The goal of the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ Master of Fine Arts in Acting program is to offer each actor-student a fully comprehensive, nationally competitive education and training in the craft and discipline of acting, guiding the graduate to achieve both creative and professional excellence in the field.
To this end, the program has four main objectives:
- Creative. To train and develop the acting skills and to cultivate the creative talent of each actor-student so that, upon graduation, they are (i) able to create, embody, and play a character from any period of dramatic literature in any performance medium, integrating vocal, physical, textual, and imaginative resources; (ii) capable of self-generating new creative material, whether solo or as part of a team or group, in the media of theatre, solo performance, and film, including “virtual” auditioning; (iii) fully prepared to enter into the profession of acting with a comprehensive understanding of the specific demands of the entertainment industry.
- Corporeal. To instill the necessary strength, stamina, flexibility, and energy in each student-actor’s body so that, upon graduation, they have the necessary vocal, physical, emotional, psychological, and mental resources to withstand the demands of a professional career as an actor, and the ability to sustain and harness those resources ad infinitum.
- Scholarly. To further the knowledge of each actor-student so that, upon graduation, they have a thorough knowledge of the world’s most influential plays and films, including a detailed comprehension of plays from several critical periods of drama (for example, Athenian tragedies, Elizabethan dramas, French comedies, post-war absurdism, plays of the modern era); and a cogent understanding of genres, differing theatrical story-telling techniques, and major figures of influence in drama, including authors, pedagogues, directors, and practitioners from many periods of history.
- Collaborative. To give the actor-student the experience of working within an ensemble for three years so that, upon graduation, they have the ability to become a collaborative and productive member in any professional performance context; to extend the actor-student’s connections to the larger creative communities in local, regional, national, and international film and theatre professional contexts; finally, to challenge the student-actor to identify their role as a citizen of their preferred creative community.
These four objectives can be distinguished and identified discretely; however, during the course of this program, they are designed to interweave, often seamlessly, in a holistic educational and pre-professional experience. (At least one of these objectives is built into every syllabus in the MFA in Acting curriculum.) The four objectives are printed in the MFA Viewbook that is sent to all prospective students, the Program Description on the School of Dramatic Arts’ MFA in Acting webpage.
The actor-student’s progress towards creative and professional excellence is measured on a regular basis in the following ways:.
- Grading. A conventional grading system (A=Excellence, B=Standard, C=Fail) is employed to identify the standard of each actor-student in each of their classes.
- Evaluation. Faculty meet and communicate on a regular basis to assess the progress of each individual student-actor in the program. Every semester, each student will meet once with core faculty for a formal evaluation in which their progress is addressed directly. Strategies for improvement are discussed and implemented, and, if necessary, probationary measures can be taken to insist that a student complies with the standards (professional, interpersonal, ethical) of the program.
- Capstone Events. Each student-actor in the program must complete a series of finals each semester that demonstrate in a public context their response to the challenges of the curriculum and their ability to integrate instructional principles. Several of these finals, conducted in classroom settings, involve “studio versions” of complete plays (existing and/or original, self-created works), and allow faculty to examine the development of the student-actors in an intimate setting. In addition: at the end of their first academic year, a laboratory production emphasizes the value of the ensemble and tests the student-actor’s embodiment of basic physical, emotional, vocal, and imaginative facets of the craft. At the end of the first semester of the second year, a public production demands greater sophistication in character and an understanding of the challenges of realism. During the second semester of the second year, a classical production tests the abilities of each student-actor with complex language, scale of performance, and historical themes.
- Three Play Repertory. This significant capstone event consists of three plays performed in repertory. This constitutes a thesis project for the students. This ultimate test is so substantial in scope that it is spread over two semesters, with performances lasting for one month during the final, sixth semester. It challenges each student-actor to put into practice every element of their education, and reveals the depth and breadth of their progress as creators, athletes, scholars, and collaborators within the context of the art and craft of acting.
- Professional Responders. In the third year, outside assessors from the entertainment industry (casting directors, agents, managers, directors, producers and other professionals) are brought in for audition workshops, Q&A sessions, and state-of-the-business instruction.
- Professional Showcase. The final, culminating event in the curriculum is a Professional Showcase, presented in New York and Los Angeles. Industry professionals, including stage and film directors, casting directors, agents, and managers, function as external reviewers in their assessment of each student-actor’s demonstration of their work.
At all times the faculty of the MFA in Acting program operate as mentors to the students. The mentorship varies, from impromptu discussions to dedicated apprenticeship, from counsel and guidance to offers of professional experience. The faculty unit functions as an ensemble, valuing the contribution of all members. Changes to the curriculum, in response to internal and external prompts, are considered necessary for the growth of the program; in the summer of each year, the core faculty meet to discuss new ideas and methods of implementation.