Graduate Programs
Dramatic Writing

Combining playwriting, screenwriting, and writing for television, the Dramatic Writing MFA at Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama prepares you to immediately enter the field.

The Dramatic Writing MFA is focused on collaboration, intellectual vision, and experimentation. Students receive constant feedback through playwriting and screenwriting workshops, along with critiques from distinguished guest faculty and guest artists.

Central to the curriculum is Theater Lab, in which writers, directors, and actors from across the School of Drama collaborate throughout the year on new work. New plays by graduate playwrights receive workshop productions, performed by the School of Drama's acclaimed student actors.Dramatic writing MFA candidates may also have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in playwriting or screenwriting. The Sloan/CMU Script Competition awards $35,000 in prizes to current CMU students each year for original screenplays and TV pilots. Both during and after their time at CMU, writers have access to an established framework of professional connections.

Recognizing that we practice a marginalized art form, we make time to interrogate the state of the contemporary play and by what brave and daring acts we can contribute to its ascension. We arecommitted to an inclusive theater that resists bigotry and oppression.

The program is headed by Rob Handel, an alumnus of New Dramatists and 13P. Recent productions of his plays and opera libretti include the Prototype Festival at HERE, New York Stage and Film, Long Wharf, Target Margin, Tête à Tête (London), Theatre Vertigo (Portland, OR), Rorschach Theatre (DC), Just Theater/Shotgun Players (Berkeley), and Theatre Battery (Kent, WA). He has been playwright in residence at the Royal Court, Donmar Warehouse, O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Soho Rep, Portland Center Stage, and in The Civilians R&D Group.

Visiting faculty have included Clare Barron, Sheila Callaghan, Kia Corthron, Erin Courtney, Kristoffer Diaz, Madeleine George, Lucas Hnath, Aurorae Khoo, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Richard Nelson, J.T. Rogers, Andrew P. Saito, Andrea Thome, Francine Volpe, Anne Washburn, and Mac Wellman.

Curriculum

Central to the curriculum is Theater Lab, in which writers, directors, and actors from across the School of Drama collaborate throughout the year on new work. New plays by graduate playwrights receive full productions, performed by the School of Drama's acclaimed student actors.

All dramatic writing MFA candidates have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in playwriting or screenwriting. The Sloan/CMU Script Competition awards $35,000 in prizes to current CMU students each year for original screenplays and TV pilots. Both during and after their time at CMU, writers have access to an established framework of professional connections.

All dramatic writing MFA candidates have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in playwriting or screenwriting.

For more than two decades, the Shubert Foundation has underwritten Dramatic Writing scholarships at Carnegie Mellon University. The program has longstanding ties to Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, which is devoted to the production and commissioning of new plays. There are many possibilities for collaboration with the new-media initiatives taking place across Carnegie Mellon University, which is recognized as a world leader in arts and technology.

Opportunities

Dramatic Writing MFA candidates compete in the Sloan Script Competition. The program is one of only six leading institutions chosen to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School Awards, which awards $35,000 in total prize money annually to two students within the Dramatic Writing program.

Students in the program are encouraged to pursue professional and academic play development opportunities while enrolled in the MFA program. Current and recent students have been recognized by the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwright Competition; Theater Masters; the WomanWorks residency at the University of Tulsa; the Mid-America Theatre Conference; the Great Plains Theatre Conference; the Last Frontier Theatre Conference; Cinequest Film Festival Short Screenwriting Contest; and been invited to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival's national conference to receive the Lorraine Hansberry Award, the John Cauble Award, the Mark Twain Prize, and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award. Plays by current and recent students have been published by Samuel French, Vintage Books, Routledge, and Applause Books.

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 on 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 all graduating students from all disciplines the opportunity to meet with and present work to leading arts and entertainment professionals.

The program is one of only six leading institutions chosen to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School Awards, which awards $35,000 in total prize money annually to two students within the Dramatic Writing program.

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Dramatic Writing Curriculum

Faculty

Rob Handel


News & Alumni

Your Future


The Dramatic Writing Option prepares writers to enter the highly competitive field of professional writing, where the expectation is that they will be able to move with assurance and flexibility between writing for the stage, film and television.

A focus on the realities of living as a professional writer is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this program. The School of Drama is interested in producing writers who will ultimately see their work produced.

Upon graduating, MFA students benefit from the strong support of School of Drama alumni in the field, including Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), Stephen Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law), and John Wells (ER, Third Watch, Shameless).

Recent alumni include Joshua Harmon '10, author of BAD JEWS (Roundabout) and SIGNIFICANT OTHERS (Broadway). Liza Birkenmeier '12 is a member of the Joseph Papp Public Theater's Emerging Writers Group, a Playwrights Realm fellow, a New Georges Affiliated Artist, an alumna of the Ars Nova Play Group, and a finalist for the Philip Seymour Hoffman Relentless Award. THE SUBJECT by Carolyn Kras '10 received coordinated readings around the world in October 2016 to raise awareness of sexual assault. Savannah Reich '15 and Annie Pulsipher '17 were honored by the Tribeca Film Institute with the Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize.

Recent alumni also include Stephen Webb '15 (Vintage Books' PLAYS FOR THREE), Kate Mickere '13 (Actors Theatre of Louisville Ten-Minute Play Contest winner), RN Healey '12 (Brave New World Rep's NUN$), Dan O'Neil (BEAR SLAYER at Ars Nova and THE BLACK CROOK at Abrons Arts Center), Marque Franklin-Williams ‘09 (Syfy’s WAREHOUSE 13), France-Luce Benson ‘08 (Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Commission), John-Paul Nickel ‘08 (Amazon's JUST ADD MAGIC), Chris Dimond ‘07 (Jonathan Larson Award, Lorenz Hart Award), and James McManus ‘06 (New Dramatists/Cornerstone Theatre Company/Mellon Foundation commission, Helen Merrill Award).

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Script Competition for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at Carnegie Mellon University


The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama is one of six institutions chosen to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School Awards, which presents $35,000 in prizes annually to current students in the Dramatic Writing program at CMU for their original screenplays or television pilots.

The competition encourages the MFA candidates to write scripts that will further the public understanding of science and technology. The Sloan Foundation's goal is to see the resulting scriptsinto commercial production at major studios and networks. To that end, it maintains development programs with the Tribeca, Sundance, and Hamptons film festivals.


Recent prizewinning scripts from the CMU/Sloan Script Competition:

2017
"Sheepish"
Daniel Hirsch
Dr. Pete Woolinsky studies so-called “gay sheep.” More accurately, his research focuses on hormonal processes that correlate with male-oriented breeding behavior and physiological differentiation in domesticated rams. However, accuracy gets thrown out the window when drunk college kids kidnap one of his sheep subjects and a media frenzy ensues. The subsequent public backlash to Pete’s research unites PETA, conservative talk radio hosts, LGBTQ bloggers, and even members of his own family. Inspired by true events, Sheepish tells a story about the delicate business of studying sexuality in a politically rambunctious age.

"Percy Spencer and the Radarange"
Jess Honovich
The true story of a strong headed engineer whose unrelenting quest for knowledge leads him to a discovery that will reinvent the American kitchen.

"The Buzzbots
Whitney Rowland
To be redeemed from a disaster of her own making, a fiercely-focused roboticist must lead a floundering kids' robotics team to victory.

2016
"The Glowing Gene"
Annie Pulsipher
Jaanvi was born from the union of two worlds, India and England, and two religions, Christian and Jainist. But upon the sudden death of her mother to dengue fever, Jaanvi's minister father removes her to England, cutting her off from her vibrant childhood. When Jaanvi, an insect geneticist, gets the chance to return to India heading a mosquito eradication effort, will she be able to come to terms with her identity and restore the balance in her broken family? (THE GLOWING GENE also won the 2017 Tribeca Film Institute-Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize.)

"Egghead Genius"
Mora V. Harris
Rudi Mandl, a balding dishwasher with broken English and a passion for physics, is determined for his theory to be heard, no matter how bad he is at expressing himself. When he finally gets his equations into the hands of his hero, Albert Einstein, Rudi discovers that questions of the heart may not have simple solutions.

"Traitorous" (pilot)
Daniel Hirsch
When Robert, a young physicist, arrives in Silicon Valley in 1956, the main output from this corner of California is apricots not Apples and few have even heard the word silicon. But all that is about to change. Based on the life of tech pioneer Robert Noyce, Traitorous depicts the birth of a new industry, the tumultuous transformation of a community, and the break-ups and betrayals that preceded one of the 20th Century’s most important technological breakthroughs: the microchip.

2015
"The Pill"
Dan Giles
As a visionary but conflicted chemist completes his masterpiece— the birth control pill— his scientist daughter must come to terms with her idol’s failures if she wants to follow in his footsteps.

"The River Gods"
Levi Jelks
Lionus Walker is a young Black scientist who, with the help of a boat and a local medicine man, makes a journey along the Mississippi River to take a leprosy patient to Carville, Louisiana. Fleeing the dangerous man hunting him, Lionus discovers that the waters of Ol’ Blue do not offer freedom from the past, but instead, provides a direct roadway to it. But is it possible for the old tub to go even farther? Possibly to Harvard?

"Colossus" (miniseries pilot)
Eugenie Carabatsos
A working-class engineer is recruited by a Top Secret British Intelligence unit at the onset of World War II. Thrust into the world of intelligence operations, he overcomes class prejudice and resistance to his research, as he designs the world’s first programmable electronic computer, helping to ensure allied victory. Based on the true story of Tommy Flowers, the forgotten father of the computer.

"Arkansas Auguries" (pilot)
Julie Jigour
When thousands of blackbirds fall dead from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas, an ornithologist is called to return to her hometown, where she must confront the tragedy in her past.

2014
"Antarctica" (pilot)
Julie Jigour
A biologist takes a post at a research station in Antarctica to investigate the mysterious death of her former lover.

"Deep Sea Divers of 1929"
Savannah Reich
After being disinherited by his father, a fun-loving socialite sinks the remainder of his fortune into building the very first deep-sea submarine, and in the process proves to a group of passionate scientists and to himself that he is worth more than the sum of his bank account. (DEEP SEA DIVERS OF 1929 also won the 2015 Tribeca Film Institute-Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize)

"Finding Tom Harvey"
Josh Ginsburg
A young journalist, an old pathologist and Einstein's brain travel in a blue Skylark across America to put an end to one of science's biggest mysteries— but can they end a witch hunt that has raged for four decades?

"Science Fair The Musical"
Tracy Held Potter
Katie is so excited about starting her senior year and saving the world that she bursts into song. However, when her parents ban electricity because it's bad for the environment and her best friend gets a different partner for the science fair, her only hope for winning the science fair— and getting a hot veggie burger— is a willingness to compromise and the possibility that her biomethane generator can turn plants and poop into sustainable energy.

2013
"Ex-Closure"
Laci Corridor
A lovelorn biologist decides that relationships should be approached as practically as science, but when he heads to Guam to further his research, he learns that love is as unpredictable and invasive as the brown tree snakes he studies.

"Breath of Life"
Megan Morrison
Determined to be an advocate for infants and mothers in the 1950s, Dr. Mary Ellen Avery will stop at nothing to save premature infants who are unable to breathe. When social and medical conventions threaten to keep her from the answer, Dr. Avery must embrace the very traits that make her an outcast to force awareness of the infants’ plight onto the worldwide community.

2012
"Capturing the Stars"
Kate Mickere
Despite being four months pregnant, Mina has fled her abusive husband and must accept a position as a maid in the home of a prominent astronomer. When her employer famously declares that his maid can do better work than the men at the Harvard College Observatory, Mina rises to the challenge. Based on a true story.

"To Boldly Go"
Peter J. Roth
Formerly a hotshot NASA engineer, Graham Frederick has found his career in the toilet, literally. After losing a Mars probe, the only project available for him is to help design the commode for next space vehicle. How hard could it be to go to the bathroom in space? Graham quickly learns that at 180 miles up and moving at 17,000 miles an hour, a toilet isn’t just a toilet and nothing about space travel is mundane.

2011
"Fault Zone"
Liz Ellison
Prof. Aaron Christie has devoted his career to developing an early warning system for Los Angeles earthquakes. When his wife abandons him and their young son Eddie, Aaron must recover from a disaster he did not predict, and come to terms with the hazards he may not be able to protect Eddie from.

"How I Learned to Love Ketchup"
Dan O’Neil
Bedazzled by the science of food (and that of human relations), a chemist is seduced into working as a chef at a failing restaurant.

"Red Hot Scoville"
Andrew Stamper
The spicy true story of Wilbur Scoville and how he invented a scale for measuring the heat of hot peppers.

2010
"Magnetic"
Carolyn Kras
William Gilbert, a brilliant scientist who discovers the earth is a magnet, is ordered to save Queen Elizabeth I from a mysterious illness. As he uncovers her personal secrets, an intense but dangerous attraction develops between them, and any misstep could cost him his life.

"Dear Radioactive One"
Dan O'Neil
When both his parents died, Paul’s grandfather sent him a letter written by physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Now a crashing and burning rock star, he returns to his grandparents’ house to confront allthat was left unsaid.

Sloan Science & Film
The Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize

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