The MFA Acting Program at the University of South Carolina provides comprehensive physical, vocal, and imaginative preparation for the professional actor working in theater or film. We seek curious, committed, and passionate actors of all backgrounds and abilities who are eager to collaborate, to step into the unknown, to work and play wholeheartedly, to transform themselves and their communities.
We believe in the transformative power of the actor as an 'athlete of the heart' and a poet of space and time, lending their body and voice to the stories of others, embodying the multitudes within us and amongst us. We believe the craft of acting finds its highest form when actors serve something greater than themselves--when their purpose is to serve the story, the audience, and the community.
The MFA Acting Program comprises three years of training for the professional actor working in theater or film. The program recruits a new cohort of 6-8 ensemble members every two years.
The training offers coursework in acting, movement, voice, improvisation and play, structural composition, dramatic imagination, and ensemble practice. Daily studio work undergirds performance projects developed alongside resident faculty and guest artists during all three years.
The faculty draws from multiple techniques in the service of preparing an actor who is alive and truthful in performance. Training approaches include the methods of Meisner, Stanislavsky, and Michael Chekhov; voice training draws from the work of Linklater, Rodenburg, Lessac, and Hart; movement training incorporates mask performance, Lecoq pedagogy, Viewpoints, dance, and the Alexander Technique.
In the first year, MFA Acting students undertake studies in acting, movement, voice, Alexander Technique, mask performance, ensemble collaboration, consent-based theater practice, improvisation, and the structural composition of performances. This foundational year focuses on freeing actors from excess habitual tensions, building an inclusive and generative ensemble practice, developing a shared creative and physical vocabulary, and cultivating each actor's capacity for playing truthfully and dynamically in a theatrical dimension.
The first year includes periodic performance labs where MFA actors present work-in-progress, as well as regular work on productions in the department season. Teaching assistantships include mentored assistance of introductory undergraduate acting classes, followed by independent teaching.
The second year expands the actor's range and transformative capacity through coursework in Acting for the Camera, Michael Chekhov's techniques for the creative actor, advanced movement and voice classes, and three public performances including a solo character project, a play in a heightened theatrical style (tragedy, physical comedy, musical theater, or Shakespeare), and a film project. Coursework in cultural performance perspectives informs each student's developing artistic vision and their proposal for a Thesis Project to be completed in Year 3.
There are opportunities for a Professional Internship in the summer of Year 2 or 3, enabling each MFA actor to work on an independent film production through our partnership with South Carolina Film Commission, or other theater internships of flexible duration tailored to each student’s career goals.
The third year is focused on building bridges to the local community and the professional worlds of theater and film. Coursework focuses on the Actor-Entrepreneur, the Actor in Community, and the development of a final Thesis Project in either theater or film. The goal is to prepare an actor capable of entering the profession through a wide range of access points: formal auditions, self-generated and self-produced projects, ensemble-created work, and/or community-based arts projects.
In the fall, the MFA Acting Ensemble produces, rehearses, and tours a play of their choosing to non-traditional theater spaces in the Columbia community. In the spring Thesis Project, actors develop and present either an original short film or one-act play in smaller ensembles. The Thesis project requires actors to select a story they are compelled to tell (from life or literature); to articulate their point of view as artists (why this story? for what audience? what form must the story take?); and to formulate a creative process, timeline and budget that serves their goals for the work, as well as a comprehensive written assessment of the project's outcomes. Presentation of the final project takes place in a Thesis Festival for local audiences and invited industry professionals.
Assistantships and Tuition Support
The MFA program offers teaching assistantships to each student, along with tuition support and a health insurance subsidy. Graduate students on assistantship become employees of the university and are mentored by resident faculty to develop their pedagogical methods and best practices.
A typical graduate student’s day includes teaching an undergraduate class in the morning, MFA courses and training in the afternoon, and rehearsal for performance labs or department productions in the evening.