In 2012 I joined the faculty of the Northwestern University School of Communication Department of Theatre to teach Stage Design along side Joe Appelt, Linda Roethke, Todd Rosenthal, Ana Kusmanic, and Walt Spangler.

The program is distinguished by it’s three-prong approach to teaching stage design through intense theoretical and practicum based study of design process, skills training, and collaboration techniques.

About The Program

Northwestern University’s Master of Fine Arts in Stage Design is one of the country’s outstanding graduate programs for the training of the visual stage artist. Through a uniquely structured curriculum, the program interacts with the Master of Fine Arts in Directing Program. A faculty of four full-time professional designers provides the program’s vision and guidance. Adjunct faculty from the Chicago professional theater community also teach in the program.’


The Masters of Fine Arts in Stage Design Program at Northwestern University exists to prepare a select group of scenery, costume, and lighting designers for professional careers in the American theatre, international theater and related design fields. Central to this three-year program of study is an emphasis on intensive collaboration between designers and directors, rigorous analysis of texts, thorough research and a fervent effort to nurture unique artistic voices. It is our belief that passionate, insightful artists, immersed in a team-based environment, will generate bold, compelling theatrical works. Necessary for continuation each year is the student’s development toward mastery of a complete repertoire of graphic techniques and a heightened conceptual and design aesthetic in a primary design field, mastery of a range of fundamental abilities in a secondary field, and maturing collaboration skills. The first year of study emphasizes the importance of skills training and design process. The second year prioritizes collaboration, research, and imagination and serves as a transition from the activities and points of view of the entering student to the professional profile and attitudes of the graduating designer. The final year’s activity concentrates on designing and the preparation of the thesis portfolio.

Distinguishing features

Distinguishing features of the curricular program include:

  • The development of classic studio skills in freehand drawing, rendering, theatrical drafting, model building, costume construction classes, and contemporary skills in computer graphics.
  • Four cornerstone classes for directors and designers together in the first two years to develop collaborative relationships and interpersonal skills and the methods of script interpretation and research unique to directors and designers in order to develop a strong visual response to a play.
  • An emphasis on the importance of produced work in the designer’s development by working in teams designing a significant number of productions in a variety of performance spaces.
  • Attendance at major professional productions in Chicago and interaction on campus with significant national and international artists.
  • Optional internship opportunities to project the graduate designer into a professional environment thereby advancing his or her expertise beyond the academic setting.
  • The opportunity for teaching introductory design courses in Northwestern’s nationally renowned undergraduate theatre program.
  • A thesis portfolio revealing the graduating student’s vision of design through professional-quality theoretical and produced design, research, and supporting graphic work

Program of Study


The MFA in stage design is a terminal degree program requiring twenty-seven academic units over nine quarters during a three-year residency. The MFA degree is granted upon completion of the program with a minimum grade point average of “B” and successful presentation of a design thesis portfolio. The portfolio must show clear evidence of mastery of the full range of graphic and conceptual support skills pertaining to the student’s major area(s) of concentration and an acquisition of fundamental skills in the secondary design area(s). Two additional years are allowed for the successful preparation, presentation and defense of the MFA thesis portfolio.

The design faculty meets at the end of each quarter to discuss each of the program’s students. The faculty evaluates each student’s current artistic progress, academic standing, collaborative ability, and professional discipline. A member of the faculty communicates the results of these evaluations to each student. Unsatisfactory progress will result in a letter of warning, probation, or dismissal.

At the end of the first and second years of study, each student is required to successfully present a portfolio of design and artwork to the faculty illustrating and articulating his/her development and vision as an artist and designer. Students with deficiencies will be placed on warning or probation, or dismissed from the program.

Curriculum and Course Descriptions [pdf] [Link to NU download]


The final activity to achieve the Master of Fine Arts degree in Stage Design is the successful presentation of a thesis portfolio revealing the graduating student’s vision of design through professional quality produced and theoretical designs, research, and accomplished graphic work. Beginning with Year III, the candidate will choose a primary area faculty advisor who will work with the student in preparation of the portfolio during his/her third year. If the student is presenting a secondary area of design, he/she will also choose a secondary area faculty advisor. The candidate may present their thesis portfolio at the completion the third year or any time within two years after completing course work.


Financial Aid

Graduate students in the MFA Stage Design Program are supported by full assistantships, which include a full tuition waiver and an annual stipend for 2012-13 of $16,920. Assistantship duties are fulfilled by production shop assignments in respective areas of study, supervising production crews, designing main stage productions, and teaching undergraduate design classes.


The stage design program utilizes the resources of the University’s Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC). The Theatre and Interpretation Center produces approximately eight main stage productions annually directed by faculty, graduate students, and guest artists. These productions include both classic and contemporary plays, dance performances, musical productions, and performance based work. Starting in their second year all M.F.A. design students design for these productions.

The Center houses the 400-seat thrust Ethel M. Barber Theater, the 375-seat proscenium Josephine Louis Theater, two 125-seat black box theaters: the Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis and the Mussetter-Struble, two dance studios, and rehearsal rooms. Cahn Auditorium, a 1,200-seat theatre on campus is also used for musical production. The TIC houses the scene shop facilities, which include not only space for traditional woodworking, but also equipment for work in metals and plastics. Adjacent to the costume shop are a fully equipped dye room and a crafts area. The lighting shop supports production for each of the theaters. A practical lighting laboratory is available for classes and lighting designers assigned to a production in the TIC. Thirteen professional staff technicians working in all technical areas provide an additional support through their production supervision and involvement in production.


Students in the third year of study have the opportunity to spend up to one quarter of their residency working with a professional theatre company or observing a particular artist or company. The specific job definitions and responsibilities of the internship will be developed in consultation with the organization and the student in advance of the quarter in which the internship is scheduled. Students must be in good academic standing and obtain approval of the core faculty before an internship will be approved.

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