MFA Design Program

scenic design for Come back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean by MFA student Andrew Mannion


Our goal is to train scenic, costume, and lighting designers in the performing arts to become professional visual artists of the highest caliber.  We hope to aid in developing artists who can invent personal, unique, and enriching solutions to the complex artistic challenges that manifest themselves in the dramatic exploration of complex human emotions, ideas, and relationships.  We want these artists to be conscious (socially, intellectually, and emotionally) of the impact of their choices in representing historically, racially, ethnically, sexually, and socio-economically diverse populations as well as in affecting a diverse audience in a timely and relevant way.  We believe that the performing arts have a unique ability--and responsibility--to represent and examine such diverse cultures and ideas. A spirit of integrity, rigor, excellence, and collaboration is essential for such an artist to be effective.

We aim to develop skills necessary for students to effectively communicate (both socially and visually) with their collaborators and with their audiences.  These skills might include: text analysis, dramaturgy, drawing, drafting, painting, draping, the manipulation of lighting to control visual focus and the ability to transform two-dimensional visual ideas into three-dimensional forms.   We also want each student to develop a strategy for the life-long process of learning about materials and equipment as well as the historical context of art, architecture, literature, design, philosophy, psychology etc…  By developing these tools in combination with his or her personal vision, the graduate in design will be able to coherently respond to textual, musical, digital, physical or non-verbal programs by contributing to the creation of an environmental ‘vessel’ (including scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound) which supports such a performance by helping to ‘carry’ it forward.

Students entering the program may have prepared for graduate study as an undergraduate Drama major, in a related field such as Art, Architecture, English, or Fashion, or even with backgrounds seemingly unconnected to the arts.  In any case, the student is expected to have a reasonable amount of exposure to the field of theatre, opera and/or dance and the passion to pursue a greater understanding of these fields locally, nationally, and/or internationally.

The program boasts a high faculty-to-student ratio, and the course of study, which includes multiple productions, emphasizes close interaction between students, staff and faculty.  In addition to the design faculty, the School employs professional production-staff members in our costume and scene shops, all of whom provide valuable insight, experience, and guidance working with students.

Program of Study

The MFA program is three years in length.  The first year is devoted primarily to studio courses and skill building, while realized production designs become a focus of the second and third years. In the third year students complete a ten-week professional internship before returning to the School of Drama for two quarters with a final thesis project. The program of study is intended to give the student the skills needed to work productively in his or her area of interest and to help the student develop his or her own individual artistic vision. The Design Studio class is a core class taken each quarter by directors and design students in all disciplines where students are asked to create designs for works for the stage.  Other studio and skills courses develop proficiency.  Each course of study also requires students to work in the other design disciplines.  In addition, professional designers and/or directors working in Seattle are often invited to attend classes and offer critiques or discuss their work, and students regularly assist faculty on outside projects.

Scenic Design: Through a rigorous succession of studio assignments and realized production work, students in scenic design are expected to develop proficiency of expression via drawing and painting, drafting, model building, scene painting, and a working knowledge of scenic and property construction. Production work is emphasized in the second and third year of residency.

Costume Design: This course of study emphasizes the aesthetic as well as intellectual analysis of theatrical or operatic texts and how one turns these impulses into three-dimensional, unified designs.  Students will have intensive exposure to this process as they are mentored through the production of their designs as well as through classes, which encompass design, construction, graphic skills, and history. Production work in Costume design is emphasized in the second and third year of residency.

Lighting Design: The lighting design program focuses on dramaturgical understanding, communication with collaborators, and a rigorous understanding of a lighting design process.  The lighting curriculum emphasizes the development of both theoretical/thinking and practical/compositional skills.  Production work in lighting may occur in the first year, but is emphasized in second and third years, and often includes Dance.

Facilities: Students work on a variety of stages at the School of Drama, including proscenium, thrust, arena and black box. The costume shop, scene shop, electrics shop, design studio and light lab are well-equipped and staffed by full-time professional production staff.