M.F.A. in Theatre: Acting
Every three years, eight graduate acting students with a commitment to exploring the classics are accepted into the rigorous M.F.A. program at Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance
in partnership with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. The successful student candidate should possess:
- a passion for language and the classics of theatre
- curiosity about the human condition
- professional discipline coupled with extraordinary drive
- a collaborative spirit and "a beginner ’s mind"
- a commitment to civic engagement
The Master of Fine Arts in Acting provides the modern generation of Theatre artists with the skills, vision, and intellectual rigor to grapple with the mental, emotional, physical and vocal demands of
extant and emerging classical texts in the 21st century. Actors graduating from our program will have developed:
- An acting technique that fuses our modern, Stanislavski-based tradition with the demands of Shakespeare’s poetic, heightened language.
- A facility with language, enabling the actor to express the complexities of classical drama with depth and clarity.
- A strong, flexible and expressive vocal instrument.
- A deep organic connection to your psycho-physical life, including an awareness of the use of the self as a means to free the actor from blocks, allowing thought and committed impulse to release into action.
- An aesthetic built on a foundation of penetrating insight into the language and action of classical dramatic texts, linear and non-linear works, and period, contemporary and emerging dramas.
- An approach to creating devised work aimed at reaching new audiences through civic engagement.
Program Goals and Objectives
Our aim is to produce working artists who will excel professionally and interpret and reinterpret the classics within an American aesthetic for the 21st century. This emerging aesthetic is uniquely muscular, vital, intellectually passionate, and infused with an insatiable curiosity about what it means to be human.
Over the three-year course of study, you will be taught by our professionally engaged faculty incorporating a rich variety of approaches including: the Alexander Technique; Linklater, Berry, Lessac & Fitzmaurice Voicework®; and Laban, mask work and stage combat training with the opportunity to become recognized as “actor/combatants” by the Society of American Fight Directors. Guest artists will augment our faculty team, providing additional coaching and master classes in their areas of expertise.
The schedule of training is based on an Equity rehearsal model. Students work in the studio five hours a day, four days a week, plus evening rehearsals for performance projects, which run from 7 to 11 p.m., five or six nights a week, with one day off per week.
Students interested in becoming teaching artists may craft an individual focus in teaching by shadowing master acting, voice, and/or movement teachers and assisting faculty coaches on major productions. All students will take a course in acting pedagogy in order to delve deeply into the theories and practices of exemplary teachers of our art.
The Acting Studio
The first year of study focuses on 19th- and 20th-century classical masters (e.g., Williams, O'Neill, Miller, Inge, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov). The second year is devoted entirely to heightened language plays, including Shakespeare, his contemporaries, Moliere and Restoration playwrights. The final year of study allows for the flexibility to explore non-linear language-based texts, including those by Beckett, Churchill, Brecht, Fornes and emerging writers.
More detailed information on program requirements and course descriptions can be found in the Graduate Catalog.
Students in the M.F.A. Acting program perform in at least one production each semester. You will be expected to perform roles of a sufficient size and scope to challenge and encourage your growth as an artist.
Professional Assistantship: Illinois Shakespeare Festival Outreach
Students will function as an eight-member, year-round semi-professional
outreach company as representatives of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
Upon graduation students will have developed an extensive series of
Shakespeare abridgements that may also prove valuable following graduation,
should the company continue to perform them in professional venues. Work
begets work; a piece of theatre is always a more effective audition than an
audition, and our students will graduate with professional experience and
actual productions that they can perform far and wide.
We are targeting a specific kind of actor for our MFA program: one who has a dual interest in classical training and civic engagement. Our close relationship with the nationally recognized Illinois Shakespeare Festival, held each summer in its 438-seat, state-of-the art outdoor facility at Ewing Manor, provides a unique opportunity for the type of theatre artist for whom educational and community outreach is not secondary to professional theatre, but equally important and enriching.
Intensive training will be supplemented by ongoing opportunities to perform work that will directly impact our community. Fridays will be devoted to the Professional Assistantship, during which time actors will rehearse a series of 30-minute abridgements of Shakespeare's plays, directed by ISF's Artistic Director Kevin Rich. These abridged plays will be performed throughout the academic year in schools, community centers and other venues, and during the summer as the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) production of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. In addition to this year-long Professional Assistantship, in the summers following the first and second years M.F.A. students will also earn six credit hours in Professional Practice by joining the acting ensemble of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Specific casting will vary according to the particular needs of the production, but all MFA students will be guaranteed a place in the ensemble, understudy assignments and significant performance opportunities in the TYA productions.
Both the Professional Assistantship and Professional Practice opportunities bridge the gap between academic and professional life by providing the rewarding opportunity to impact the community while training.
Five Semesters and Two Summers
Due to earning six credit hours per summer, MFA students will have surpassed the sixty-credit-hour graduation requirement after their fifth semester, and will consequently get a head start by graduating in December of their third year.
If you are interested in the M.F.A. Acting program please contact:
Lori Adams, Head of Acting
Kevin Rich, Artistic Director, Illinois Shakespeare Festival
Lori Adams (Head of Acting, M.F.A. University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Lori directed the critically acclaimed premiere of Falling for the Mustard Seed Theatre Company in St. Louis, Missouri, that was named the 2011 Kevin Kline Award-winner for Outstanding New Play or Musical. She will be directing its Off-Broadway production in the fall of 2012. As an actor, Lori continues to tour her one-woman show, Shame the Devil! An Audience with Fanny Kemble! nationally. She appeared in Richard III, Macbeth and Henry VIII at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Other acting credits include: Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Breadline Theatre Group, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, Actors Lab Arizona, Childsplay Inc., Stockyards Theatre Project, and the Heartland Theatre Company. She appeared on the Travel Channel’s “Weird Travels: Haunted Campuses” as Ange Milner, as well as in numerous commercials, industrials, print ads, and voiceovers. Lori’s skill as an acting coach is evidenced by the unprecedented success of ISU’s Irene Ryan nominees at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival — with 11 regional winners and 2 national winners. In 2012 she was awarded the Stan and Sandy Rives Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award by Illinois State University.
Kevin Rich (AEA, SAG-AFTRA, M.F.A. Yale School of Drama)
Kevin is the Artistic Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. His Acting experience includes ISF, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Chicago Shakespeare, Kentucky Shakespeare, Portland Center Stage, San Jose Rep, Yale Rep, Shakespeare and Company, and the American Theatre Company. His previous teaching experience includes Kenyon College, Carthage College and the University of Wisconsin at Parkside, where Kevin taught courses in acting, directing, voice, dramatic literature, Shakespeare, theatre for young audiences, and theatre history. He has professional experience as a director, playwright, and voice/text coach, and worked for several years as a motivational speaker for Monster.com. In 2008, he formed his own workshop company, facilitating workshops in colleges, high schools, and theatre festivals around the country. He is a Certified Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework®, the 2010 ISF John Stephens Equity Actor, and a recipient of the Oliver Thorndike Acting Award at the Yale School of Drama.
Jack McLaughlin-Gray (AEA, SAG-AFTRA)
Jack is a two-time recipient and four-time nominee of Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Award. His professional credits include more than a hundred featured appearances in such venues as the Guthrie Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Alabama Shakespeare Festival and Indiana Repertory Theatre. The Illinois Shakespeare Festival has presented Jack in several roles over five seasons, including Polonius in Hamlet, Gloucester in King Lear, and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet. Jack's feature film work includes roles in Major League, The Negotiator, Opportunity Knocks and A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, and he has appeared on such television shows as "Early Edition," "The Untouchables," and "Father Dowling Mysteries."
Paul Dennhardt (M.AmSAT Certified Alexander Teacher, SAFD Fight Director/Certified Teacher, M.F.A. Western Illinois Universit)
Paul's credits as a fight director/movement consultant include the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Folger Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare, the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Perseverance Theatre, the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, Madison Repertory Theatre, Rep Stage, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Dallas Theater Center, The Taipei National University of the Arts, and Florentine Opera. Paul has taught master classes at the Shakespeare Theatre Company Academy for Classical Acting, the National Stage Combat Workshops, the Winter Wonderland Workshop, the Central Illinois Stage Combat Workshop, and other regional workshops and universities around the country. Paul is a recipient of the Patrick Crean Award, the highest award given by the Society of American Fight Directors, which was presented at the 2010 National Stage Combat Workshops.
Voice and Speech
Connie de Veer (
AEA, M.AmSAT Certified Alexander Teacher, VASTA, M.F.A. University of Texas at Austin)
Connie’s career has included work as an actor, singer, dancer, director, coach, and teacher. Her professional performance credits include roles at the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, Light Opera of Manhattan, Casa Manana, Theatre Three, Darien Dinner Theatre, Fort Worth Opera, Heartland Theatre Company and the Westchester Broadway Theatre. She provides voiceovers for audio books, corporate answering services, and training CDs and videos, and has contributed dialect samples as an associate editor for the International Dialects of English Archive. Connie was published in the 2009 Voice and Speech Review, and she served as voice, text and/or movement coach for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival for several seasons. As a director, Connie has worked at the Obie Award-winning Peculiar Works Project, Circle Theatre and Texas Christian University, and has directed numerous productions at Illinois State University. In 2012 she was named a McCormick Fellow, honoring her ongoing commitment to integrating civic engagement into the curriculum in the School of Theatre and Dance.
Illinois State University admits a new M.F.A. Acting class every three years. The next class of eight students will be admitted in the fall of 2013. The School of Theatre and Dance looks for the most gifted and promising actors available, with special consideration given to working professionals who are dedicated to advancing their training. The School seeks talented and disciplined actors/scholars who will prove successful in the fields of acting and teaching.
To apply to the M.F.A. program, first fill out the Graduate Admission Application. Also, at the Graduate School Web site, you will find information about required transcripts and fees that should accompany your application. Please review program-specific admission requirements and the application process on our graduate program pages on this website or in the Graduate Catalog.
Actors should be prepared with two contrasting classical pieces and a contemporary monologue. Auditions and interviewsare held in Chicago, in New York at the unified University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) auditions, and on campus at Illinois State University.
Please note that in order to attend the U/RTA auditions you must register through U/RTA.
Applicants must provide a professional headshot and resume, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose regarding your interest and passion for pursuing an M.F.A. in this classical acting program.
If you have additional questions or would like to arrange an on-campus audition, please contact Lori Adams, Head of the Acting Program, or Kevin Rich, Artistic Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
Success for Recent Graduates
Graduates of the acting program at Illinois State University work successfully as actors throughout the country. Recent graduates have performed at such theatres as Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, the Court Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, A Red Orchid Theatre, About Face, Teatro Vista, the Bailiwick, and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Illinois State graduates teach at institutions of higher learning across the country. For more information about School of Theatre and Dance alumni, please visit the Theatre and Dance alumni page.