Devised Performance Curriculum

Curriculum for MFA & Certificate Programs

- Studio Practice

Both MFA and Certificate students take all Studio Practice courses together.

Beginning with the body, the studio practice aims to train performers to be flexible, fearless, present, passionate and disciplined. The goal is to give students the skills to develop their own artistic voices while being grounded in the values of collaboration and experimentation. The training intends to open up new questions and new ways of seeing the world.

The first year primarily explores the body in space and all the possibilities of corporal expression, culminating in character work. The first year focuses on performance training, presence and artistic exploration.

The second year builds on the work in the first year and focuses on theatrical treatments: how style and theme work hand-in-hand. Students will work on developing an artistic vision, on theatrical structure and performance creation. The year culminates in public performances of student-developed work.

Leveraging a variety of disciplines and methods of performance creation, the school offers several channels of exploration each week.  Generally, structured courses focus on the three main arteries of physical theatre:

Movement.  Students train their bodies each day through courses on acrobatics/gymnastics, movement analysis, dance and movement improvisation, movement composition and Pilates/Yoga/Core Training.

Improvisation.  Students work on a variety of themes, some lasting a week, some lasting up to a month. The work involves daily improvisation to train the performers to trust the impulses that arrive in the midst of performing. The body and mind collaborate to learn how to be an actor-writer, deeply in touch with the moment-to-moment choices of the actor as well as the large arc of the scene or play.

Ensemble creations.  Each week, students work in collaborative teams to develop original pieces based around the week’s theme(s). This is a chance for the students to answer the artistic and technical questions for themselves. It presents an opportunity to work through the myriad problems that the themes present, ultimately showing the work to the faculty at the end of the week for feedback and critique.

Seminars in Contemporary Performance. The school investigates trends in contemporary performance, and focuses on broadening the students’ knowledge of theatre-making across the globe to inspire the students about the stage's vast possibilities. Each year, the school engages texts that pervade the class work throughout the program. For instance, the program might turn to the plays of Chekhov or Crime and Punishment or Agamemnon. When appropriate, small fragments of the text are used to deepen the relationship of the student with the given work and demand original and sometimes personal encounters with old masterpieces. Rather than trying to honor the text, students use them as source material toward new and alive performance works.

Business and Entrepreneurial Training.  In addition to these course themes, the school strives to ground students’ artistry and to provide inspiration for their future work. This includes business seminars on starting one’s own company and/or producing one’s own work (addressing the practical concerns of making a living as a theatre artist). There are also opportunities to train directly with the Pig Iron ensemble and to meet and work with professional local artists and visiting artists in Philadelphia.

- Additional Curriculum for the MFA Program

Pedagogy.  MFA students take three courses focusing on pedagogy, the transmission of theatre practice.  The study begins with a look inside the journey of the school to uncover the big picture planning of a curriculum to the minute-by-minute real-time unfolding of the curriculum.  Ultimately, students plan their own curriculum for an undergraduate theatre class at UArts and teach it with advising from faculty mentors.  

UArts Coursework.  Each semester, students select courses offered at UArts that include music theory, music performance (the study of an instrument or voice), two practice-based courses in visual art and an elective which could include choreography, creative writing, a second semester of a musical instrument or an advanced visual art course.

The Fifth Semester.  During the final semester of the MFA, students build on the collaborative theatre-making of the first two years and develop a full-length devised performance work.  These works - one or two per semester - have a faculty advisor but are independently led.  This is an opportunity to begin to play with the possibilities of a performance that unfolds over 75 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes.  The thesis performances are presented as a mini-festival of original works for the general public.  During the semester students also make shorter works in collaboration with visual artists.  Students also decide betweeen one of two projects: an environmental theatre work or a project with a community organization.  There will be a weekly seminar to discuss the thesis work, culminating in a paper meant for a Howlround-like reader about the devised performance process.