MFA Acting

About the Program

Rhinoceros, 2012

Rhinoceros, 2012

Thank you for your interest in the MFA Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Virginia.

Every two years the Department of Drama is pleased to invite eight talented actors to join our program and begin a two-year journey of concentrated, continuous study. Our approach to training offers an actor a range and depth of classroom and on-stage experience aimed at establishing and maintaining a fluid, integrated acting process. We value technique and seek to work with actors who are interested in building a strong vocal/physical foundation and have a self-motivated interest in making connections between courses. We believe an actor should be smart—our goal is to foster informed, articulate, and versatile artists through cultivating an advanced understanding of theater history, literature, and performance theory as tools for practical character research. We also believe an actor should be playful. Whether creating a new work, exploring a line of verse, or a realizing a director’s concept, we encourage actors to be imaginative and inventive.

Our actors practice theater as a collaborative art, looking for parallels to and connections with the work of playwrights, directors, dramaturges, and designers. Past collaborations have included workshops with actors and lighting designers (exploring light and storytelling), class sessions with costume designers (exploring movement and period styles), seminars with playwrights (contributing to script development) and partnerships with directors in the creation of devised works.

Rhinoceros, 2012

Rhinoceros, 2012

We ask our actors to consider who they are as artists–what guides an original and personal point of view in the world, and how one communicates this vision through the characters and compositions they create. We encourage an actor to produce original work vitally connected to community concerns. In addition, graduate students in the Department of Drama serve as teachers, mentors and role models to our undergraduate students. We believe this interaction with our undergraduates—especially the experience of teaching DRAM 2020 / Acting 1—is a profound means to examine, understand and articulate the acting process. It not only makes for a better actor, but also well prepares an actor to participate in talk-backs and lead workshops in a professional environment. The program offers an on-going integration between academic work and professional experience. Students will participate in new play development and/or productions at Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, VA ( and Heritage Theatre Festival, Charlottesville, VA (

Diversity of experience is encouraged through a balanced focus in both traditional and innovative practices. Our mission is to prepare advanced students to work in today’s theatre through providing excellent training and meaningful interaction with resident faculty and guest artists and fostering creative collaboration in course work and productions. Because our work is grounded in the idea that the arts are a vital component of society, we encourage artists and audiences to look to theatre as a means to engage, question, and seek truth. For inspiration in this endeavor, we remember one of Thomas Jefferson’s founding principles for the university: “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

The Training Sequence

Candidates beginning this program should expect to be in continuous residence from August 2014 through May 2016. The following is a sample of curricular components:

The training will begin late summer with a focus on foundational principles in acting. The purpose of this summer training is to create ensemble, explore and develop a common vocabulary, and prepare for the teaching of DRAM 2020 / Acting 1. In addition, this time provides an opportunity to acclimate yourself to the university and explore its wealth of resources.

The first year is devoted to foundational skills and practices. Course study will be offered in areas such as: Voice, Movement, Acting, Script Analysis, Mask, Musical Theatre, and Production/Performance (Department of Drama main stage season). The emphasis is on identifying principles such as truthfulness, simplicity, and freedom as well as developing performance strengths such as breath, sound production, speech, alignment, release, equilibrium, and impulse/action. Summer 2015 will include a professional experience with Heritage Theatre Festival. Additional professional experiences such as new play development /staged readings at Virginia Repertory Theatre may also be scheduled.

The second year focuses on the demands of technical mastery and transformation, with an emphasis on precision, power, and expressiveness. Course study will be offered in areas such as: Voice, Movement, Acting, Stage Combat, Devised Theatre, Acting for Film, and Audition Portfolio. Textual analysis and examination of various verse forms will be integrated with course study in areas such as: Period Styles and Shakespeare. Your professional experience will continue in partnership with the Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond, VA.

A thesis/ professional showcase is a program requirement. Past theses/professional showcases have been tailored to the individual actor and have included: an ensemble presentation (such as a traditional New York showcase), a performance role (documented through a DVD narrative), the development of an original piece, a community outreach project, and/or the creation of an audition reel/professional website. Whatever this final project may be, it should serve as a showcase of your work and calling card to the profession. Guidance in navigating the business of theatre with faculty, alumni, and guest artists further support a transition to the field and strengthen a system for professional networking.

Admission Process

Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in hand or show evidence of completing a degree prior to August 1, 2014. Our ideal candidate will have theatre credits beyond the undergraduate experience. Because our graduate students work alongside professionals at Heritage Theatre Festival and Virginia Repertory Theatre, we especially welcome applicants with professional theatre experience. Applicants should have an interest in teaching and show evidence of having the foundational skills, maturity and confidence needed to lead an undergraduate acting class.

The first step in the application process is an audition. You do not need to apply to the University of Virginia at this time. Following auditions a select number of final candidates will be invited to make formal application to U.Va. Those applicants will be required to submit GRE test scores to the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (a combined score of 1,000 or higher on the verbal and quantitative portions is desirable).

There are two ways you may audition for the program:

URTA: A Department of Drama representative will attend the URTA National Unified Auditions in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Although we cannot guarantee you will be called back for an interview at URTA, please feel free to contact us by email letting us know of your interest in the program and your URTA audition site. Send letters of interest to Colleen Kelly, Director, MFA Professional Actor Training Program at:

Private Audition: Private auditions may be scheduled in New York (January 25-January 28), Chicago (February 3-February 8) and in Charlottesville, VA (February 15). Audition/interviews are private, twenty-minute sessions with one or more faculty members. For the audition, please present two monologues—one classic and one contemporary. Singing is optional. Total time should be under five minutes. If asked, please be willing to “play” with these pieces. If you choose to audition in Charlottesville, you will have an opportunity to tour the Drama Department and participate in warm-up sessions led by faculty. International students are welcome to contact Colleen Kelly ( about the possibility of arranging a Skype audition.

To request a private audition (a non-URTA audition) please complete the private audition request form. Before proceeding to this form, you should be prepared to:

  • choose audition location, date and time
  • enter personal contact information and education history
  • enter contact information for two references
  • upload three items:
  1. resume
  2. headshot
  3. statement of interest (100-500 words) explaining why you are seeking advanced training

Click on MFA Audition Request Form link below to continue.

MFA Audition Request Form


Quick Facts

The University
The University of Virginia founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson is consistently the top-ranked public university in the nation. It is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently ranked by Frommer’s Cities Ranked and Rated as the best place to live in America. Charlottesville is located in the rolling hills of central Virginia 100 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

The Department
The Department of Drama offers a full-time professionally active faculty supplemented with visiting guest artists. In theory and practice, course work and production experiences are combined to create an integrated training curriculum. Diversity of experience is encouraged through a balanced focus in both traditional and innovative practices.

Production Season
We produce 4-6 mainstage productions in each academic year in three theatres: The Culbreth Theatre (520 seat proscenium), the Helms Theatre (200 seat black box) and the Ruth Caplin Theatre (300 seat thrust). We also produce a series of short plays in our lab season in the Helms. The Department of Drama is the summer home of Heritage Theatre Festival, a professional repertory theatre.


  • 20 Faculty
  • 6 Staff

The Graduate Program is usually comprised of:

  • 2 Lighting Designers
  • 2 Scenic Designers
  • 3 Costume Designers
  • 4 Technical Directors
  • 8 Actors

There are also 80-100 undergraduate Drama majors and Drama and/or Dance minors.

Financial Package
Graduate students in the 2011-2014 cycle received the following financial package:
• annual full tuition remission for in-state and out-of-state students

  •  $18,000 annual 9 month Graduate Teaching Assistantship
  • annual health insurance coverage subsidy

As part of this program, all students will be expected to work an equivalent of 20 hours per week each semester. Assistantship assignments are specific to each program.