M.F.A. in Theatre, Performance Emphasis

The Terminal Degree

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 degree requires a minimum of 60 hours of specialized training and graduate seminars. Most M.F.A. candidates acquire 72 to 90 hours over a three-year residency, including summer internships and repertory experience with Southern Arena Theatre.  The MFA is the final degree for professional artists.

MFA Performance Emphasis

The M.F.A. acting program at Southern Miss is designed to assist students diagnostically, to strengthen their foundations, and to build tools and skills that lead to artistry at the terminal degree level.

Rather than a “cookie-cutter” approach, the M.F.A. experience at USM seeks to guide the students toward their individual growth within the craft of acting; cultivating strengths, while gleaning away the cumbersome and unnecessary.

The M.F.A. performance emphasis, at Southern Miss 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 our students with a foundation that both 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. Students enter with a wide range of skills and challenges.

 A Diagnostic Program

Acting - The Performance Program at The University of Southern Mississippi provides a sound, Stanislavski-based foundation for acting and encourages each actor to develop the details of his/her own unique process.  Curriculum Includes:

Modern RealismContemporary Realism
Audition ProcessActing for the Camera


Voice – M.F.A. candidates focus on Lessac training in order to develop a healthy vocal life for a relaxed and vital instrument.  Specific reinforcement of this work is carried across the 6 semesters at USM in:

Voice for the ActorAdvanced Voice for the Actor
Stage DialectsIntroduction to the Musical Theatre
Advanced Musical TheatreLinklater-based Scansion and Verse


Movement – Classes are taught through major units on several widely used techniques, all focused on greater access and confidence in the actor’s body and its ability to create and shape strong, exciting choices.  Techniques include:

SuzukiLugering's Expressive Actor
Yoga for the ActorMichael Chekhov
AlexanderNeutral and Character Mask
Stage Combat*Certification through Dueling Arts International Available

The Graduate Semester Schedule

Graduate Acting Studio - The Studio is laboratory focusing on the individual needs of each actor.  It is a safe, creative place for taking risks, stretching limits, and experimenting with new methods.  The studio also supplements regular acting classes and may be taken every semester (4 semesters required).  Often, the studio serves as a showcase opportunity for the Graduate Students.

Graduate Voice and Movement Labs - Each semester, graduate actors focus on one intensive study of voice and movement; with specific attention to the integration of each piece toward a unified whole.  By spending the entire semester on one major form, the small graduate class can achieve in-depth training under the guidance of the faculty in their areas of specialization.

Seminars - Graduate Seminars are offered in Acting and Directing, Contemporary Trends in Theatre, Script Analysis, and Theatre Production/Research.  Three seminars are required for the terminal degree.

We recognized that acting draws from all facets of a person’s life.  As such, there are open “slots” within the three-year degree plan which the student may fill with any work they feel appropriate to their development.  In the past, students have chosen work from other departments:  Playwriting, Education, Psychology and Voice and Instrument Lessons.  Others choose to expand their work within Theatre, taking courses and seminars in Directing, Costume Design and Dance Classes.  Two directing classes provide basic and advanced training and tool building, and approximately 30 showcase slots are available each year for hands-on directing.  For those interested in an emphasis in directing, additional entrance requirements and courses will be required.

Opportunities for graduate performance students are plentiful.  In addition to a robust schedule for the main stage and studio productions, graduate students are encouraged to produce their own work within the Showcase schedule and are responsible for final showings of their studio work every semester.  There are also opportunities to perform in conjunction with the annual Playwrights Series Workshop.  This weekend workshop is cosponsored with the Department of English in the spring which brings in a nationally noted playwright to discuss playwriting and lead 20 students in a laboratory environment creating new work to be featured at the Alpha Psi Omega, One Act Play Festival. One of the most exciting theatrical opportunities, however, is with the Southern Arena Theatre, our professional/educational summer theatre repertory company, which has an over 30 year history.

The University of Southern Mississippi is an active participant in our ten-state region in both the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and in the Southeastern Theatre Conference.  The Southern Miss Center for International Studies is ranked one of the top five travel-abroad programs nationally.  Its British Studies Program is one of the largest in the country and features internationally know guest artists and course offerings in British Theatre, Shakespeare and Modern Drama.  USM’s Department of Theatre also maintains a healthy internship relationship with two of Atlanta’s most recognized theatres, Actor’s Express and The Alliance Theatre.

M.F.A. candidates are admitted to the Graduate School on the basis of undergraduate grades, recommendations, the GRE, and an audition/interview.  Students are evaluated the first semester by the performance faculty.  During the second semester, provided the actor has established appropriate skills and performance initiative, each student will select three faculty members to serve as their M.F.A. Committee, which will guide the student through course selection, evaluation, creative projects, and career planning.  The student must continue to meet expectations which will be discussed regularly within the M.F.A. Committee with special attention to the individual student’s goals and needs.  At the end of the third year of successful achievement, the committee will schedule an Exit interview which concludes residency. Performance graduate students at The University of Southern Mississippi are encouraged to apply early for financial assistance in the form of graduate assistantships and federal work-study.

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