MFAs After Stanford




Stanford’s Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) works with Stanford undergraduate students in and out of the classroom to create “scholar-artists” for whom theory and practice are inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing. For this Alumni Spotlight, we reached out to recent Stanford alumni who were involved with TAPS curricularly and/or extracurricularly, and have since gone on to MFA programs in different fields of theater and performance. See how their time with Stanford TAPS helped shape their continued academic and artistic pursuits.

What encouraged you to apply for a MFA?

Barry Edelstein and Visiting Director Joanna Settle — who were brought to Stanford through a partnership with The Public Theater in New York — encouraged me to get my MFA. They said it would allow me to “do a decade’s worth of work in three years.” Also, having TAPS Artist-in-Residence Amy Freed as a mentor was hugely influential in many directions — our dialogues illuminated how an MFA would be beneficial to me and vice versa.

Leigh Marshall, MFA – Playwriting, University of Iowa

I delighted in the analytical thinking I cultivated as a TAPS student, but I repeatedly felt myself bumping up against challenges in my art-making that I could not understand or get past…I [now] needed more hands-on artistic guidance for improvement.

Louis Reyes McWilliams, MFA – Acting, Brown University

What at TAPS helped prepare you for your MFA?

The scholastic side of things at Stanford TAPS (or “Drama” at the time) gave me the ability to read, analyze, and interpret texts.

Maggie Mason, MFA – Acting, Brown University

I wrote my play Laterality in my first playwriting class with TAPS Artist-in-Residence Amy Freed. The Stanford Initiative for Creativity in the Arts (now called Stanford Arts Institute), and TAPS Lecturer David Goldman (National New Play Network) gave the play its first professional staged reading. This year, Laterality received a full production at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and was presented as part of a program headlined by Anne Bogart at the Examined Life Conference, a national conference hosted by the Carver College of Medicine which investigates the common ground between medical & artistic practice. Stanford TAPS laid the groundwork for my MFA production work.

Leigh Marshall, MFA – Playwriting, University of Iowa

The largest way I feel TAPS prepared me for a MFA was in my manner of thinking about theater. My TAPS professors pushed me to examine methodologies of theater-making that were outside my comfort zone, and my toolbox as an actor deepened immeasurably from these experiences. In grad school, I felt so confident taking any direction that was thrown at me and understanding my role as an actor based on my ability to grasp style, aesthetic, and intent. While I came in an actor, TAPS made me a conscientious theatermaker.

Louis Reyes McWilliams, MFA – Acting, Brown University

What do you wish you had known about a MFA program before attending?

If you apply and don’t get in it’s not the end of the world — you can apply again and that doesn’t look bad. It looks like you’re someone who really wants this. Apply earlier. Apply often.

Maggie Mason, MFA – Acting, Brown University

It’s hard to understand just how intense a MFA is until you’re in it — but I wish I had had a bit more sense of exactly how much time I’d have to spend in front of my computer (spoiler alert: 99% of my life). I also wish I’d had a bit more of a sense of how opposite it is from Stanford — in that, MFA programs really don’t value interdisciplinary studies like Stanford does, a quality which was one of my favorite things about Stanford.

Matthew Libby, MFA – Playwriting, Tisch (NYU)

I wish I had understood how responsible and independent they were going to expect me to be off the bat. When I arrived for my first year, I quickly discovered I existed in this strange space of thinking of myself as a student while others thought of me as an adult and a professional. I was in class with people who saw me as a professional colleague first, and while many of us became friends through collaboration, the difference between the warm Stanford TAPS community and the more distant MFA environment was jarring, especially in my first year. My MFA experience was one where everyone expected me to come motivated and ready to work hard every day from 9am to 9pm, and I was on my own to discover how to prepare myself for that rigor day in and day out. I was pushed hard in my program, but I gained so much knowledge and technique, and I really feel I couldn’t call myself a professional actor without my time in grad school.

Louis Reyes McWilliams, MFA – Acting, Brown University