The Master of Fine Arts in acting at the University of Iowa combines rigorous professional training with a highly innovative curriculum. The training immerses students in a variety of acting techniques, extensive movement and voice training, theatrical analysis, and digital media to produce an unusually responsive, emotionally available, and hyper-present artist, equipped to meet the creative and technical demands of the twenty-first century.
There are three major components to the MFA acting program:
- Course Work: A Plan of Study totaling 72 semester hours forms the academic core of the program.
- Practical Experience: MFA actors are required to audition for all mainstage productions presented by the department and to perform as cast. Every student is required to perform a minimum of one role each semester.
- Teaching or Administrative Work: Actors also teach courses in Basic Acting, Acting for Success, Drama in the Classroom, Rhetoric, or work in an administrative capacity, depending upon their skills. For this service they receive a salary, full tuition waiver, and health benefits.
Our next class of actors will be admitted in the fall of 2021. The application deadline is January 15, 2021. Applicants that are attending U/RTAs must adhere to U/RTA deadlines.
Theatre at Iowa
The University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts is one of the oldest and most respected theatre programs in the country. We offer students the opportunity to earn an undergraduate BA degree or an MFA degree with an emphasis in acting, directing, design, playwriting, dramaturgy, or stage management.
Since its founding, the department has been committed to the collaborative process and the development of new work. Each year at least 15 new works by graduate and undergraduate students are produced and another 25 new plays are presented as readings. We recognize that every play—new or old—is brought to life through the collaborative efforts of a writer, director, dramaturg, designers, actors, stage managers, and technicians. In order to support this process, we seek to create an atmosphere of artistic passion, openness, and generosity of spirit.
Some of our esteemed alumni include: David Adjmi, Rebecca Gilman, Kirsten Greenidge, Aneisa Hicks, Samuel D. Hunter, Lucas Ingram, Helen Kim, Cathy Parrott, Jen Silverman, Erik Ulfers, and John Watkins.
The acting element of the studio training sequence is divided into three-semester components, first emphasizing technique and then application. The first component, semesters one through three, is designed to take the actor from a solid grounding in action-based technique to a higher level of emotional presence, responsiveness, and freedom. The second component, semesters four through six, emphasizes scene study and application.
The movement training is divided into three parts. The first addresses habitual physical patterning and breath. The second increases the actor’s dynamic presence; explores time, space, movement in the natural world; and the state of play. The third section applies these techniques in mask and clown, broadening the student’s physical range. Students also have a semester of stage combat, as well as training in motion capture.
The voice training is based on the Linklater Methodology where the economical use of breath and body work together to free and strengthen the voice, increase breath capacity, expand resonance and range, and clarify articulation. Students will learn the full progression of exercises and supplemental work including sound and movement, River Stories, and approach to heightened texts. Speech work is based on the IPA and analyzing one’s own idiolect, as well as the acquisition of a range of accents and dialects.
Each year the department presents 20 to 25 productions, ranging from classic to contemporary, with many new works developed and presented by student playwrights, directors, or visiting artists. There are also more than 25 readings of new plays in the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. Every spring, the Iowa New Play Festival debuts four new plays – all featuring our actors.
To meet the demands of an acting career in the digital age, the MFA at Iowa offers numerous classes in digital media and camera, voiceover, motion capture, real time tracking, and workshops in media networking and online presence. We believe it is essential for actors to entrepreneurially embrace expanding technologies and the opportunities they provide.
Reels and Demos
In response to the overcrowded showcase season in New York, and the inability to host events due to the pandemic, our program chose to equip our students with the necessary tools to begin their professional career. In the third year, students will create a professional reel with an outside production company (currently Cut & Dry Films) and a voiceover demo. These provide our students the ability to submit professional grade work to agents, casting directors, and managers in cities across the country prior to graduation, giving them the tools they need to launch their careers immediately upon graduation.
The thesis has two components, the first is a written analysis of the actor’s personal creative process, and an annotated resume of roles performed at Iowa. The second is the actor’s professional online presence that is developed, refined, and maintained during their tenure at Iowa.
Evaluation of performance in productions is ongoing. You are required to speak personally with the faculty member you have been assigned to shortly after completion of the performance for feedback. You are also encouraged to speak to the other graduate acting faculty and as many other faculty members as possible about your work. Additionally, you’re required to prepare two monologues and present them at every general departmental audition. Normally there are two general auditions each academic year. Monologues may not be repeated. Following each audition, you are required to schedule individual meetings with the Head of Acting, and your movement and voice teachers for feedback.
• Guest artists are brought in each year to lead workshops and discussions with the acting candidates.
• The Iowa New Play Festival brings in nationally recognized artists who respond to the productions.
• The Partnership in the Arts program consists of cutting-edge artists brought in to create/develop new work. Graduate actors have the opportunity to participate in that process. Past artists include: Nambi E. Kelley, Daniel Carlton, Vanessa Stalling, The Movement Company, and Martha Clark.
• One Iowa Arts Fellowship is given to an incoming student which pays $20,000 plus full tuition and benefits in the first year, during which they do not teach; an assistantship is provided the following years.
• All MFA actors receive a tuition scholarship from the Graduate College. Some fees are not included in this scholarship. Additionally, MFA actors normally hold quarter-time (10 hours per week) assistantships, which currently pay $10,032.
• Numerous Department of Theatre Arts scholarships are awarded to students.
• Travel grants are available for conferences and research through the department, college, and the university.
Continuation in the Program
The first year is a probationary period for all MFA acting students. At the end of the first year, the faculty evaluates each student’s work to determine his or her eligibility to continue in the program. This decision is based on demonstrated talent, potential, discipline, and satisfactory progress in academic and artistic learning situations.
Students who are accepted into the second year typically proceed to satisfactory completion of the degree. Nonetheless, evaluation is an ongoing process and students must continue to present work of distinction in their production assignments and maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or better. If a student’s grade point average falls below 3.0, it must be raised to that level by the end of the following semester. Failure to do so will be grounds for dismissal.
Admission to the MFA Program in Acting
The MFA acting program admits students to our acting program every three years. This allows the faculty to more fully focus our attention on students’ individual needs throughout the training. Students admitted to the MFA program should have an undergraduate degree in theatre, or equivalent training and experience.
Iowa Actors, Past and Present
Link to a selection of recent student bios and headshots of the Class of 2018.
Department of Theatre Arts
The University of Iowa
107 Theatre Building
Iowa City, IA 52242-1705