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M.F.A. Design

Our Master of Fine Arts in design is a highly competitive, pre-professional, terminal degree program.

M.F.A. Design

M.F.A. Design

About the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

The University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) offers a full-time and fully funded M.F.A. in Theatre Design degree alongside M.F.A.'s in dance, PhD’s in Theatre History and Performance Studies, and undergraduate degrees in Dance and Theatre. TDPS is one unit in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, a state-of-the-art facility with large dance studios, a variety of theatre spaces, and world outreach seminar rooms. Through the Artist Partner Program, graduate students engage with national and international performing artists through master classes, performances, and conversations.

M.F.A. in Design Program Overview

Our Master of Fine Arts in design program is a highly competitive, pre-professional, terminal degree program that:

  • Offers superior students advanced training in costume, lighting, scenic or projection design in preparation for the professional theater and entertainment fields;
  • Emphasizes the development of specific production-related skills under the mentorship of internationally renowned faculty; and
  • Gives students numerous internship and professional opportunities to work with more than 75 professional theaters in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore region.

The University of Maryland offers students not only coursework and studio time, but also opportunities to realize their designs on the main stage and in the school's various spaces in our $130 million Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Student designers must present and pass three formal design portfolio reviews, at the conclusion of their second, fourth and sixth semesters in the program. In addition, portfolio interviews take place at the end of the first, third and fifth semesters. Design portfolios include studio projects as well as fully realized academic and professional scenic, costume or lighting designs. The fourth semester portfolio review will include an evaluation of a pre-thesis design project (usually a fully realized design, but may include independent study design projects). The pre-thesis design project, in preparation for the thesis, will include a written component. Successful completion of the portfolio reviews will result in the assignment of the thesis project.

Scenic design

Studies in scenic design put emphasis on intellectual and artistic rigor. Key assignments and projects concentrate on three key areas: visual and plastic imagination and its expression through studio art; state of the art in modern designer’s craft—model-making, drafting, 3D modeling, production techniques, procedures and materials; artistic collaboration, dramaturgy and communication. The modern notion of scenography as a discipline that goes beyond the confines of the designer’s narrow craft is central to the program’s pedagogy and professional practice.

Costume design

The course of study emphasizes play and character analysis and dramaturgy and how an artist creates truly original costume designs for theater, dance, opera, film and television. Students refine their studio art skills to acquire highly individual rendering and communication styles, and they are mentored through a series of fully realized mainstage productions in a diverse array of life performance, including musical theater, opera and dance.

Lighting design

The curriculum in lighting is designed to facilitate the development of both theoretical and practical compositional skills. The program’s goal is to educate truly collaborative theater artists whose contribution to the show transcends the narrow technical confines of the discipline. The program emphasizes dramaturgical analysis, communication with collaborators and a rigorous understanding of a lighting design process, as well as fluent command of state-of-the-art technology.

Projections and media design

The program trains multimedia artists who are invested in facilitating a new dialogue with today’s audiences. The work is interdisciplinary and explores interactive differences and similarities between digital performance and live performance. Students work at the intersection of technology and performance created in real time by live artists. Students are trained as original, independent and collaborative theater makers whose contributions are not subservient to other areas of theatrical design and who strive to advance the art form through digital media.

Prospective students

Application deadlines & Scheduling Visits

Application deadlines for 2021-2022

For domestic students, the best consideration deadline is Friday, March 5, 2021; the regular deadline is Friday, May 14, 2021. The deadline for international students is Friday, March 5, 2021. Please see the information below to prepare for the Fall 2021 application.

Visit us

To schedule a visit, please contact Crystal Gaston at cgaston@umd.edu with your name, contact information, program of interest and possible visit date(s).

Apply to the program

For best consideration the candidates are strongly encouraged to contact the head of M.F.A. (or an individual faculty member in their respective design area of specialization) directly to set up a preliminary interview. The MFA in design program also conducts preliminary interviews with prospective students annually at the URTA interviews in Chicago. Please note that, as a rule, the program will not give deep consideration to those candidates who limit their contact with us to simply submitting an online application.

The M.F.A. in design program starts annually in the fall, with an application deadline in March. This year's deadline is Friday, March 5, 2021. Please see the information below to prepare for the fall 2021 application. For additional information, please contact:

All components and requirements for the application must be completed and received by the deadline date before a review of any materials sent with the application can take place.

The University of Maryland’s Graduate School accepts applications through its online application system. Before completing the application, applicants are asked to check the Admissions Requirements site for specific instructions.

As required by the Graduate School, all application materials are to be submitted electronically:

The electronic submission of application materials helps expedite the review of an application. Completed applications are reviewed by an admissions committee in each graduate degree program. The recommendations of the committees are submitted to the dean of the Graduate School, who will make the final admission decision. Students seeking to complete graduate work at the University of Maryland for degree purposes must be formally admitted to the Graduate School by the dean. To ensure the integrity of the application process, the University of Maryland authenticates submitted materials through TurnItIn for admissions.

Requirements

M.F.A. in design application requirements:

  • You must have earned a four-year baccalaureate degree from a regionally-accredited U.S. institution, or an equivalent degree earned at a non-U.S. institution with at least a 3.0 GPA.
  • The M.F.A. in design program does not require the GRE but does require an audition/portfolio review and interview. M.F.A. design faculty participate in the University/Resident Theatre Association (URTA), National Unified Auditions & Interviews held in January and February. Invited portfolio reviews occur after the URTA dates.
  • All international students must show evidence of acceptable scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). See information on the International Educational Services website for specific admissions requirements, including minimum TOEFL score.

Please be sure to include the following in your application

  • A link to your portfolio
  • Your statement of goals, research interests and experience; please send this as a Word or pdf file that can be easily uploaded;
  • 3 recommenders and their email addresses so that electronic recommendation forms can be sent to them.

Official transcripts from all universities attended must be sent to:

University of Maryland College Park
Enrollment Services Operation – Attn: Graduate Admissions
Room 0130 Mitchell Building
College Park, MD 20742

Be sure to indicate which concentration for which you are applying. M.F.A.T is the program code for the M.F.A. in design.

Information for international graduate students

The University of Maryland is dedicated to maintaining a vibrant international graduate student community. The office of International Students and Scholars Services (ISSS) is a valuable resource of information and assistance for prospective and current international students.  International applicants are encouraged to explore the services they offer and contact them with related questions.

The University of Maryland Graduate School offers admission to international students based on academic information; there is no guarantee of attendance. Admitted international students will then receive instructions about obtaining the appropriate visa to study at the University of Maryland, which will require submission of additional documents. Please see the Graduate Admissions Process for International applicants for more information.

Financial assistance

The School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is committed to fully funding all graduate students accepted into its programs and makes every effort to meet that goal. Assistantships are available for graduate study and are awarded by the TDPS graduate program only after a successful Graduate School acceptance. Competitive support for workshops, conference presentations, summer study and other projects is also available

In addition to assistantships, there are opportunities for awards and fellowships through the College of Arts & Humanities and the University of Maryland. To find more funding opportunities outside of TDPS offerings, please visit the ARHU website page for financial support.

FAQs

How many fully realized mainstage designs should I expect to have accomplished before graduating?

All mainstage productions are designed by M.F.A. students (faculty members mentor the students but do not design on mainstage themselves). Depending on the specialty, students will have designed between two and four  (scenic, costume design) and four and seven (lighting, projections and media design) fully realized mainstage productions.

Will I be designing theatre shows exclusively or are there opportunities to work in other areas of life performance, like dance and opera?

The M.F.A. in design program has a partnership with Maryland Opera Studio (the producing arm of the UMD School of Music’s graduate opera program) which gives second and third year M.F.A. students an opportunity to design two mainstage operas every year. Students also design numerous mainstage dance shows produced by TDPS graduate students, guest artists and dance faculty.

Are there professional design opportunities outside the school?

Every spring, the Imagination Stage, the D.C.-area’s premiere theater company for young audiences, produces a mainstage show designed completely by current M.F.A. design candidates. Students also get multiple opportunities to professionally assist at nationally acclaimed Washington-based companies like Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Studio Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Olney Theatre and Round House Theatre, among many others.

Are the GREs required for the M.F.A. Design Program?

The M.F.A. in design program does not require the GRE but does require an audition/portfolio review and interview. MFA design faculty participate in the University/Resident Theatre Association (URTA), National Unified Auditions & Interviews held in January and February. Invited portfolio reviews and interviews occur on campus after the U/RTA dates.

When will I be notified about my application decision?

Offers of places in the program (and graduate assistantships) are made after February 15 and all applicants will be notified of their final status before April 1.

What are my next steps after I submit my application?

You will need to contact Misha Kachman at mkachman@umd.edu if you have not already done so. 

What courses are required for the program?

See the curriculum requirements under Current Students on this page.

Contact

For questions related to the admissions process, prospective students may contact the Graduate School.

If you have any questions about the M.F.A. in design program or application, please contact the head of the M.F.A. in design program, Misha Kachman, at mkachman@umd.edu.

Current Students

Curriculum requirements

  • THET 606 “Teaching Theatre” – 1 credit

Portfolio Review, 5 credits overall:

  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” – 1 credit (5 credits overall)

Seminar Courses, 9 credits overall:

  • THET 669A “History of Fashion” – 3 credits
  • THET 670 “History of Architecture and Decor” – 3 credits
  • THET XXX “Elective Seminar” – 3 Credits

Thesis, 6 credits overall:

  • THET 799 “Master’s Pre-Thesis Research” – 3 credits
  • THET 799 “Master’s Thesis Research” – 3 credits

Practicum, 6 to 12 credits:

  • THET 789 “Master’s Practicum” – 3 credits

Design Studio, 15 to 18 credits:

  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Design Studio”

Scenography, 3 credits:

  • THET 672 “Theory of Visual Design in Scenery / Scenography”

Master Class, 3 credits:

  • THET 678 “Theory of Visual Design for the Performing Arts / Master Class”

Coursework

Year 1

FALL

  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Design Studio in the Area of Specialization” (scenic/costume/lighting/projections)
  • THET 428O “Photoshop”
  • THET 499B “Figure Drawing”
  • THET 606 “Teaching for Theatre”

SPRING

  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Advanced Design Studio in the Area of Specialization”
  • THET 669A “History of Fashion”
  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” (portfolio review)
  • THET 789 “Master’s Practicum”

Year 2

FALL

  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Advanced Design Studio in the Area of Specialization”
  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Advanced Design Studio outside the Area of Specialization” (scenic/costume/lighting/projections)
  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” (portfolio review)
  • THET 789 “Master’s Practicum”

SPRING

  • THET 672 “Theory of Visual Design in Scenery / Scenography”
  • THET 670 “History of Architecture and Décor”
  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” (portfolio review)
  • THET 789 “Master’s Practicum”

Year 3

FALL

  • THET 639/649/659/679 “Advanced Design Studio in the Area of Specialization”
  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” (portfolio review)
  • THET 799 “Master’s Pre-Thesis Research”
  • THET XXX “Elective Seminar Course” 

SPRING

  • THET 799 “Master’s Thesis Research”
  • THET 678 “Theory of Visual Design for the Performing Arts / Master Class”
  • THET 788 “Master’s Tutorial” (portfolio review)
  • THET 789 “Master’s Practicum”

Portfolios

Successful completion of the portfolio review will result in the assignment of pre-thesis (after the first year) and thesis (after the second year) projects. Upon completion of each portfolio review, the candidate will receive a formal letter indicating a grade of pass, conditional pass or fail. In the event of a conditional pass or fail, the faculty may require the candidate to complete additional projects or coursework.

First year portfolio should include:

  • A current resume
  • Projects from primary and secondary design emphasis courses
  • Craft projects from foundation component courses
  • Production photographs illustrating realized craft or design work for projects produced by the school or by professional theaters
  • Supporting materials, drawings and photographs that demonstrate effective and productive work as a design assistant (academic or professional projects)

Second year portfolio should include:

  • A current resume
  • Projects from primary and secondary design emphasis courses
  • Production photographs illustrating realized craft or design work for projects produced by the school or professional theaters
  • Supporting materials, drawings, and photographs that demonstrate effective and productive work as a design assistant (academic or professional projects)
  • A written design analysis and supporting research material for the pre-thesis project that should follow the form of the first chapter of the written component of the thesis project

Annual Design Exhibition / Portfolio Review

An exciting feature of the M.F.A. in design program in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is the annual public portfolio exhibit and review. Each year, work by students in the M.F.A. in design program at the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is exhibited here on campus and at Studio Theatre in downtown Washington, D.C., as part of our M.F.A. portfolio review. The exhibition is open to the public and to members of the D.C. theater community.

On the second day of the review, each student has an opportunity to sit and discuss their work with our guest respondents. These guests are usually drawn from the leading designers working on Broadway and the top artist educators from leading theater training programs around the country. In the past few years our respondents have included the following designers and directors: Paloma Young, Donyale Werle, Jeff Croiter, Ming Cho Lee, John Lee Beatty, David Korins, Ken Posner, Linda Roethke, Serge Seiden, Joy Zinnoman, John Iacovelli, Aaron Posner, David Gallo, Susan Mickey, Howard Shalwitz, James Kronzer, Mary Zimmerman, David Muse, Todd Rosenthal, Julian Crouch, Alexander Dodge, Jenifer Schriever, Jim Ingalls and Anna Kuzmanic.

Second and third year students have the opportunity to take part in our spring semester master class, which teams up M.F.A. students, multiple design faculty members and working professional directors to work on theoretical productions. This constant contact with working professionals in the theater is a hallmark feature of our program and is an important component of our success at placing student designers in the profession upon graduation.

Thesis

For their theses, M.F.A. design students create and realize a scenery, costume or lighting design for a major production. Each student must meet all deadlines for that production and the design and execution must be acceptable to all members of their thesis committee. The written component of the thesis includes all relevant visual material, including research images, drawings, renderings and production photographs.

On- and off-campus opportunities for students

M.F.A. in design students typically design three or four productions in our main season during their three years in residence. The first year of study includes several assistant design assignments. We plan our productions at least one semester in advance; therefore, there is a good possibility that students will be designing their first main season production in the spring semester of the first year. We produce five main season shows and approximately five student-produced productions per academic year. M.F.A. students also have the opportunity to work with our award-winning faculty on professional projects within the Washington metropolitan theater community, as well as work in regional theaters, off-Broadway and Broadway.

Home to more than 75 Actors Equity Professional theaters, the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore region is home to a vibrant theater community. We work with theaters such as Studio Theatre, Second Stage, Round House Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center and Shakespeare Theatre. Many of our faculty work in the theaters here, as well as across the country. As a result, our students often make their first important professional contacts while working with them in the area. Our M.F.A. in design program has a 95 percent graduate student placement record in the industry, and, in many cases, our third year M.F.A. students are already working professionally.

M.F.A. in Design Handbook and Graduate Catalog

The M.F.A. Design Handbook is available here. It is recommended that all M.F.A. in Dance candidates are familiar with the program’s handbook.

The UMD Graduate Catalog can be found on their website.

Design Faculty

Daniel Conway

2747 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-6680

Helen Huang

Professor, Dance/Theatre Design and Production

2753 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-6685

Misha Kachman

Professor, Dance/Theatre Design and Production, School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

2739 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-6639

Brian MacDevitt

Associate Professor, Dance/Theatre Design and Production

2745 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-6643

Jared Mezzocchi

Associate Professor, Dance/Theatre Design and Production

2741 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-7492