The John Wells Directing Program Get an Inside Look

The School of Drama John Wells Directing Program is a three-year graduate directing option. It is designed for directors who have at least three years of professional experience as a director and wish to expand and develop their skills.

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 each year who demonstrate the ability and drive to articulate their own vision for the theater. 
 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 as well as experimental approaches to contemporary media. As the boundaries of theater continue to expand, it is critical that directors be provided with the tools, vocabulary and vision to thrive in this new environment. The program includes “Future Stages,” 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.

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 and performers visit the school to discuss and give feedback on student productions.

Recent visiting artists have included:

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.


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