Graduate Programs
The John Wells Directing Fellowship

The John Wells Directing Program is a three-year, graduate Directing MFA fellowship. It is designed for directors who have been working in the field for a minimum of three years, and now wish to expand, deepen and hone their directing skills while joining a think tank to envision the future of theater.

Wells Fellows are creative, compassionate, visionary leaders who are dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion in all they do. Encouraged to think critically and adventurously about their work in a generative environment, Wells Fellows are known to dream big, challenge, innovate, clearly communicate, implement and take action. The program admits two highly motivated directors each year who demonstrate the ability and drive to articulate their own vision for theater in the twenty-first century… and beyond.


A rigorous, imaginative, reflexive, and confidence-building directing program, Wells Fellows deepen and hone directing skills and technique inside a variety of studio classes, participatory workshops, productions, and with critical feedback. Through the study of art movements, text analysis, theory, history, classic plays, exposure to new technologies, and participation in a variety of new work development initiatives, Fellows gain an understanding of the formal structures of directing, theater’s intersectionality with other art forms, and the courage to experiment through rigorous practice. As theater boundaries continue to expand, it is crucial for directors to develop the imagination, tools, vocabulary, flexibility, and vision to actively investigate contemporary questions about theater, envision its future and thrive in this new environment.

The curriculum includes two unique courses, “Digital Narratives,” and “MFA Director’s Lab”.

Digital Narratives is an innovative class that integrates video, technology and new media into theater in a laboratory environment. Working collaboratively across disciplines, 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 the curriculum.

MFA Director’s Lab is a 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 socially engaged art, post-internet creative strategies, locative media, devising, gaming, VR, and transmedia storytelling. The Lab provides collaborative opportunities to work across disciplines with other departments in the University and with the greater community.

The John Wells Directing Program also includes new play development, opera, the study of theater theory, theater history, dramaturgy, and design classes, as well as electives from departments across the University. During their time at CMU, Wells Fellows direct a minimum of four productions, progressing from smaller projects to larger productions and finally to a fully supported MFA thesis production. In the second and third-year productions, Fellows work with students from Acting/Music Theater, Design, Dramaturgy and Production Technology and Management. All productions are open to members of the CMU community, as well as the general public.

Recent Visiting Artists

  • Liesl Tommy (Director)
  • Daniel Banks (DNAWorks)
  • Nia Witherspoon (Multi-Disciplinary Artist)
  • Kaneza Schaal (Theater Artist)
  • Anne Bogart (SITI Company)
  • Katie Pearl (Pearl D’Amour)
  • David Cromer (Director)
  • Richard Maxwell (NYC Players)
  • Tina Satter (Half Straddle)
  • Mark Russell (Under The Radar Festival, Public Theater)
  • Erin Boberg Doughton (Portland Institute For Contemporary Art)
  • Jay Wegman (Abrons Arts Center)
  • Paige Evans (LCT3)
  • Kate Valk (The Wooster Group)
  • Erik Ehn (Playwright)
  • Linda S. Chapman (New York Theatre Workshop)
  • Annie Dorsen (Director)
  • John Collins (Elevator Repair Service)
  • Leigh Silverman (Director)
  • Shawn Sides (Rude Mechanicals)
  • John Jesurun (Writer, Director, Multi-Media Artist)


The third year of the Program offers the Fellows the opportunity to spend one semester outside of the University. This semester allows the Fellows to assist a recognized director in the field, to create a broader network of contacts, and, when possible, to “observe” John Wells in production on a project.

Past observership opportunities include: the USA series Animal Kingdom on location in LA, observing 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, 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 Lisa Peterson, Desdemona Chiang, Lila Neugebauer, The Wooster Group, 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.

Mentorship Program

As they approach graduation, each third-year graduate student is partnered with two mentors who agree to guide them for at least one year post-graduation.

Recent mentors have included industry leaders Sheldon Epps, Bill Rauch, Mark Russell, Marc Masterson, and Mead Hunter, among others.

Unique Platforms

All School of Drama students have to opportunities to participate in the following:

Dance/Light is a performance opportunity for students across all disciplines to collaborate in the creation of original dance and movement pieces.

A Festival of Independent Student Work: Playground is the annual, School of Drama, three-day performance festival showcasing independent, student-produced work across multiple disciplines.

A collaboration with Pittsburgh Opera, CMU’s School of Music and the John Wells Fellowship in Directing, Co-Opera is dedicated to the development and showcasing of new opera.

The Visiting Artists Program invites distinguished national and international guests to campus to work with students across all disciplines. When conditions warrant, Visiting Artists may join us via virtual online platforms.

The School of Drama Showcase presentations in New York and Los Angeles are designed to give graduating students from all disciplines the opportunity to meet with and present work to leading arts and entertainment professionals. When conditions warrant, this Showcase may be augmented by virtual online networking events.

Working collaboratively across disciplines, Fellows in the John Wells Directing Program investigate innovative approaches to contemporary theater, foster creative ways of storytelling and communication, and strengthen their ability to articulate artistic goals.


The John Wells Fellowship Curriculum


Daniel Banks

Gab Cody

Will Davis

Kaja Dunn

Adil Mansoor

Melissa Martin

Paul Peers

Kim Weild

Andy Wolk

News & Alumni

Your Future

Graduates from The John Wells Directing Program move into the profession with a broad understanding of theatrical practice and a sense of where their own work sits within the larger traditions of theater making. Graduates emerge as well rounded leaders and collaborative artists, able to articulate their individual artistic aspirations.

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.

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