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 theater and contemporary performance. 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 performance. As the boundaries of performance and 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 two unique courses, “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 emerging performance techniques and hybrid research, 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 Relational Practice, 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 contemporaryperformance.com.
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 PS122, the Kitchen, Dance Theater Workshop, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Theater der Welt, Wiener Festwochen, Hebbel am Ufer, Usine C, 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, Design, Dramaturgy 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, persenters, and performers visit the school to discuss and give feedback on student productions.
Recent visiting artists have included:
- Anne Bogart (Siti Company)
- Tina Satter (Half Stradle)
Mark Russell (Under The Radar Festival, Public Theater)
- Erin Boberg Doughton (Portland Institute For Contemporary Arts)
- Jay Wegman (Abrons Arts Center)
Paige Evans (Lincoln Center 3)
- Kate Valk (The Wooster Group)
- Erik Ehn
- Linda S. Chapman (New York Theater Workshop)
- Annie Dorsen
- John Collins (Elevator Repair Service)
- Leigh Silverman
- Shawn Sides (Rude Mechanicals)
- John Jesurun
- And more...
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.
Upon successful completion of this program, students will be able to:
- Confidently and professionally direct productions in many genres, with a special focus on those which use cross-disciplinary approaches.
- Develop productive collaborative relationships from directing, dramaturgical, designing, and acting perspectives.
- Convincingly articulate, justify, and (if necessary) defend their artistic choices.
- Demonstrate knowledge of influential artists in contemporary of theater, and discuss a range of issues that have informed the choices these artists have made.
- Show a familiarity with the classical and contemporary theatrical repertoire, and demonstrate a clear ability to analyze and interpret any script.