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 Department of Theatre Arts sponsors 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 three students for the degree and expects to maintain enrollment at this level.
The MFA Program in Dramaturgy requires a minimum of 64 semester-hours of coursework in these areas:
- The MFA Core Curriculum (Orientation to Graduate Studies and Theatrical Analysis)
- Playwrights Workshop
- Dramaturgy Practicum
- Dramaturgy Seminar
- 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 with our Summer Partnership in the Arts and with 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
- 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.
All MFA candidates in dramaturgy must complete a minimum of 65 semester hours and all of the following:
|Orientation to Graduate Studies||1|
|Classical to Romantic Theatre||3|
|Special Topics in Playwriting: Structural Approaches||3|
|At least two electives in history, literature, or theory taken in the Department of Theatre Arts||6|
|At least one course in performance studies||3|
|Playwrights Workshop (six semesters)||18|
|Dramaturgy Practicum (six semesters)||12|
|New Play Dramaturgy||3|
|At least one of the following: Guest Seminar or a course in playwriting, screenwriting, directing, or collaboration||3|
Adjustments to these requirements may be made for students studying a foreign language.
In every semester of your enrollment, you take Dramaturgy Practicum, through which your dramaturgical work in Playwrights Workshop and on department productions is supervised. In the fall, the course also focuses on a special topic in dramaturgy, such as dramatic criticism, dramaturgical criticism, and writing the dramaturgical process; and provides opportunities to practice such skills as script reporting, program notes and essays, and study guides.
Playwrights workshop and graduate playwriting courses
MFA Dramaturgs are required to enroll in 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 three semester hours course credit.
Depending on the subject-matter and focus of the course, dramaturgy students may be permitted to enroll in THTR:6310 Special Topics in Playwriting. 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 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 Co-Heads of Dramaturgy make 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 up to 12 hours of credit in your second and third years for work on Mainstage and Gallery productions.
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.
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:
- 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 one and a half 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.
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 nine to 12 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, 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.
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"Being embedded as a dramaturg in the Iowa Playwrights Workshop—a unique opportunity among graduate dramaturgy programs—was a truly formative experience for me. I was exposed to a range of emerging playwrights’ processes and variety of guest artists’ perspectives on new play dramaturgy."
Jenni is a second year dramaturg, currently working on In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). Later this year she will serve as the dramaturg for Sidewinders, a new play by Playwriting graduate student Basil Kreimendahl. Jenni comes to Iowa by way of New York City, where she served on the LitWing at the Lark Play Development Center and worked as a literary advisor for The Orphanage, a non-profit theater started by alumni of the University of Oklahoma. She has studied at The Atlantic Theatre, Gotham Writer’s Workshop, and the University of Oklahoma, where she had the opportunity to study under Mark Medoff. Her work at the University of Iowa includes Misalliance, Freezer Dreams, Salvage, Triangle, Landless, Rogue’s Dance, Lady From the Sea, and Stick Fly.
John is the Literary Manager at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC. He is the former Literary Associate at The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and Artistic Associate at Brooklyn-based Page 73 Productions. He has dramaturged new work with 24Seven Lab, Boise Contemporary Theatre, Clubbed Thumb, Guthrie, Juggernaut, Juilliard, The Kennedy Center, Lark, Ma-Yi, the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, Page 73, Partial Comfort, PlayPenn, Seven Devils, SPF, Williamstown, among others. He has worked with directors Hal Brooks, Kip Fagan, Jackson Gay, Sam Gold, Wendy C. Goldberg, Davis McCallum, John Vreeke, and playwrights Luis Alfaro (Oedipus el Rey), Christina Anderson (Good Goods), Julia Cho (The Language Archive), Jason Grote (Box Americana), Samuel D. Hunter (A Bright New Boise; The Whale; Jack’s Precious Moment), A. Rey Pamatmat (Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them), among others. John has taught at Fordham University, Marymount Manhattan College, and Rutgers University.
Learn more about dramaturgy at Iowa
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 will be encouraged to complete two or more 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.
If you are approved to do an internship, you are responsible for arranging it in consultation with the faculty. The Department of Theatre Arts has informal relationships with a number of professional theatres and theatre practitioners through whom internships, or applications for internships, may be arranged.
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 three semester hours independent study and/or three semester hour 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 Dramaturgy Practicum. 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).
The first year is a probationary period for all MFA students in the Department of Theatre Arts.
Your academic and dramaturgical work is supervised regularly by playwriting/dramaturgy faculty. Your work on readings and productions is intensively reviewed at the time of the project's presentation in workshop or other department venue; conferences with playwriting/dramaturgy faculty are ongoing throughout your enrollment.
Near the end of the first and second years of enrollment, you will submit a two to three page self-assessment essay, including an overview of academic and dramaturgical work over the first year or first two years, and an annotated checklist of all dramaturgy projects on which you have worked over the last year or last two years. In the second year, the student also submits a preliminary thesis proposal and a bibliography of sources relating to the subject of the thesis.
Program faculty use this self-assessment, checklist, and proposal, along with your work on courses, in the Playwrights Workshop, on department productions, and in New Play Festival, to confer about your progress and determine if you will:
- Be invited to continue in the program
- Be placed on academic probation
- Be removed from continued enrollment in the program
You will receive a short letter documenting the primary reasons for the faculty’s decision. In the case of academic probation, the letter will outline the conditions of the probation and the date by which you must demonstrate that the conditions have been met in order for probationary status to be removed. In the case of dismissal, you will receive a letter outlining the reasons for dismissal. Students may request a meeting with program faculty to discuss probation or dismissal.
Early in the fall semester of the subsequent academic year, returning students meet with program faculty to review the previous year’s work and to establish academic and creative objectives for the new academic year.
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. In accordance with Graduate College and departmental policies, you must maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 in your coursework. If the GPA falls below this, you is automatically placed on probation and must raise the GPA 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.