Department of Theater

Home / Introduction to Graduate Programs / Master of Fine Arts in Acting

Master of Fine Arts in Acting


Six Great Reasons to Study in the Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program:

    • A three-year Master of Fine Arts program housed at Cleveland Play House (CPH), which includes mainstage and understudy experience and ensemble performances in the Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre housed in PlayhouseSquare (The Helen).
    • Two years of rigorous conservatory training including Acting, Voice, Speech, Movement, Period Styles, and Stage Combat taught by members of the CWRU theater faculty, resident artists of Cleveland Play House and exciting guest artists.
    • A third-year residency at CPH understudying and performing in the mainstage season. Classes continue in Acting for the Camera, Audition Technique, and Professional Development.
    • A New York City Showcase before an audience of agents and producers directed by New York Casting Agent Paul Fouquet, of Elissa Myers Casting.
    • Membership in Actors’ Equity Association upon successful completion of the program.
    • An excellent financial package which includes a tuition waiver and a competitive stipend for all three years.
Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre

Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre

The collaborative MFA Professional Actor Training Program between Cleveland Play House and Case Western Reserve University is a three-year program which is housed in the Play House complex. This intimate program is designed to train a theater artist capable of performing skillfully in a variety of roles from contemporary to classical genres, and to provide both technical skills and an aesthetic sensibility for a successful career in the professional theater.

Throughout the three years of training, the acting, voice, speech, and movement teachers work in concert to assess the individual student’s progress, and integrate the various disciplines in ways that will create maximum flexibility, freedom of expression, and dynamic range, all geared toward instilling the skills, discipline and an aesthetic of craft which will produce a distinctive and effective actor able to encompass the full range of professional demands.

These objectives are pursued in an environment that integrates the educational, artistic and professional resources of one of the oldest academic theater programs in the United States (Case Western Reserve University) and the nation’s first regional theater (Cleveland Play House).

The program accepts a class of eight actors every other year. These students will spend each year of their study in classes at the Cleveland Play House. The small class size, and the fact that students are accepted only every two years, allows the program the flexibility to tailor curriculum and performance experiences to suit the specific training needs of each class and individual student.

Course of Study

In the first year of study, students are immersed in intense and rigorous classes in Acting (Contemporary Techniques), Movement, Voice, Speech (Skinner/IPA), and Text Analysis culminating in an end of year performance in the Helen Theatre at CPH.   The apprenticeship with CPH begins this year with classes/workshops with resident and visiting artists, introductions to all incoming casts, directors and designers, and Company status at all CPH functions.

Program graduate Elizabeth talk with Ron Wilson and current students about performing in "Once" and life in New York.

Program graduate Elizabeth Davis talks with Ron Wilson and current students about performing in “Once” and life in New York.

The second year students continue their intensive training and perform in two fully mounted productions in the Helen Theatre.  Coursework continues in Acting (Chekhov & Ibsen – The Modernists, and Shakespeare/Heightened Language Texts), Voice, Speech (Dialects & Classical Text), and Movement (Period Styles & Commedia). At this time their involvement with CPH expands with possible performance or understudy assignments on the mainstage to participation in CPH’s New Ground Theatre Festival.

The third year MFA students perform in their fourth production at the Helen, and appear as cast in the season at CPH. Depending on the extent of mainstage opportunities, other performances are developed, such as workshop productions and/or fully staged repertory presentations. At the end of the third year of the program, MFA candidates present a showcase audition for producers, agents and casting directors in New York City.

Upon successful completion of the program, the student is awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting, along with the opportunity to join Actors’ Equity Association, either through accumulation of weeks through the Equity Membership Candidate program, or through assignment of an AEA contracted role.


The Academic Structure

  • A minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate work beyond the bachelor’s degree
  • A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 for all course work on the graduate level
  • Performance in the graduate ensemble productions and Cleveland Play House season as assigned
  • Departmental assessment of student progress on a semester-to-semester basis


Thesis Portfolios

  • The Portfolio will consist of detailed, articulate account of the actor’s rehearsal process and related preparation for the performance of at least three roles created during their MFA course of study.
  • Content of the portfolio will include a narrative outlining the synthesis of craft and class work with research directly relevant to the creation and performance of the role, and how this synthesis affected the actor’s choices in rehearsal and performance. The portfolio will include a minimum of three roles, two of which must be “major” roles.
  • Each year, once roles in the theater’s production season have been assigned, MFA acting students will meet with their advisors to determine roles which might be included in the thesis portfolio.
  • In the final semester of the third year, the Thesis Portfolio is turned in to the students’ Faculty Advisor in a timely manner. Satisfactory completion of the portfolio and the third-year internship are among the requirements for the awarding of the MFA degree.

In 1996, The Cleveland Play House and Case Western Reserve University joined forces to create a new Master of Fine Arts program in acting. The students begin their involvement with the Play House in their first semester, and their level of involvement steadily increases until, in the third year, they become professional interns at the Cleveland Play House.

The MFA in acting is a terminal pre-professional degree. Candidacy for the program requires an undergraduate degree with (ideally) a major in theater, equivalent training and experience, or demonstrable potential for work at the MFA level. In addition, candidates must provide evidence of technical skill and creative ability.

At the end of each semester in residence, the student’s skill and creative ability are evaluated in light of his or her work in the department. Only students who have clearly demonstrated growth and excellence are permitted to remain in the program. The award of the MFA degree is contingent upon the student’s academic progress and upon the assessment on the part of the faculty that the candidate possesses the potential to work in the field of theater on a professional level.

Requirements for the MFA degree include:

  1. A minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate work beyond the bachelor’s degree
  2. A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 for all course work on the graduate level
  3. Completion of the course requirements for the MFA Thesis Portfolio
  4. Successful completion of the Third Year Internship at The Cleveland Play House

Course requirements for the MFA in acting are as follows:

Courses in acting, including script analysis, implementation of acting theory, characterization, modernist playwrights, and Shakespeare 18
Courses in movement, chosen from mask work, period styles, stage combat, and commedia 12
Courses in voice, chosen from voice production, articulation, and interpretation 9
Courses in speech, using Edith Skinner techniques, dialects, verse and lyric drama, and Shakespeare 6
Courses in performance theory, projects, and professional seminars 6-9
Two of the courses in creative thesis: 6
Specific Course Listing:
THTR 401
Graduate Movement I: Corporeal Mime
THTR 402
Graduate Movement II: Neutral Mask
THTR 403
Graduate Movement III: Expressive Masks
THTR 404
Graduate Movement IV: Commedia
THTR 473
Graduate Voice Technique I
THTR 474
Graduate Voice Technique II
THTR 475
Graduate Voice Technique III
THTR 479
Graduate Stage Speech I: Phonetics
THTR 501
Text Analysis for the Actor
THTR 509
Seminar: Introduction to Performance Theory
THTR 512
Graduate Audition Lab
THTR 530
Ensemble Technique
THTR 531
Graduate Acting I: Performance Process
THTR 532
Graduate Acting II: Ensemble Improvisations
THTR 533
Graduate Acting III: The Modernists
THTR 534
Graduate Acting IV: Shakespeare/Heightened Language
THTR 540
Seminar: Professional Orientation
THTR 579
Graduate Stage Speech II: Articulation
THTR 580
Graduate Stage Speech III: Dialects
THTR 581
Graduate Stage Speech IV: Classical Texts
THTR 601
Special Projects
THTR 610
Professional Internship
THTR 630
Performance Studio
THTR 642
Thesis Portfolio I
THTR 643
Thesis Portfolio II


Audition Procedure for MFA Class Entering in the Fall of 2017

We begin accepting applications on Sept 1, 2016 for auditions in January-February of 2017.  These auditions are for the class entering in the fall of 2017

We ask you to visit HERE in order to upload application materials.

We require:

  • Letter of intent (describing why CWRU/CPH’s program interests you) and what your objectives are in training.
  • Two letters of recommendation from former directors and/or theater teachers.
  • Two copies of headshots and resumes.
  • A completed application form. “

Department Contacts- For information, you can contact

Ron Wilson, Director of the MFA Acting Program, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7077 Phone: (216) 368-6142 Fax: (216) 368-5184 E-mail:

Donald Carrier, MFA Acting Program, Phone: 216-400-7019, E-mail:

The Audition

We ask you to prepare two contrasting pieces (one Modern, one Shakespearean Verse) with a combined time of no more than four minutes in length. While we do accept videotape auditions, they are not encouraged. Only applicants for whom travel to one of the regular audition sites is not possible should consider submitting DVDs. DVD returns are not guaranteed. The content of the DVD audition should be exactly the same as for an audition in person.

– There is no audition fee –

Financial Aid

The Case Western Reserve-Cleveland Play House MFA in Acting Program provides each graduate student with complete financial support. The yearly financial package consists of a full tuition waiver and a competitive stipend (spread over the 9 months of study) for 3 years.

Page last modified: September 7, 2016