The Dramatic Writing MFA is built around continuous collaboration with the celebrated student actors, directors, and designers of the first, degree-granting drama conservatory in the United States. This is a rigorous graduate program with a substantial workload; it is for the writer who is prepared to revise 100 pages overnight and for the leader inventing the theater of a better nation.
Students are encouraged to pursue their professional careers while enrolled in the MFA program, supported by initiatives that provide access to new play development and production opportunities in the field. Full-length plays by graduate playwrights receive workshop productions in the New Works Series, graduate students have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in playwriting or screenwriting, and alumni have access to an established framework of professional connections. The Sloan x Carnegie Mellon Script Competition awards $35,000 in prizes to current CMU students each year for original screenplays and TV pilots.
Guest faculty are a vital presence in the program. Recent guests have included Clare Barron, Sheila Callaghan, Kia Corthron, Erin Courtney, Kristoffer Diaz, Jessica Dickey, Madeleine George, Lucas Hnath, Onalee Hunter Hughes, Aurorae Khoo, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Richard Nelson, Jean-Paul Nickel, Jiehae Park, J.T. Rogers, Cori Thomas, Andrea Thome, Francine Volpe, Anne Washburn, Mac Wellman, and A. Zell Williams.
We are committed to an inclusive theater that resists bigotry and oppression. Our community is one of bold artists and bold citizens.
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. In their second year, graduate playwrights receive full productions of their work during the New Works Series in the fall and spring.
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.
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.
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.
VISITING ARTISTS PROGRAM
The Visiting Artists Program brings distinguished national and international guests on to campus to work with students across all disciplines.
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.
Dramatic Writing Curriculum
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) and John Wells (ER, Third Watch, Shameless).
Recent alumni include Gillian Beth Durkee (EST/Youngblood), Liza Birkenmeier (Public Theater Emerging Writers Group, Ars Nova Play Group, Playwrights Realm Fellow), Leviticus Jelks (Humanitas LA Play Festival, Playwrights Union), Lauren Wimmer (Ars Nova ANT Fest, Playwright's Center), Isabella D'Esposito (Playwrights Realm Fellow), Dan Giles (THE SECOND MAN at NYTW Next Door), Joshua Harmon (BAD JEWS, SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, SKINTIGHT), Mora V. Harris (City Theater Momentum Series, Pittsburgh), Daniel Hirsch (Tête à Tête opera festival, London), and Jordan Barsky (Law & Order SVU). Other alumni are writing for television and film in LA, touring plays for Seder tables and punk rock clubs, and making wild puppet extravaganzas in Texas.
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:
Brandy N. Carie
When hotshot geneticist Maxine is funded to sequence the first complete canine genome, she is confident she can handle the project on her own. Then a stack of administrative work, a teary grad student, and an irritatingly sexy dog breed expert gum up the gears of her well-oiled life. When her beloved dog goes missing Maxine must confront the possibility that this time, she might need a little help.
"Dust to Dust"
As a child, Divija found her love of space through her father and it became their special language. But when she receives one last request from her father and unsettling news on her thesis, she must return home to try to forgive him, repair her relationship with her family, and save her life’s work.
"The Friends I Made and The Zombies I Had To Kill To Get Them"
Every school day, Lu has one goal: survive in order to spend the rest of her time on her favorite zombie-hunting video game. When her stepdad-slash-vice-principal tries to disrupt her lone-wolf habits, she gets drawn into an ethically dubious scheme by her computer-expert crush to win the science fair’s cash prize. However, as the project takes on a life of its own, this simulation of a zombie-high apocalypse winds up thrusting Lu into the most dangerous red zone of them all: the spotlight of the entire school.
When domestic terrorists threaten a new geothermal plant, special agent Lucy Ramirez must travel to rural California to protect Natalie Jenkins, the geothermal chemist at the heart of the operation. Things get heated as the two unlikely partners face off against threats to their lives, their institutions, and their core values.
"James Thomas Thinks The Earth Is Flat"
Science consultant: Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Department of Physics/Dark Universe Science Center, University of Washington, Seattle When NBA superstar (and notorious Flat Earther) James Thomas ruins eleven-year-old Noah Roberson’s local science fair project, Noah decides to embark on an even bigger project: convincing a four-time all-star that the planet is, in fact, an oblate spheroid.
"All The Shades of You"
by Lauren D'Errico
Science consultant: Dr. Gabriella Baki, Director of BSPS Cosmetic Science and Formulation Design Major, College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Toledo. A newly unemployed, out-of-vogue chemist must survive the superficial, fast paced world of New York City's makeup industry to return to her modest dream job.
"The Mast Year"
Gillian Beth Durkee
Science consultant: Dr. Walter P. Carson, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh In leaving behind a troubled childhood and an alcoholic mother, Laura also set aside her dreams of studying trees in favor of a more practical job in the Canadian lumber industry, but her interest in ecology is once again sparked by the possibility that a network of mycorrhizal fungi might exist beneath the forest she oversees. When the death of a beloved aunt leaves Laura’s mother without a caretaker, and Laura’s boss refuses her request to study his trees, Laura decides it might just be time to return home to her mother, the woods of Washington, and the field of study she once loved so fiercely.
"A Glimpse Through The Haze"
cience consultant: Dr. Vera S. Donnenberg, Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center In a groundbreaking study, Adele Croninger moves her research from New York City to a mouse lab in upstate Maine, seeking evidence to expose the deadly effects of the 1950s tobacco industry.
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"
The true story of a strong headed engineer whose unrelenting quest for knowledge leads him to a discovery that will reinvent the American kitchen.
To be redeemed from a disaster of her own making, a fiercely-focused roboticist must lead a floundering kids' robotics team to victory.
"The Glowing Gene"
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.)
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.
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.
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"
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)
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)
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.
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"
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"
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.
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"
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.
"Capturing the Stars"
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.
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"
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"
The spicy true story of Wilbur Scoville and how he invented a scale for measuring the heat of hot peppers.
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"
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