Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama was featured prominently in the Fall 2014 issue of Shady Ave magazine. The story, “Live and on Stage” by Mary Gilbert detailed the active theatre scene in Pittsburgh’s East End. Following is an excerpt from the article.
Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama
Now in its centennial year, the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama—the oldest degree-granting drama program in the United States—was recently ranked by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the best drama schools in the world.
Professor Peter Cooke, head of the prestigious program, attributes the school’s success to the combination of a supportive university hierarchy, an excellent faculty and staff, and high-achieving alumni.
“Our students are embedded in a conservatory setting, but have access to a research community that exposes them to a much wider world, and that makes a big difference,” Cooke says. “The faculty impact students in ways that change their lives, and these kids are doing remarkable things around the world.”
Unlike professional theater, which must be cognizant of the bottom line, the school selects its annual productions based on providing students with the best opportunities. Plays are called classes and treated as laboratories. And while the audience is welcome and appreciated, CMU is focused on educating its students. Always looking to broaden diversity, Cooke is especially excited about the production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, which kicks off the 2014 subscription series in October.
In addition to two theaters in the Purnell Center for the Arts on CMU’s Oakland campus, productions take place in the Purnell’s Wells Video Studio and in a warehouse in Point Breeze.
Competition for admission to the program is fierce. These budding creative artists must possess academic qualifications on par with students in other disciplines, as well as talent. Nearly 2,000 hopefuls this year applied for just 57 spots. But those who make it in and graduate benefit from a collaborative process that exposes them to every area of the dramatic arts.
The alumni have taken to heart the school’s mission to produce theater artists who will become the innovators and leaders of an ever-expanding performing arts profession. When the 2013 Tony Awards for best performances by an actor and actress in a musical were handed out, Billy Porter and Patina Miller were two of eight CMU alums to be named winners that night. Actors Ted Danson, Holly Hunter, Jack Klugman, Zachary Quinto, and Patrick Wilson are all CMU graduates, as are producer/directors Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues), John Wells (ER), and Paula Wagner (Mission Impossible series). Adding to that list are director Rob Marshall (the film Chicago), and designers Joe Stewart and John Shaffner (The Big Bang Theory).
“In a business where it’s hard to get doors opened, CMU opens doors,” Cooke says.