Earn your terminal degree in Theatre
The Master of Fine Arts is the terminal degree for actors. It represents a combination of a conservatory-style focus on craft and artistry needed for a professional career in the arts, along with the breadth and depth of scholarship necessary to sustain an academic career at the university level. The MFA is nationally equal to the Ph.D. in faculty hiring and is most often the specified degree sought in faculty searches for artist/teachers.
The degree requires a three-year residency with 60 credit-hours minimum. Most of our graduates complete 72 or more hours including summer internships, Southern Arena Theatre professional repertory company, and study abroad in our acclaimed British Studies Program, the largest consortium in the United States.
The University of Southern Mississippi is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre.
What Will I Learn?
We provide sound foundations and intensives in Acting, Voice, and Movement each year while leaving significant room for the individual to explore new methodologies, creative process, and their own artistic vision.
Of course, awards are just a small part of what we do. The specific requirements for artistic achievement and competencies come from the National Association of Schools of Theatre and observable professional standards.
- The Head of Performance, Professor Monica Hayes, is a member of Actors Equity and former member of British Actors Equity.
- Voice Specialist, Robin Aronson, is a member of Actors Equity and certified Lessac Voice and Body Trainer with specializations in Musical Theatre, Suzuki Movement Training for the Actor, Lessac Voice and Body Work and Stage Dialects.
- Movement Specialist, Caitlyn Herzlinger, is a certified yoga instructor. She is also a Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors and Dueling Arts International.
- Our Head of Directing, Lou Rackoff, is a member of the SDC with professional credits from the Public Theatre in NYC to artistic director work leading the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival.
The 2020 faculty will include 9 Professors and 3 Adjunct Professors (including Acting for the Camera/The Business of Acting) and professional staff. The faculty work together to shape all development with integration between breath, body, voice, and action.
We have guest artists every year in every area of performance. Recent guests for 2019 and 2020 include:
- Robert Icke (London and Broadway director and playwright) for our Playwright Series (worked with students over 4 days on an excerpt of Oresteia for performance),
- Voice candidate, Angela N. Sullen, from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, and Master Lessac Teacher and Professor Emeritus from Penn State University, Barry Kur.
- Freddie Ashley, Artistic Director of Actors’ Express in Atlanta and award-winning actor, comes to campus every spring for intern auditions, talks, and interviews. At least a dozen other guest artists connect by conference calls and skype.
USM Theatre pays for ALL of its graduate students. The University covers full Graduate tuition. In addition, the program pays a monthly stipend through assistantships and graduate work-study.
- Currently, compensation is $8,200/nine-month contract.
- Graduate students work an average of 20 hours per week while classes are in session in theatre jobs such as teaching classes, running box office, building in the shops, and event managing.
- Our semesters currently run 16 weeks plus one week prior to the start of classes for orientations, preparation meetings, and shop kick-offs.
- MFA candidates cast or hired for the SAT summer repertory company earn compensation with six credit hours of free tuition and a stipend.
M.F.A. candidates in Performance come in with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. All candidates are required to audition and interview with a headshot and resume providing evidence of experience/aptitude in their specialty area. Students may audition at SETC or other unified audition, via recorded audition and skype interview, or (our favorite) on campus.
Some deficiencies in background may require conditional admission while the student works with the faculty to develop competencies. We welcome diversity of experience and unique voices in the Theatre. The University’s Graduate School facilitates the admission process. They will collect an application, three letters of recommendation, and transcripts. The Graduate School process is entirely online.
All graduate students take a minimum of three seminars. Script Analysis, Theatre Production Research, Contemporary Trends in Theatre, Period Styles in Design, Dramatic Theory, and Seminar in Acting and Directing are on regular rotations. Students inspire each other across disciplines within theatre. Faculty and students with professional experience contribute with ideas from around the globe.
Students from USM have won Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival RIV awards in Performance more than any other school in the state and many in the 9-state Southeastern US region. Our actors have advanced in Acting to National finals three times and to Regional Finals more than three dozen times. Our students won 3 of the last 4 awards for Excellence in Voice work from VASTA. USM students have won many additional awards for Best Classical Acting, Best Comedic Acting, and Best Partner in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition in addition to winning the MTI Musical Theatre Award and the Open Jar Musical Theatre Scholarship.
Most Performance graduate students leave USM with advanced training and certification in one or more voice and movement specialties. Our Voice and Speech Specialist offers graduate acting candidates eligibility for Lessac Voice and Body Practitioner status through the graduate voice curriculum. This is the only program to offer this in the world. Movement training at USM also provides training and certification opportunities. Nearly every student in the last three years has earned SAFD and Dueling Arts International Stage Combat certifications.
All aspects of our work in class and production include integration with movement training. Intensives in Graduate Movement Lab include Stage Combat, Yoga, Neutral Mask Work, Laban, Movement Improvisation, Actorbatics, Physical Comedy, and Commedia dell'arte. Guests and adjudicators in the planning stage for this term include Christina Traister, Fight Master and President of the SAFD, Mike Yahn, Stunt Coordinator, and Jason Ament, Stunt Performer.
- Revelry: In celebration of our new School of Performing and Visual Arts in 2018, a Revelry of the arts began. The month of February is now filled with 50 special events that play across artistic disciplines and explore short-term experiments in multi-discipline performance. Events have included a Sculpture Iron Pour-Your Heart-Out Dance with participants making their own iron valentines from flaming liquid iron, Budakon Yoga in the Art Gallery, an Arts Professional Faculty Panel on overcoming creative blocks, an alumni performance advocating for disabled casting, and an Art lecture Wine and Cheese Pairing. Guest artists in each of the disciplines add to the excitement.
- NT Live and Broadway Musical Theatre: We are a proud presenting venue for London’s Royal National Theatre live-capture theatre productions, NT Live! The distributor also provides access to major Broadway Musical Theatre events. Every student will see 15-20 world-class professional productions as part of their course of study.
Theatre Performance professor Robin Aronson performs in the USM Theatre Season along with undergraduate and graduate students. Recent performances include "You Can't Take it With You" and "Cabaret."
Professor takes the stage in several productions, including the musical "Cabaret"
- Scenic Designer
- Costume Designer
- Lighting Designer
- Theatre Professor
- Yolanda Williams, Directing, 2009
Producing Artistic Director/Co-Founder at Blue Light Underground Ensemble
- Hali Hutchinson, Costume design and technology, 2016
Costume Lab cutter/draper UNC, Charlotte
- Rachael Schwartz, Theatre Performance, 2014
Professor of Acting Emory and Henry College
"USM's exclusive partnership with the Lessac Research and Training Institute under Professor Robin Aronson's careful and innovative guidance has been life altering."
In voice and speech classes at Southern Miss, students gain ways to further incorporate effective and deep breathing, body alignment and flexibility, vocal and physical endurance, vocal resonance and power, articulation and intelligibility; classes also cultivate the unique quality of the individual.