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MFA Scenic Design Concentration

“The mixing up of young actors and designers with first class professionals is manifestly the only right method of training future theatre artists.”   
– Clarence Brown

The scenic design program at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is a challenging, yet rewarding, program intended to prepare MFA candidates for a career in the professional world of Theatrical Design. We strive to identify and nourish the individuality and talent of all our students, and do not tolerate mediocrity. Here at UTK, we believe that superlative design lies less with impressive visuals and more with interesting and unique interpretations of the playscript. Therefore, a large portion of the training is focused on dramaturgical research and conceptual investigation. The student must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the source material and all its implications before they are allowed to proceed three-dimensionally.

A majority of the strengths in this program are centered in its connection to the professional world. The Clarence Brown Theatre is a LORT D venue, which hires outside professional artists in all training areas: sets, lights, costumes, sound, and projections; as well as actors and directors. This provides the students with unique access to a wide range of artists already established in the field. Another specific strength is the amount of design experience available to the student. Scenic Design candidates will realize at least three designs, possibly more, with budgets ranging from $2,500 to $18,000. They will also be required to assist both faculty and outside professional designers. The curriculum is flexible enough to be adapted to individual students’ strengths, weaknesses and personal interests. We encourage students with diverse backgrounds to join us, as our students not only learn from our faculty but from each other as well.

The opportunity to study abroad with notable international designers and to collaborate with the professional directors and designers at the Clarence Brown Theatre, make this one of the most unique training programs in the country. In the second year of study, the students will embark on an international journey of exploration involving master classes with some of the most influential designers in the profession. Here at home, the students will gain valuable insights on how to navigate a professional design career by meeting with professional designers and assistants during an intensive 5-day workshop in NYC. A range of other prominent artists and designers will be brought to UT during the 3-year program of study to connect with the design students through workshops, providing intensive learning opportunities and professional connections for the student.

This competitive 3-year program accepts 2 new students every other year. Two first year students will be on campus with two third year students. This allows for both creative exchange and an informal mentoring environment. In the second year of study there are only two graduate students, providing a favorable student to faculty ratio and giving the personal attention necessary during a design intensive year. Furthermore, in the second and third year, students will have teaching responsibilities.

This is an exciting and rigorous program specifically designed to place students into the profession by providing them with the tools they need to negotiate a successful design career and the portfolio of professional designs needed to attract interest.

Christopher Pickart
Head of Graduate Scenic Design

Photos:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2015, Peter and the Starcatcher 2017, Violet 2016, Red 2013, Urinetown 2018, A Streetcar Named Desire 2009, The Who’s Tommy 2009. Photos by Kenton Yeager and Brynn Yeager.