MFA: Acting

The Illinois Department of Theatre offers nationally known acting programs on both the BFA and MFA level. Students work with professionally active faculty, numerous guest artists, and auditioners. Recent audition guests have included NYC Casting Director Pat McCorkle, Erica Daniels of Steppenwolf, Bob Mason of Chicago Shakespeare, Kathleen Conlin of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Deb Alley of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Paul Barnes and Alec Wild of the Great River Shakespeare Festival, Brent Hazelton of Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Brenda deVita of American Players Theatre, and many others.

Illinois Theatre will next audition nationally in TBA for our MFA Professional Actor Training Program. Actors accepted will begin the program in August 2022.

Polaroid StoriesA typical audition schedule might include:

URTA National Final Auditions, TBA
ILLINOIS-only independent auditions, TBA

URTA National Final Auditions, TBA
ILLINOIS-only independent auditions, TBA

URTA National Final auditions, TBA
ILLINOIS-only independent auditions, TBA

We will also schedule individual on-campus auditions at the Krannert Center in the future. Please contact David Swinford, 217-244-6189 or, to schedule an on-campus audition or to schedule an Illinois-only independent audition at any of the three sites.

Prospective students are strongly urged to apply to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign prior to their audition.

The three-year graduate acting program leads to a terminal professional degree in theatre performance. Graduate actors meet for daily, four-hour sessions, including sections in dynamics, voice and speech, movement, and acting.

Acting students work on scenes from plays selected from the full scope of dramatic literature and perform them in final presentations at the end of each semester. Research and study accompany performance in order to stimulate fresh interpretations and a thorough understanding of each play and period. Electives may be taken in theatre history, creative dramatics, dramatic theory, or special projects in production, movement, or voice.

Three years in residence earning eighteen graduate units of credit (one unit equals four semester hours) are required for the degree. Course work includes at least twelve units in acting, at least one unit in theatre history, and five units in departmental approved electives. Students in the MFA Program participate continuously in the production program of the Department of Theatre which presents six to eight productions annually at Krannert Center.

Acting Courses

Acting classes meet daily (1:00–5:00 p.m.), beginning with a dynamics section that includes vocal and physical preparation for the rest of the afternoon’s work. Each semester focuses on a particular aspect of acting, with two semesters of work in modern drama, two in classical theatre, and two in performance and the business of acting. Technical work in voice, speech, and movement is tailored to support the particular topic of each semester:

The Acting Process

Exercises and beginning scene work focus on strengthening and identifying issues of the student’s acting process and the creation of a studio ensemble of actors prepared for modern and classical acting techniques.

mfa acting 2Realism and Naturalism: Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw

Characterization within the naturalistic and realistic work of Chekhov and Ibsen; character comedy and wit in language in Shaw.

Acting Fundamentals in Shakespeare

Text analysis, verse study, and development of language skills for performing Shakespeare and other classical texts.

Shakespeare and Scene Work

Scene and monologue study from the works of Shakespeare in verse; text analysis; finding the character within the language.

Acting for the Camera

Work on commercial technique, soap opera scenes, and television drama/comedy in our fully-equipped color television studio.

Business of Acting and Acting Showcase

Transition into the business of a career in acting; development of scenes for Showcase in Chicago and/or New York City; issues regarding unions, agents, casting directors, and auditions.

Voice and Speech

Work covers such areas as relaxation, breathing, muscularity, phonetics, articulation, and expressiveness, as well as verse speaking, projection, and dialects.


Classes include sections of neutral mask, clowning, circus skills, physical acting, and the Alexander technique, as well as extensive training in all areas of stage combat, leading to the certification test of the Society of American Fight Directors.

Summer Work

Acting students also receive credit for performances in the productions of the Department of Theatre and are encouraged to seek summer acting work to support their classroom learning. In recent years, our MFA actors have been hired to work in such venues as Utah Shakespearean Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Great River Shakespeare Festival, Arkansas Shakespeare Festival, Montana Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre, and many more.

History Courses

At least one class is selected from such courses and seminars as:

  • Asian American Theatre
  • Contemporary Theatrical Forms
  • History of Theatre, I & II
  • History of American Theatre, I & II
  • Musical Theatre History
  • Modern European Theatre
  • Multi-Ethnic Theatre
  • Seminar in Theatre History (various topics)

Elective Courses

At least five courses are chosen from a wide variety of electives in theatre practice, dramatic literature, and theatre history.

For more information please contact Lisa Dixon at