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Education: John Wells MFA Directing Program @ Carnegie Mellon University

Education: John Wells MFA Directing Program @ Carnegie Mellon University

The School of Drama John Wells Directing Program is a three-year graduate directing MFA. It is designed for directors who wish to expand and develop their skills and join a think tank to envision the future of theater and contemporary performance.

The John Wells Directing Fellows are encouraged to think critically and adventurously about their work in a generative environment. The program admits two highly motivated directors as John Wells Fellows each year who demonstrate the ability and drive to articulate their own vision for the theater. 
 Directing skills are honed in workshops and performances, as well as through theory, history, and studio classes.

The John Wells Graduate Directing Program provides Fellows with the opportunity to pursue both rigorous, classical training and experimental approaches to contemporary media. As the boundaries of theater continue to expand, it is critical that directors be provided with the tools, vocabulary and vision to not only thrive in this new environment but to envision its future. The program includes “Future Stages,” and “MFA Director’s Lab”.

Future Stages is an innovative class that integrates video and new media into theater in a laboratory environment.  Working collaboratively across disciplines, John Wells Fellows investigate innovative approaches to contemporary theater, foster creative ways of storytelling and communication, and strengthen their ability to articulate artistic goals. Communication with collaborators and integration of design are considered critical tools for all directors and design classes are emphasized in our curriculum.

MFA Director’s Lab is a core curriculum, program-long modular laboratory focused on the future of performance, exposing directors to the disciplines and tools they need to create contemporary and relevant work in the field of theater and performance. Conducted over the entirety of the program residency, the course investigates rotating topics with semester long studies in Devised Creation, Technology-Driven Work, Locative Media, Social Practice, Gaming, and Object Theater. The lab provides collaborative opportunities to work across disciplines with other departments in the University and with the greater community.

Caden Manson is the graduate directing option coordinator of The John Wells Directing Program; the artistic director of New York-based, new media performance ensemble Big Art Group and the editor in chief of

Manson’s work blends high and low technology, marginal and mainstream culture, and blunt investigation to drive questions about contemporary experience. He has co-created, directed, set- and media-designed 20 Big Art Group productions over the last 15 years which have toured nationally and internationally to dozens of theaters and festivals such as Festival d’Automne à Paris, Theater der Welt, Wiener Festwochen, Hebbel am Ufer, Usine C, PS122, the Kitchen, Dance Theater Workshop, Sommerszene and many others. Manson has lectured and shown in Austria, Germany, NYC, Portland, Berlin, Singapore and Vietnam; has taught in Berlin, Rome, Paris, Montreal, NYC and Bern; and his ensemble has been co-produced by the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Hebbel Am Ufer, Rome’s La Vie de Festival, PS122 and the Wexner Center for The Arts. His writing has been published in PAJ, Theater Magazine and Theater der Zeit. He is a Pew Fellow, a Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellow, and a MacDowell Fellow.

The John Wells Graduate Directing Program also includes the study of theatre theory, history, dramaturgy, and design classes, as well as electives from departments across the University. A key component of the program: John Wells Fellows direct at least one production per semester, progressing from smaller projects to larger productions and finally to an MFA thesis production. In the second and third year productions, John Wells Fellows work with students from Acting/Music Theatre, DesignDramaturgy and Production Technology and Management. Final MFA Thesis productions are presented as part of the School of Drama’s Subscription Series.

Additionally, through the Visiting Artists Program, nationally and internationally recognized guest directors and performers visit the school to discuss and give feedback on student productions.

Recent visiting artists have included:

Outstanding off-campus opportunities

The third year of the program offers the student the opportunity to spend one semester outside of the university. This semester away allows the student to assist a recognized director in the field, to create a broader network of contacts, and, most importantly, to “observe” a John Wells project in production. Recent opportunities for third year graduate directors generously offered by John Wells included observing Wells direct the filming of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY with Meryl Streep on site in Oklahoma, observing Wells on the set of the Showtime television series SHAMELESS as he directed the second episode of the 2012 season, and being in the Writer’s Room during the development of an episode of SHAMELESS.

Other recent semester-away activities have included working as an assistant director to Neal LaBute, John Collins/Elevator Repair Service and others; and pursuing possible job opportunities for post-graduation. Graduate directors have also been able to ‘transfer’ their productions begun at CMU to professional venues post-graduation.

To Apply

All graduate applicants must submit the following materials by January 1st.

  • A graduate application form
  • A personal statement of your educational and professional aspiration which addresses why you are pursuing this line of study, what you hope to gain from graduate school, and your artistic influences, interests and professional goals.
  • Three letters of recommendation from people who are familiar with your work
  • Transcripts from previously attended educational institution(s)
  • $90 application fee (payable to Carnegie Mellon University)
  • For Dramatic Writing: one finished play or screenplay

Dick Block, Associate Head
School of Drama Graduate Admissions Coordinator
Purnell Center for the Arts Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890

All of the above application materials can be submitted in a single package or under separate cover.

Please do not submit any visual materials in advance. No unsolicited material will be returned.

Final applicants in The John Wells Directing Program will be invited to the School of Drama to meet the directing faculty and conduct a short scene rehearsal with actors. At that time directors will also be asked to provide more visual material and discuss specific productions at length.

For More Information:

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Caden Manson is Editor In Chief and Curator of Contemporary Performance Network and co-founder and artistic director of Big Art Group, a New York City performance company founded in 1999.
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