based on script submissions. At the discretion of the playwriting faculty, you may also be permitted to present plays in Playwrights Workshop during one or more semesters.
Normally, only MFA playwriting students may submit scripts for Festival and may enroll for 049:173 (THTR:6300) Guest Seminar. Exceptions to this policy may be made at the discretion of the playwriting faculty. Selected workshops of the Guest Seminar provide non-credit opportunities for dramaturgy students to work in collaboration with playwrights and other MFA students.
In addition to required coursework, you must complete the following during each year of enrollment:
Two production dramaturgy assignments to be assigned from among department Mainstage and Gallery productions. With the consent of the Head of Dramaturgy, you may substitute projects outside the department in the Division of Performing Arts to fulfill this requirement.
Annual dramaturgical work on productions and readings of the New Play Festival.
The Head of Dramaturgy makes all dramaturgy assignments in consultation with the Director of Theatre and the directors and playwrights involved. Your preferences are taken fully into account in this process.
You may earn a total of 2 hours of credit in your second and third years for work on a major production.
Guidelines for Production Dramaturgy
In your work as production dramaturgs, you are expected to carry out research and analysis that help to facilitate the director’s interpretation and conceptualization of the play, and to serve as a critical advisor to the director throughout the rehearsal process. In the case of new plays, the dramaturg is expected to consult closely with the playwright on each draft of the play, and on rewrites made during rehearsals. You should take detailed dramaturgical notes at all meetings and rehearsals attended, amassing the material for a potential dramaturg’s casebook on the production.
When and how often you should attend rehearsals varies with the director, playwright, and project. However, with both established texts and new plays, you should normally attend at least the following: the first read-through and all “table work,” run-throughs of acts or large segments of the play, and final runs and dress rehearsals.
Depending on the production, you may also be responsible for writing a program essay and/or compiling other program materials, preparing or assisting in the preparation of a study guide for school groups, moderating post-performance discussions with audiences, creating lobby displays, and serving (along with the stage manager) as a liaison between the production, the department, and the Division of Performing Arts Marketing Department.
Development of Institutional Dramaturgy Skills
One of the professional dramaturg’s most important functions is to serve as an advisor to and administrative liaison between the various artistic and administrative units of a working theatre. To gain experience in this area, you are required to complete two of the following:
- Student Representative to the Department Season Planning Committee
- Graduate Assistantship in the Performing Arts Marketing Office
- Graduate Assistantship in Arts Share
- Summer or Semester Internship at a Professional Theatre
Graduate Assistantships are assigned by the Chair in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and on the basis of recommendations by the Head of Dramaturgy.
You are responsible for arranging internships on your own (in consultation with the faculty). The Theatre Arts Department has informal relationships with a number of professional theatres and theatre practitioners through whom internships, or applications for internships, may be arranged. Once you have secured an internship, you should obtain a letter from the sponsoring institution agreeing to employ you and in what capacity. If faculty approves the internship, a copy of the letter will be placed in your advising file with your Plan of Study.
If you plans to complete a semester-long internship, you are advised to do so in the Fall Semester of the third year. During that semester, you can enroll for a 3 s.h. Independent Study and/or 3 s.h. Thesis Hours. For the Independent Study, you must complete a portfolio of Internship work (sample script reports, research materials, etc.: to be arranged with the program head), and a paper based on the reading list for the Dramaturgy Seminar (if offered in the Fall Semester). No credit will be granted for summer internships; however, in the subsequent Fall Semester, you may complete a follow-up Independent Study (as arranged with the Head of Dramaturgy).
You must complete an MFA Thesis during the final year of enrollment, to be submitted in the final semester. The thesis should consist of a significant piece of dramaturgical research that, with subsequent revision and editing, would be publishable in a journal of dramaturgy, history, theory, or criticism.
All theses should aim to bridge theory and practice and may take one of the following forms. (Page length necessarily varies with the subject and form of the thesis and will be determined by the Graduate Committee at the time of your thesis proposal.)
A research paper in theatre history, literature, theory, or criticism that has specific application to the work of the dramaturg and the dramaturgical process.
A paper that documents and analyzes the development and production of a department work on which you have served as dramaturg. The paper should incorporate elements of a dramaturg’s protocol or casebook and should structure those elements into a cohesive analysis of the dramaturgical process on the work.
A new play, translation, or adaptation, supplemented by a critical introduction and other dramaturgical materials to be determined in consultation with the advisor. This option is for those students with demonstrated skills and experience in playwriting or translation.
Based on the subject of the thesis, you should request a member of your Committee to serve as the primary thesis advisor. However, you should seek the advice of all members of the Committee in the research and writing of the thesis. If appropriate, you may request that a fourth member of the Theatre Arts or Graduate College faculty with relevant expertise serve on the Committee.
Between the First and Final Deposit to the Graduate College, you must meet with your Committee to complete a 1 1/2 hour oral defense of the thesis. In the defense, you will be expected to discuss the thesis in relation to your coursework and departmental work as a dramaturg.
Academic & Program Reviews
Your academic and dramaturgical work is supervised regularly through conferences with dramaturgy and playwriting faculty. At the end of the first year of enrollment, program faculty meet with you to review your overall progress, in both your coursework and in your work as a dramaturg.
In accordance with Graduate College and Departmental policies, you must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 in your coursework. If the G.P.A. falls below this, you is automatically placed on probation and must raise the G.P.A. to 3.0 by the end of the following semester. Failure to do so may be grounds for dismissal. Lack of demonstrated growth as a dramaturg and collaborative theatre artist may also be cause for academic probation.
As a result of the first-year review, you may be (1) invited to return to the program for a second year; (2) placed on academic probation for the first semester of the second year; (3) asked to withdraw from the program.
The review at the end of the second year constitutes the Comprehensive Examination required by the Graduate College. For this review, you are required to complete a portfolio consisting of the following:
- A self-assessment essay, 5 pages minimum, including an overview of your academic and dramaturgical work over the previous two years and a preliminary thesis proposal, supplemented by (a) an annotated checklist of all dramaturgy projects on which you have worked during the first two years; (b) a bibliography of sources relating to the subject of the thesis.
- One sample of a research-based historical, critical, or theoretical paper completed in a course taken in the department or in another department of the Iowa Graduate College.
- One sample of dramaturgical writing – e.g., a research article prepared for theatrical collaborators, program essay, or other example of writing aimed at communicating with collaborators or a general audience.
- One sample script report of the kind that might be prepared for a literary management office. This may be completed in connection with the Dramaturgy course, Dramaturgy Seminar, Playwrights Workshop, or independently.
- Any additional materials that you view as representative of your work.
The student’s Graduate Committee will conduct the second-year review. The Committee may make specific recommendations for revision of your plans for the third year, in particular the proposed thesis.
On completion and approval of the second-year review, you may be (1) invited to return to the program for a third year to work towards completion of the degree as planned; (2) invited to return for the third year with the condition that you resubmit your portfolio, revised according to the recommendations of the Committee; (3) asked to withdraw from the program. If appropriate, you might be required to resubmit your portfolio in the fall.
The Graduate Committee reserves the right to request withdrawal on the basis of insufficient progress in any major area of the program - including coursework, production dramaturgy, and collaboration – over the first two years of enrollment. In the case of students who have been removed from probation, the Committee reserves the right to request withdrawal because of the student's failure to maintain satisfactorily the conditions of being removed from probation.
Iowa Dramaturgs, Past and Present
Link to a selection of current and recent Iowa Dramaturgs’ bios.
Head of Dramaturgy
Theatre Arts Department
The University of Iowa
107 Theatre Building
Iowa City, IA 52242-1705