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MFA in Theatre: Acting Concentration

It is art that inspires us, and art we aspire to create.  We are pragmatic idealists.  We reach for the possibilities of the art form as they have come to us through the great writers, the great actors, and the great teachers.  We do so through practice:  personal practice, production practice, and practice within the profession.  Art and practice depend upon each other.  We cannot grow in the art without work in the business, but neither do we tend to survive in the business without a vision of the art.  In the UT MFA program, we provide tools for a life dedicated to practice, to self-knowledge and empathy for others, to knowledge of human nature and experience, to understanding the power and importance of story-telling and the life-illuminating – indeed the life-shaping – possibilities of the greatest stories.  Over the long term, a vision of the art, practice, and deep faith in the value of what one is doing are what sustains us. They help us to land the job and to find a way against the odds. 

Jed Diamond, Head of Acting

In the MFA in Theatre: Acting program at UT, we seek to identify artists who have a profound will to act, and the imagination, intelligence, courage, voice, and body necessary to succeed.  We are interested in skill so deeply accomplished that it can become free.  Such skill is a life practice.  Our program is best understood as a rigorous apprenticeship to a lifetime of endeavor.  It provides a foundation for artistry.  It is focused on a core aesthetic of American realistic acting, on the great classical sources of our contemporary traditions, and on practice.  It includes strong components of acting for film, and of workshops with guest artists.  And the Clarence Brown Theatre season is carefully chosen to serve our training programs as well as the East Tennessee community.

Our training has six core themes:  fostering the individual artist, skill in use of the dramatic text, skill in use of the self, skill in artistic collaboration, professionalism, and employment.

1) Fostering the individual artist:  We provide an environment and training that are intended to elicit and guide the individual creative spirit.  We want actors to discover their own abilities and to gain command over them with freedom and consistency.  We create an environment of support, respect, and inspiration for the artist.  As a faculty of artists, we do so first by example.  We offer a clear curriculum that reflects our own pursuits.  We uphold high standards of behavior and endeavor.  We place emphasis upon practice, practice, practice.  And the integration of our programs with the Clarence Brown Theatre provides a professional context for experience, chances to work alongside skilled professionals, contacts in the national profession, and excellent facilities and staff support.

We invite eight actors to enter the MFA program every other year.  With 10 faculty members contributing to the acting area, each actor is assured in-depth attention to his/her work throughout the three years of training.  When there is a first and third year in residence, there are a maximum of 16 actors in the program.  Third year actors welcome and guide the first year, while first year actors provide new collaborators and energy for the third year.  In alternate years, there is only the second year ensemble of 8 in residence, at work with the full faculty.  No one gets lost or hides in the crowd as sometimes happens in larger programs, and we work to provide each actor with challenging production opportunities in the CBT season. If you are selected to join the program, we will help you to cultivate your abilities, to address challenges, and to develop strong tools to realize your full potential.

2) Skill in use of the text:   The great writers and the great actors define the possibilities of our art form, revealing and expanding our conception of human experience and of ourselves.  There is no substitute for encountering the Greeks, Shakespeare, Strindberg, Ibsen, Chekhov, Wilde, Miller, Williams, Albee, Stoppard, Kushner, and others.  They inspire us to reach beyond ourselves, to become a part of something larger.  A sustained opportunity to work in their tutelage is rare and precious in the course of a career, whether or not the actor ends up working primarily on stage or in film and television.  An actor who learns to interpret great texts with imagination and exactitude will have means to approach any tale in any medium.

Our primary emphasis is upon American realistic acting, with a vocabulary of craft derived from Stanislavski.  There are many approaches to acting, but in the limited time frame of the training, we want to offer actors a clear way of working in a primary aesthetic that will serve as a basis from which to choose their own path forward, and that is practical in the profession.  We work with great texts in the training studio throughout the three years.  And CBT productions offer experience with a variety of material from the classical to the popular, putting the studio work into professional practice.  To have a look at recent CBT seasons, go to, and follow the link to “Archive.”  MFA actors play roles in nearly all CBT productions.

3) Skill in use of the self:  The art of the actor is to illuminate the human condition through the medium of self.  Simply put, the actor needs to be expressively available to the play and to the moment, while in front of others.  A lot of our focus is upon helping the actor to get free of anything that constricts or suppresses him/her in a moment of life before an audience.  At the same time, the actor must be able to direct this freedom into precise choices from a text that reveal character and serve an overall production.  A hallmark of good acting is the unison of spontaneity and practiced precision.  Our training engages a dialectic between freedom and form: cultivating freedom that can be directed into precise forms, and practicing forms that cultivate freedom.  This practice involves the actor’s whole self, but the way in is largely physical, through the actor’s body.  Our program is very physical.

4) Skill in collaboration:  The actor’s art is fundamentally collaborative.  We value skill in collaboration – within the graduate ensemble, with faculty, and with all the designers, directors, production, and administrative staff that compose our community, or visit to work with us.  Through the international program we also collaborate with artists of other cultures, in other languages.

5) Professionalism:  Professional behavior is essential to good collaboration, and to employment.  We maintain high standards of professional behavior in the training program and the CBT.  Our guest and resident artists and our faculty model this behavior, and our MFA actors are expected to model it to undergraduates and guests.

6) Employment:  We seek actors who are going to work, and who go after it.  Our faculty and guest artists provide contacts in the national profession.  We provide access to summer employment opportunities by bringing artistic directors from major festivals to campus to hold auditions, and we send taped auditions out also. MFA actors have recently enjoyed summer employment at Utah Shakespearean Festival, Great River Shakespeare Festival, and Chautauqua Shakespeare Festival.

In the final term, we present a showcase in New York in association with other before leading industry professionals.  For more information see the pages on Showcase on this website.  Recent graduates enjoy representation at Abrams Artists Agency, Don Buchwald and Associates, Dulcina Eisen Associates, Henderson Hogan Agency, and other highly regarded agencies.  Credits of UT MFA graduates in theatre, film, and television include:  The King and I at Lincoln Center; Here Lies Love at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre; How to Get Away with Murder on ABC; Weeds on Showtime; Law and Order on NBC; SAG and independent feature films; the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Playmaker’s Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC; The Acting Company, New York; Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.; The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; The Asolo Theatre, Sarasota, Florida; Fiasco Theatre, NY, NY; Pioneer Stages, Salt Lake City, Utah; Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana; Portland Stage, Portland, Maine, and so on.

In sum, our program will offer you:

  • A vision of mastery to inspire the lifelong endeavor of the artist
  • A way of working that enables you to bring yourself fully to the work, and to transform self into character as written
  • A rigorous approach to dramatic texts, and to developing the actor’s essential resources:  breath, voice, speech, movement, freedom of impulse and emotion, courage to stand openly before others in extraordinary experience
  • A solid body of experience, including multiple opportunities to work in The Clarence Brown Theatre with professional actors, directors, and designers, while earning membership in Actors’ Equity Association
  • A strong foundation in the traditions of American realistic acting
  • Experience of other performance modes and aesthetics
  • A working knowledge of the history, traditions, and forms of the art
  • An understanding of the vital powers of the art within the community, the nation, and other cultures
  • Experience and guidance in effective collaboration
  • An introduction to the profession