How I got into an MFA Directing Program
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I have wanted to pursue an MFA in directing for a very long time. Now, I am incredibly proud to say that I will be starting at the directing program at Texas State University in the fall of 2022! It was a long and arduous journey to say the least, so I decided to distill the highlights for this month’s blog post.
In the fall of 2019, I decided it was time to start applying for graduate school. I was a few years out of undergraduate, I had been working full-time in arts administration and part-time as a director and teaching artist. My partner was also about to graduate from law school and had the opportunity to become licensed in multiple states - we were about to be in the ultimate space of flexibility, that we would likely never have again.
I won’t go into the whole process, especially since I already covered it in multiple blog posts. Basically, I applied to ten schools and heard nothing from any of them. It was extremely disheartening, and it made me feel like the work I had done up to that point was invisible. Of course, Miss Rona reared her ugly head in March of 2020, so it was not the best time to start theatre school, as it turns out. Hindsight, etc.
As we slowly emerged from lockdown, I decided to try again. Despite the hurt and shame I felt after the first process, I still sought the time and space to pursue the craft that I so desperately love. This time, though, I was going to approach it all differently. Here are a few of the steps I took:
Once I zeroed in on the schools I knew I wanted to apply to, I reached out to the professors who ran those programs. This is something commonly done in other graduate programs where research is at the forefront, but not necessarily something prospective students know to do for artistic programs. I also thought back to my undergraduate application process, and how by the time I was accepted into the programs, the recruiting professors recognized me on sight because I had spoken to them so many times at theatre conferences. God, I was so brave when I was seventeen…
This ended up working out well for me, because even before I submitted my applications, I had conversations going, so when the apps were in, the professors knew who I was.
This is another trick I pulled from my undergrad days. My application was finished a solid month before the deadline, which I think prompted the review committee to look at it before other students. I didn’t get to include my winter projects in my portfolio, but I decided that two more resume credits probably wouldn’t be the deciding factor.
Restructuring my “Package”
One aspect of professional life I struggle with is my resume. I have extensive experience in arts administration, which I always feel like I have to leave off of artistic resumes. It made me feel like I was living two different lives that did not feed one another, when the opposite is true. I also have experience in a lot of different fields within theatre - acting, producing, writing, etc. Instead of the weird hybrid, one-page resume I submitted in 2019, I created a full academic-style CV that ended up being four pages long.
One major benefit to the CV that I didn’t realize is listing out all of your college professors. It turns out, the head of the program of one of the schools I applied to is friends with one of my former acting professors. He texted her and I got an unexpected extra recommendation!
I also totally revamped my portfolio, emphasizing strong visuals over quantity. I had to get creative with the way I displayed some of my productions, since I don’t have a ton of work that has been professionally photographed. I also stayed away from videos because I have virtually no quality recordings.
I felt powerless and ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have great images from my shows the first time around. It is very easy to begin comparing yourself to other applicants. You have to find (and display) confidence in the work that you have done. Every experience is worthwhile in and of itself. Just because you didn’t get a good picture doesn’t mean the work was bad.
In the two years that passed between my first round and second round, I gained some major perspective. I’m 26. I just married a wonderful man who has a great job in a city that we like. We live relatively close to our parents and siblings. We want to have kids and dogs and a house. Packing up and moving all the way across the country for three years is not something that would make us happy, even if it was to go to a dream graduate program. This time around, I focused on schools that would allow us to stay near-ish to family and not bankrupt us. Sorry Carnegie Mellon. Maybe in another life…
After reaching out to faculty in July, turning in my application in October, interviewing in mid-December, and waiting several months, I got my acceptance to Texas State University on March 17, 2022. Texas State has robust undergraduate and graduate populations, a large and diverse season, extremely reasonable tuition rates, and world-class professors. I am so excited to start classes in the fall, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Go Bobcats!
This is by no means a foolproof way to get into an MFA program. Many, many other factors that are completely out of my control went into my acceptance. The most important thing I learned was to not measure my artistic value by the opinions of someone else. During this process I was able to distill what I really love about theatre, and relive memories of work that I did with amazing collaborators. Yes, and MFA is a great professional step to take for me, but what I actually gained is confidence in myself as a director and collaborator, and that is worth more than any graduate degree could ever grant me.