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 the 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 acting program at Southern Miss is designed to assist you diagnostically, to strengthen your foundations, and to build tools and skills that lead to artistry at the terminal degree level. Rather than a “cookie-cutter” approach, the MFA experience at USM seeks to guide you toward individual growth within the craft of acting; cultivating strengths, while gleaning away the cumbersome and unnecessary.
The MFA program at USM focuses on the importance of integration between breath, body, voice, and acting. All classes “cross-pollinate” from each other – seeking to strengthen and build connections between all facets of a student’s process. We extend this focus to include the two facets of the actor – the Artist and the Professional - and train you with the foundations that can and must be developed.
The specific requirements for artistic achievement are based on the standards of the National Association of Schools of Theatre and on observable professional standards. Here, you will enter with a wide range of skills and challenges!
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 you 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.
Our faculty includes 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 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.
A laboratory for risk-taking, a creative and safe place to stretch limits, experiment with new methods, and hone areas of strength. Fall Explorations combine open structure and detailed contracts that give you inspiration and passion to flourish in a Studio environment. The Head of Performance guides development of each performer’s distinct artistic point-of-view over the three-year residency.
As a student, you will choose to explore such performance areas as physical theatre, clowning, aerial acting, stillness, comic timing, and gender issues. First year students work as an ensemble for the first month with the professor as coach/director in a diagnostic performance project The studio uses honest and supportive observations on strengths and weaknesses in craft, process, and articulation of ideas. Spring Intensives dive deeply into specific methodologies under the specialties of the Performance faculty, most recently in Shakespeare, Suzuki, and High-stakes Realism.
Classes focus on technique, expression as well as character study integration. Subjects that are covered include an in-depth exploration of the Lessac voice and bodywork, stage dialects, International Phonetic Alphabet, musical theatre, voiceover acting, and spoken word. Students also have opportunities for leadership in voice and speech as vocal captains and assistant voice and dialect coaches for mainstage productions. For more information about the Lessac Voice and Body Practitioner program, please see our theatre website under “Lessac Kinesensic Training.”
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 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.
- British Studies in Theatre
- The London Stage: This course gives the student an exciting hands-on opportunity to experience theatre
in London. The class will have the opportunity to watch theatrical performances, go
on behind the scenes backstage tours, visit high end conservatories, and take master
classes from respected professionals in the business. This energizing program includes
seeing and experiencing all of what London theatre has to offer: award winning musicals,
classical and contemporary productions as well as new and innovative work. Students
will gain a deeper understanding about roots of theatre in London as well as the contemporary
theatrical trends moving into the future. Participants will also get the opportunity
to visit the Royal National Theatre, The West End, The Royal Opera House and The Globe
MFA 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.
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 15 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.
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
Producing Artistic Director/Co-Founder at Blue Light Underground Ensemble
- Rasheeda Moore, Performance
Improv Actor, Chicago credits at iO, The Second City, ImprovAcadia and The pH Comedy Theatre
- Sean Scrutchins, Performance,
AEA Actor Denver, Henry Award for Best Actor and another for Best Ensemble
- Hali Hutchinson, Costume design and technology
Costume Lab cutter/draper UNC, Charlotte
- Sheldon Mba, Performance
Assistant Professor of Music and Dance, Friends University
- Lauren E. Turner, Performance
Producing Artistic Director of No Dream Deferred, listed among “6 Theatre Workers to Know in American Theatre” by American Theatre Magazine/Theatre Communications Group
- Rachael Schwartz, Performance
AEA Actor, Professor of Acting at University of Wisconsin-Parkside
- Jonathan Andrew, Performance
Theater Arts Instructor, Campbellsville University
- Courtney Brown, Performance
AEA Actor, Associate Professor, Kent State University
"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.