Graduate Programs
The John Wells Directing Fellowship

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.

Curriculum

The John Wells Graduate Directing Program provides Fellows with the opportunity to pursue both rigorous, classical training, new technologies, and experimental approaches to contemporary performance. As the boundaries of performance and theater continue to expand, it is critical that directors develop 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, technology 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 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 Graduate Directing Program also includes the study of theater 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 Theater, Design, Dramaturgy and Production Technology and Management. Final MFA Thesis productions are presented as part of the School of Drama’s Subscription Series.

Recent Visiting Artists


  • Diane Rodriguez (Associate Artistic Director at Center Theatre Group)
  • Anne Bogart (Siti Company)
  • Richard Maxwell (NYC Players)
  • 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

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 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 Neal LaBute, 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.

Unique Platforms


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


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

PLAYGROUND
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.

VISITING ARTISTS PROGRAM
The Visiting Artists Program brings distinguished national and international guests to campus to work with students across all disciplines.

SHOWCASE
The School of Drama Showcase presentations in Pittsburgh, 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.

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.

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The John Wells Fellowship Curriculum

Faculty

Caden Manson


About Caden Manson


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, curator of the annual Special Effects Performance Festival in NYC and the editor in chief of contemporaryperformance.com.

Manson 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 Festival d’Automne à Paris, Theater der Welt, Wiener Festwochen, Hebbel am Ufer, Kaai Theater, Usine C, Sommerszene, PS122, the Kitchen, and many others. Manson has lectured and shown in Austria, Germany, Turkey, 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.

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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