The MFA in Acting at Northwestern University is an immersive, comprehensive, and collaborative program designed to equip students with the tools and support necessary for success in professional theatre.
This fully funded two-year program focuses on intense and concentrated immersion in both the contemporary and classical canon with a keen eye on parity in representation. Candidates emerge prepared for the rigors and demands of a rapidly evolving creative economy.
Located in our brand-new facilities in Abbott Hall on Northwestern’s downtown Chicago campus, the MFA in Acting is built upon the study of text analysis, techniques for interpretation and rehearsal, movement, and voice and speech in concert with performance through production experience. We actively engage Chicago’s artistically diverse professional theatre community, one of the most vibrant centers for theatre-making in the world. We examine theatre as civic practice and the historical as well as current responsibility of the actor in society. The program offers an intensive and in-depth curriculum in acting, theatrical storytelling, and collaborative production practices while also giving students access to Northwestern’s liberal arts environment.
Northwestern University offers a comprehensive and multi-faceted 2-year MFA program in the study of acting. Our faculty is eclectic by design — celebrating and reflecting a wide range of artistic training. We offer multiple entry points to the craft and concentrated immersion in a range of methodologies. Our mission is rooted in the belief that a multiplicity of vocabularies, experiences, practices, and cultures is vital to contemporary acting training. Intentionally located in downtown Chicago, the MFA Program at Northwestern is committed to reflecting and embracing our diverse, vibrant, and complex city. Launched in 2019, the MFA in Acting at Northwestern was envisioned and built as an actively anti-racist program for the joyful and rigorous investigation of both a personalized practice and the artist’s role in society.
Faculty mission statements:
- ROGER ELLIS: Through experiential study of the body in motion, I lead students in an investigation of the multiplicity and depth of human experiences. My approach explores the relationship between autonomy, collaboration, and cultural context.
- CRISTAL CHANELLE TRUSCOTT: I teach SoulWork, which allows students to bring the fullness of their identities to the study of acting — to experience the freedom and creative power of culturally-specific and culturally-aware artistic exploration, to engage text analysis and character building with social consciousness, and to rehearse and perform with emotional depth, spontaneity, and agility in individual and ensemble practice.
- ANNA D. SHAPIRO: With a focus on Meisner-based text analysis, my engagement centers on creating a personalized technique that allows actors more access to their individual points of view, the ability to then interrogate that point of view, and finally, to translate that work into an inhabitable character whose liveness doesn’t interfere with repeatability.
- HALENA KAYS: Through a maker’s point of view I focus on play, risk, physicality, and improvisation; I explore how silliness can make you a stronger artist and human.
- SANDRA MARQUEZ: With the core objective of cultivating nuance, texture and the muscularity and delight of language, I teach voice and Stanislavski-based acting classes that focus on eliciting honesty and the power of stillness.
- STAN BROWN: My objective is to help actors find and embrace their authentic voice, and to use it to bring out both the poetry and innate musicality of language. At the core of any vocal technique or method I offer is an abiding commitment to help students align with the present moment — the now, the most practical view of the road ahead.
Collaborative Graduate Curriculum
The MFA in Acting is part of an integrated curriculum suite that includes students from Northwestern’s Directing, Stage Design, and Writing for the Screen and Stage graduate programs. Courses are co-led by faculty and offer opportunities for a cohort of graduate students across the theatre disciplines to work together. Following a problem-solving framework, students develop innovative perspectives on canonical dramatic literature (such as in our Shakespeare Collaboration class) or launch the new works of in-house playwrighting students (such as in our New Play Studio class).
Every year, there are three types of performance opportunities in the program – in the classroom, in collaboration with MFA directing students, and in the Mainstage summer season.
- CLASSROOM: All coursework contains and requires in-class performance and “performance finals” on Share Day at the end of each quarter. This includes but is not limited to scene work, movement, monologues, and in-process generative assignments.
- MFA DIRECTORS: In collaboration with the MFA Directors and Designers, there are three workshop productions and three fully-designed black box productions. For these productions, MFA Actors have the opportunity to bring classroom learning into a rehearsal process, to form strong collaborative relationships with their peers, and to mentor undergraduate actors who may also participate in these productions.
- SUMMER SEASON: Summer features two Mainstage Productions directed by Northwestern faculty or professional guest directors. These productions showcase MFA actors and create the opportunity for a wide variety of roles and performance experiences on the Mainstage of the Wirtz Center in Evanston.
Note: Subject to space availability and faculty approval, students can request access to our rehearsal and performance spaces for the development of student-driven projects.
How We Cast
Rather than the competitive atmosphere of an audition room, all roles are assigned by faculty. However, audition preparation and experience factors into our coursework in monologue and on-camera classes as well as work with guest directors.
Why We Cast This Way
We focus on flexible, color-brave, and inclusive casting within a multicultural environment. Through conversation with advisors, students will have the opportunity to self-identify. We listen deeply to each actor and offer explicit support in negotiating conversations surrounding casting and identity. We ensure that each student will be able to play at least one culturally-specific role during their time in the program.