Iowa’s MFA program in Directing combines a highly innovative curriculum with a distinctive emphasis on new work. Along with intensive course work in direction, the program provides emphases in three areas: developing original works, using digital media for live performance, and preparing students to become entrepreneurs in the arts. Additional courses in acting, design, and theatrical analysis help develop and focus the talents and skills of unusually creative artists.
As a graduate student in directing you will direct two or three productions each year. Many of these will be new plays. Iowa is known as The Writing University and we produce more new scripts each year than most programs do in five. You will work constantly with new material that is aesthetically challenging. You will originate or devise theatrical events never before seen on stage. Given such a range of creative opportunity, and the freedom to collaborate with an outstanding faculty and world-class guest artists, you will graduate well prepared for a career in the ever-evolving field of directing.
Our mission is to train the theatrical leaders of the future: dynamic artists who understand and promote the development of new work, visionaries who set out to change the world. In pursuit of this aim, we seek individuals who are socially conscious, personally disciplined, collaboratively sensitive, and hungry for the challenge of new experience.
The Directing Program
There are three major components to the MFA directing program: course work, directing productions, and teaching or administrative work. A series of courses, totaling a minimum of 62 semester hours, forms the academic core of the program; students with previous training and/or practical experience may request some substitute courses. Students direct at least one play every semester, normally including a spring production in the Iowa New Play Festival. Directors also teach or work in an administrative capacity; depending on their skills, they may lead sections in acting or dramatic literature courses. For this service they receive a salary, full tuition, and health benefits.
There are several special elements to the directing program. Among them:
- The Iowa New Play Festival brings nationally recognized artists to be in residence for a week; they see all of the work and respond not only to the writing, but to the work of the directors.
- The Partnership in the Arts program brings teams of cutting edge artists to create a major new work, and graduate directors are invited to be part of that process.
- Guest artists from all areas of the theatre come to the department every year and graduate students have the opportunity to meet and work with them.
- Production facilities are excellent. They include three theatres (460 seats, 144-215 seats, and 144 seats), as well as outstanding shops.
- Directing students normally receive scholarship assistance in addition to the salary they receive on their assistantship. One incoming student will receive an Iowa Arts Fellowship that pays $18,500 plus full tuition and benefits in the first year, during which he or she does not teach; an assistantship is provided in the second and third years.
- Directors who satisfactorily complete the degree will receive Associate Memberships in SDC, the professional union of stage directors and choreographers.
In 2017-18, the graduate directing faculty will include two full-time members and one or more visitors. They will have a wide range of professional, academic, and administrative experience, including work with theatres in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Providence, Cleveland, San Francisco and internationally; academic experience at Yale, Princeton, Brown, Washington, Middlebury, etc. We believe fervently in the power of theatre, the crucial importance of academic theatre, and the constant re-making of the theatrical form.
We normally admit students to our directing program every 3 years. This allows us to fully focus our attention on the needs of each class. Our next class of directors will begin work in the fall of 2020. Inquiries and applications will be accepted beginning in the fall of 2019. The application deadline is January 15, 2020 or by special request.
Students admitted to the MFA program in directing should have:
- An undergraduate degree in theatre, or equivalent training
- Experience in directing a variety of plays
To be considered for admission into the Directing 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.
Once you have submitted your application, you will receive an email instructing you on how to upload your supporting documents and submit letters of recommendation. These will be uploaded from your Admissions Profile in MyUI, our online service center for applicants and students. You can only access this after you have submitted your application.
Supporting documents that will be uploaded to your Admissions Profile on MyUI:
- A resume of previous theatre and other relevant training and experience
- Three letters of recommendation from people who have seen your directing work
- A written statement that sets out your unique, artistic vision and professional goals, and explains why you are seeking the MFA in Directing at Iowa
- Official copies of all undergraduate (and any graduate) transcripts clearly indicating a final GPA. If GPA is below 3.00, please include a written statement indicating the reason.
Have a personal interview with the head of directing or another member of the program faculty. Interviews may be arranged at U/RTA, at the University of Iowa, or by telephone/Skype. Be prepared to share copies of relevant production materials: programs, plans or sketches, production and/or rehearsal photos, and writing(s) suggesting your conceptual approach to previous work.
We recommend, but do not require, that prospective students visit Iowa City to see the campus and discuss the directing program with our current students and us.
All MFA directors receive a tuition scholarship from the Graduate College. Some fees are not included in this scholarship. Additionally, MFA Directors normally hold quarter-time (10 hours per week) assistantships, which currently pay $9,822. Departmental scholarships also may be awarded, with the amounts varying on an annual basis.
Students pursuing an MFA in directing must complete a minimum of 62 semester hours of course work. The program curriculum includes department core courses in literature, history, and criticism; supporting courses in a variety of theatre topics; and courses particular to directing.
Plan of Study
You develop a plan of study during your first semester. The plan takes into account the normal program requirements as well as your particular background and special interests. It is developed in conjunction with the Head of Directing and signed by the program faculty (which may include one faculty member outside the program), who serve as the student’s Committee. It must be submitted to the Head of Directing and the Director of Graduate Studies by November 15; it is then reviewed at the end of each academic year. The Head of Directing, your committee, and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve modifications to your Plan of Study.
Typical Plan of Study
First Year Fall
Directors Seminar I: Fundamentals/Imagination (3)
New Play Dramaturgy (3)
Playwrights' Workshop (1)
Orientation to Graduate Studies (2)
Digital Arts (3)
First Year Spring
Directors Seminar 2: Directing Modern Drama (3)
Acting: Directing from Actors Viewpoint (3)
Theatrical Analysis: Modern Drama (3)
Second Year Fall
Directors Seminar 3: Devised Civic Work (3)
Digital Arts (3)
Second Year Spring
Directors Seminar 4: Directing Classic Plays (3)
Acting: Shakespeare (3)
Theatrical Analysis: Classical Drama (3)
Third Year Fall
Directors Seminar 5: Opera and Musical Theatre (3)
Acting: Movement or Stage Combat(3)
Digital Arts (3)
Third Year Spring
Directors Seminar 6: Production and Career Prep (3)
Theatrical Analysis: Post Modern Drama (3)
Adjustments may be made to this template based on the sequence of courses offered in non-directing areas. The plan may also be modified based on a student's previous training and experience.
Semester 1: Fundamentals and the Imagination. The goals of this course are to help students develop their own particular directorial voice or vision, to encourage their theatrical imaginations, and to review fundamental principles and tools of directing. Students will write or adapt three short scenes, each of which draws inspiration from a different source; they will work closely with designers on a major collaborative paper-project; and they will review the fundamentals of good directing, including script analysis, working with actors, and staging.
Semester 2: Directing Modern Drama. This course will provide the director with a comprehensive system for analyzing text for transformation into theatrical event. Focus will be on plays, both tragic and comic, from Ibsen to O’Neill, and will be coordinated with the dramatic literature course in Modern Drama. Students will also focus on new work to be presented in the Iowa New Play Festival.
Semester 3: Devised Civic Work. This course aims to build students’ skills in the creation of devised performance material with and for communities. Topics include case studies, story gathering, site-specific research, writing/adaptation, auditions/casting, processes for developing and rehearsing the work, and a culminating performance. The class will examine community-based ensembles, past and present, as well as devising practitioners and influential artists and scholars in the field. This course also considers the social relevance and responsibility of directing for the theatre. It will include the direction of a devised civic project.
Semester 4: Directing the Classics. This course will focus on the challenges and joys of directing great plays, tragic and comic, from the Greeks through the Restoration. One project will focus on the direction of a portion of a classic play. Each student will also research and make a presentation on the work of a director from previous centuries.
Semester 5: Directing for Opera and Musical Theatre. Working with the Director of the UI Opera Theatre, students will learn to study a libretto and musical score, conceive a musical production, and work with singers. They will direct scenes for the Opera Workshop.
Semester 6: Production and Career Preparation. Students will identify challenges and successes in their thesis and other productions and will share techniques with one another. Guest artists will discuss their work in person and through Skype interviews. Attention will also be paid to career planning.
MFA Directing students must satisfactorily complete production assignments to fulfill the requirements for graduation. You are expected to direct at least one public presentation every semester, though the specific number and scheduling of assignments may vary. Typical production assignments follow:
Minimum Production requirements for the MFA/Directing Degree:
1st Fall: First semester project (typically, a one-act play)
1st Spring: Iowa New Play Festival play
2nd Fall: Devised/Collaboration project, or another play
2nd Spring: Iowa New Play Festival play
3rd Fall: Thesis or workshop play
3rd Spring: Thesis or Iowa New Play Festival play
Directors must demonstrate consistent development in production work.
- Comprehensive examination covering first two years of study
- Written thesis: Director's Production Book/Analysis of Thesis Production (or other appropriate directed production)
- Cumulative "B" average
- At least 18 credits in “graded” courses (i.e. not Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading)
Note: The curriculum and requirements are subject to change, and students may apply for adjustments.
MFA Directors may propose an internship to take place during one semester of graduate study. The purpose of the internship is to augment your education and encourage the development of professional contacts. Ideally, you should serve as directors or assistant directors on one or more productions at an appropriate theatre.
At least one semester prior to beginning an internship, you will submit a written proposal to the Head of Directing. The proposal should include a list of goals and duties, the time commitment, the name of the supervisor and other contact information. Internships may be completed with or without academic credit; credit may require a tuition charge.
MFA directing students in the class entering in 2017 who satisfactorily complete the degree will receive Associate Memberships in SDC, the professional union of stage directors and choreographers.
The thesis normally forms the centerpiece of the third year in residence. The thesis typically consists of a full-length work presented by the department and a written document -- a production book that includes preparation materials, production designs, and photographs. Under certain conditions students may satisfy the thesis production requirement in other comparable professional or academic theatres. The production and the written document form the basis for the student's final evaluation.
Thesis proposals must be submitted in writing to the program committee, and to the play selection committee, for approval during students’ second year. The format of the written thesis must comply with the guidelines as outlined by the program committee and the Thesis Manual of the Graduate College.
Continuation in the Program
The first year is a probationary period for all graduate students. During that year program faculty will determine whether you are to be invited to return for a second year. This decision will be based on demonstrated talent, potential, originality, discipline, and satisfactory progress in course work and productions. During the second year you present two productions, which will help determine if you are prepared to proceed to the third year and direct a thesis production. For the comprehensive examination in the spring of the second year, you prepare a written self-assessment, resume, and plan for the thesis production. Throughout your training, you must present work of distinction in your academic and production assignments; failure to do so may be grounds for dismissal.
Students accepted into the second year normally proceed to satisfactory completion of the degree. Nonetheless, evaluation is an ongoing process and a student may be dismissed from the program if his or her course or production work is unsatisfactory. If a student’s GPA average falls below 3.0, it must be raised to that level by the end of the following semester. Failure to do so may be grounds for dismissal from the program.
Iowa Directors, Past and Present
Link to a selection of current and recent Iowa Directors' credits.
Mary Beth Easley
Chair, Department of Theatre Arts
Head of Directing
Department of Theatre Arts
200 North Riverside Drive
Iowa City, IA 52242-1705