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Playwrights Workshop

The Iowa Playwrights Workshop—The University of Iowa's MFA Program in Playwriting—is an intensive three-year program dedicated to educating playwrights for the professional theatre. We train talented playwrights and collaborative theatre artists who will lead the American theatre in the creation of new works and the training of future generations of playwrights.

The Playwrights Workshop was founded in 1971, but a strong tradition in playwriting has existed at the University of Iowa since the early 1920s. Graduates have found success in every medium of dramatic writing, including stage, screen, television, and nontraditional performance. Graduates include the playwrights Tennessee Williams, Lee Blessing, Sherry Kramer, Charles Smith, John O'Keeffe, David Hancock, Naomi Wallace, Rebecca Gilman, David Adjmi, Kirsten Greenidge, and Samuel Hunter; and the film and television writer-producers Richard Maibaum, Norman Felton, Barry Kemp, and Rick Cleveland. These and many others have exemplified the Iowa tradition of training professional dramatists who are both writers of scripts and texts and collaborative artists who actively engage in the development and production of new work.

The Playwrights Workshop seeks to create conditions in which you can develop your unique voice while freely experimenting with a variety of creative processes and theatrical forms. Your writing is nurtured through both coursework and opportunities to present new work at all stages of development. We believe that only by working with actors, directors and other collaborators, and by seeing one’s work on stage, can a writer find his or her own theatrical voice. Therefore we offer you a wide variety of opportunities to have your work produced. In addition to weekly staged readings, Gallery productions and workshops take place throughout the academic year.  In the spring, the New Play Festival showcases five full productions and staged readings by all students in the Workshop.

All opportunities for reading and production are designed to develop and enhance your training and experiences in your coursework. The areas of coursework, writing, and staged reading/production are interdependent in the student's development. Through them, you are expected to demonstrate ongoing growth and maturity as a writer, collaborative theatre artist, and student of theatre.


Admission Requirements
Formal Instruction & Graduate Committee
Accelerated Degree Policy
Plan of Study
Collaboration & Production Requirements
Enrollment of Non-Playwriting Students in Graduate Playwriting Courses
Outside Readings & Productions
Internships
Thesis
Academic & Program Evaluation
Iowa Playwrights Workshop Students, Past and Present


Faculty & Guest Artists

Faculty include dramaturg Art Borreca and playwright Dare Clubb.  Professional guest artists—playwrights, dramaturgs, and directors—are in residence for both short and extended periods of time throughout the academic year, teaching courses and workshops in writing, new play development, and collaboration.

Recent long-term guests have included Sherry Kramer, Lisa D’Amour, Kia Corthron, and Wendy Goldberg. Short-term guests have included Athol Fugard, Theodora Skipitares, Morgan Jenness, Naomi Wallace, Rinde Eckert, Ellen McLaughlin, David Gothard, David Hancock, Melanie Marnich, Matthew Maguire, Len Berkman.

Playwriting students also have the opportunity to work with guest artists brought to campus for the department's annual New Play Festival, as well as the Partnership in the Arts program, through which a team of professionals is in residence for four or more weeks to develop and present a new theatrical work. Recent Partnership guests have included David Schweizer, Rinde Eckert, and Martha Clarke.

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Admission Requirements

Note: All applications and scripts are due by January 15, 2016.

We seek mature students with

  • an undergraduate degree completed in good academic standing
  • a demonstrated talent and ability as a writer for the stage
  • a clear potential for growth as a writer
  • experience in theatrical areas outside playwriting

To be considered for admission into the Playwrights Workshop, you must:
 

Make sure you are aware of all of the deadlines and that you meet the minimum requirements for entry.

Submit an application and official transcript clearly indicating a final GPA of 3.00 or better to the Graduate College. The GRE exam is not required.

Submit directly to Playwriting Admissions in the Theatre Arts Department (in electronic form through ISIS login)

  • two full-length scripts
    • one full-length and one one-act play also accepted
    • ten-minute plays are accepted only as supplementary to these primary submissions
    • pages of scripts should be loose, paper clipped together, with title page on top
    • include all contact information on title page
    • no binders or folders, please
  • a resume of relevant academic, theatrical, and work experience
  • three letters of recommendation attesting to your experience as a writer and theatre artist, and potential for future growth
  • short personal statement (1-2 pages) outlining your objectives in applying to the Playwrights Workshop and after completing the MFA in Playwriting 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 playwrights 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 playwrights hold teaching or research assistantships, which currently pay at least $9,040. Departmental scholarships also may be awarded, with the amounts varying on an annual basis.

Formal Instruction & Graduate Committee

The MFA Program in Playwriting requires a minimum of 60 semester hours of coursework in three areas: Playwrights Workshop, Special Topics in Playwriting/Guest Seminar, and Orientation to Graduate Studies/Theatrical Analysis.

In THTR:7300: Playwrights Workshop, a course taken in every semester of enrollment, you give first presentations of plays-in-process, usually through rehearsed readings; receive intensive feedback from your colleagues and faculty in playwriting and dramaturgy; and develop plays towards possible production in the department. The Workshop provides a venue for the development of new work, as well as a community of playwrights and dramaturgs who support the development of that work.

Guest Seminar and Special Topics courses expose you to diverse approaches to form and process, and provide tools for writing and revision. Often taught by visiting artists, these courses are designed to challenge your working process and sense of theatrical form.

The department curriculum in Theatrical Analysis is designed to sharpen your theatrical vision in relation to the diverse dramatic and performance traditions of the past and the present. 

In the first semester of enrollment, you complete a Plan of Study in consultation with Head of the Playwrights Workshop. The Plan of Study lays out all required and elective courses you will take in completing the MFA.  The Plan of Study also reflects 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 your previous academic preparation.

At least 30 of these credits must be completed in residence.  Accelerated Degree Status may be granted on the basis of graduate transfer credit that satisfies course requirements and/or for professional experience that the faculty deem equivalent to specific program requirements.

Your Graduate Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve the Plan of Study. For the MFA candidate in Playwriting, the Graduate Committee consists of the Playwriting Faculty (Professors Borreca, Clubb, and Mahone). Once it has been established, the Director of Graduate Studies and the Head of the Playwrights Workshop must approve any changes in the make-up of your Committee.

In addition to approving the Plan of Study, the Committee's approves (in consultation with the DGS) any subsequent changes in the Plan of Study, oversees your academic and creative progress, provides feedback on your writing and production work, approves satisfactory completion of the second-year review, including the Comprehensive Exam (see below); and advises and approves the thesis play in the third year.

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Angel Bones

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 courses or other program requirements. The following explains how this policy applies specifically to MFA students in Playwriting seeking accelerated degree status on the basis of their professional work as playwrights.

Many students enter the MFA Program in Playwriting with professional experience as playwrights and theatre artists. In such cases, accelerated degree status will be granted only to students with a significant record of theatrical production, which reflects, in the view of the faculty, advanced achievement in writing for the stage.  Waivers for the Playwrights Workshop or other courses in playwriting will not be granted for professional work in areas other than playwriting.

Usually nine to twelve semester hours of graduate coursework from another institution (one 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 should apply for such status at the time of admission.

Also see the Department Accelerated Degree Policy

Typical Plan of Study

All MFA candidates in Playwriting must complete a minimum of 60 semester hours and all of the following:

  • Playwrights Workshop (18 s.h.; 3 semester hours each semester)
  • Special Topics in Playwriting (9 s.h.)
  • Guest Seminar (9 s.h.)

11 hours MFA Core Curriculum, as follows:

  • Orientation to Graduate Studies (2 s.h.; Fall Semester of First Year)
  • Theatrical Analysis (9 s.h.)
  • Studies in Drama, Dramaturgy Seminar, or other course in history/literature (3 s.h.)
  • At least 5 s.h. elective coursework in the Department of Theatre Arts, the Division of Performing Arts, or other departments of the Graduate College.
  • Thesis (3 s.h.; normally Spring Semester of final year)

Go to BA Playwriting Road Map

Collaboration & Production Requirements

In addition to fulfilling the course requirements outlined above, you are expected to regularly generate new writing for the stage of a quality that merits its production in such department venues as the New Play Festival and the Gallery Series. In these contexts, you are expected to demonstrate ongoing growth as a collaborative theatre artist committed to the making of new work for the theatre.

Allowing for differences in creative process, you are expected to produce a substantial piece of dramatic writing for the Playwrights Workshop—a draft of a full-length play, a substantial revision of a previous draft, or a series of related shorter works—every semester. Over the course of a year, you are expected to show substantial progress on two-full length works or the equivalent; one of these works should take a finished form by the end of the Spring Semester.

The department produces some two-dozen plays annually, many of which are new works, and MFA candidates in playwriting are expected to make regular use of opportunities to have their work presented or staged. Over the course of your enrollment, you should have presented at least three substantial works in a departmental venue outside of Playwrights Workshop. One of these scripts should have received a Festival production.

You are expected to develop your skills as collaborative theatre artists in the development and production of your own plays, as well as in your feedback and collaboration on the development and production of your colleagues' work. Unless granted an exception, all MFA students in playwriting are expected to submit a script for Festival consideration in each year of enrollment.

Enrollment of Non-Playwriting Students in Graduate Playwriting Courses

Enrollment in THTR:7300 Playwrights Workshop and THTR:6310 Special Topics in Playwriting is normally limited to students who have been admitted as candidates for the MFA in Playwriting. At the discretion of the Playwriting faculty and on review of samples of dramatic writing, students outside the program with relevant experience and ability may be given consent to enroll in or to audit either Playwrights Workshop or Special Topics in Playwriting.

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Script Draft

Outside Readings & Productions

The Playwrights Workshop permits outside readings and productions of your work when the reading or production represents an important professional opportunity for the student. You may request to be away from the department for short periods of time (less than 5 days) in order to attend rehearsals, readings, and productions. You must obtain permission from the Head of the Playwrights Workshop and all course instructors to be away from campus during the specified period of time. If you must miss one or more classes as a Teaching Assistant, you must also secure the permission of your faculty supervisor and follow all department and CLAS procedures concerning instructor absence from class.

On occasion, department funds are available to help you defer the cost of travel taken for outside professional opportunities. If funds are available, you may request support by writing to the Department Executive Officer in advance of travel. The DEO will review all requests in consultation with the Head of the Playwrights Workshop. Funds will be disbursed according to availability and the merits of the request. The request should indicate that you has secured permission for travel from Head of the Playwrights Workshop, and should explain how all department responsibilities will be met during the time away.

 

Internships

A professional internship is not required of MFA candidates in Playwriting. However, in individual cases an internship may be desirable or advisable. If you are intending to take an internship, you should plan for the internship in your Plan of Study. If a decision to pursue an internship is reached after approval of the Plan in the first year, the Plan may be revised, with the approval of the your Committee, to include an internship. Usually internships are taken in the first semester of the third year.

You are responsible for securing your internships and negotiating all related details (with assistance from the faculty). 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 his/her Plan of Study.

During the internship semester, the Playwrights Workshop requirement will be waived if you complete a 3 s.h. Independent Study in playwriting with a member of the playwriting faculty.

Thesis

In the 3rd year, you must submit a full-length thesis play, along with a short (4-6 pages) Introduction placing the work in the context of his/her work in the Playwrights Workshop. The thesis play must represent substantial creative work undertaken in the third year of enrollment, and may consist of a play newly written in the third year or a major revision of a play that has been read and/or produced in the first two years.

The thesis must be submitted in accordance with Graduate College policies for the formatting and submission of theses. You are responsible for meeting all Graduate College deadlines for the thesis.

Under normal circumstances, you will receive feedback on the thesis play from the Graduate Committee as the play is being developed in the Workshop and other department venues. If the thesis play is not being given a reading or production in the third year, you is responsible for arranging timely thesis conferences with the members of your Committee.

Following approval of the thesis, program faculty will meet with you for a final review of your work in the program and a look to the future.

Academic & Program Reviews

Your work on writing projects and productions is intensively reviewed at the time of the project's presentation in Workshop or other department venue; conferences with playwriting faculty are ongoing throughout your enrollment.

The first year is a probationary period for all MFA students in Theatre Arts. At the end of the first year, you meet with program faculty for an overall review of your progress in the program.

Important Note: In accordance with Graduate College and Department policies, you must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 in your coursework. If the G.P.A. falls below this, you are 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 writer or collaborative theatre artist may also lead to 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.

Second-Year Review
The review at the end of the second year of enrollment constitutes the Comprehensive Examination required of the Graduate College and is pivotal to the student's work in the program. Your Graduate Committee conducts the review.

For this review, you must provide the following:

An Annotated Checklist of all works completed and in progress during the first two years of enrollment.

A 2-3 page self-assessment and thesis proposal, including reflection on progress over the first two years, the intended focus and approach of the thesis play.

The Graduate Committee may make specific recommendations for revision of your plan for the third year. On completion and approval of the second-year review, you may be (1) invited to return to the program for a third year to pursue your objectives and thesis as proposed; (2) invited to return for the third year on the condition that you will resubmit, at the start of the third year, your self-assessment and thesis proposal, revised in response to Graduate Committee recommendations (Note: Even if you are asked to resubmit your portfolio in the fall, your portfolio must be deemed passable at the time of the second-year review); (3) asked to withdraw from the program.

The Graduate Committee reserves the right to request withdrawal on the basis of insufficient progress or marked regress in any major area of the program—coursework, writing, collaboration—over the course of the second year.

In the case of students who have been removed from probation, the Committee reserves the right to request withdrawal because of your failure to maintain satisfactorily the conditions of removal.

Iowa Playwrights Workshop Students, Past and Present

A selection of current and recent Iowa Playwrights Workshop Students' bios.

More Information

Art Borreca
Head of Playwrights Workshop
Theatre Arts Department
The University of Iowa

107 Theatre Building

Iowa City, IA 52242-1705


319.353.2401

art-borreca@uiowa.edu