Theatre Directing (MFA)

This Master's degree offers professionally recognised training for theatre directors. It is the result of a unique collaboration between Birkbeck and the Arts Council England, Equity and UK Theatre. The programme has been planned in close co-operation with a wide range of distinguished theatre practitioners.

Find out about the work of recently graduated directors and read our guide for applicants 2018-19.

Students on the MFA Theatre Directing can apply for a number of bursaries towards fees awarded on the basis of financial need. It is not possible to apply for these bursaries in advance of being offered a place on the MFA Theatre Directing; successful applicants will be given further details once admitted to the programme.


  • Arts and humanities at Birkbeck are ranked fifth best in London, 18th in the UK and 87th globally in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject.
  • In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), English Language and Literature at Birkbeck achieved 100% for a research environment conducive to producing research of the highest quality, while 91% of eligible staff submitted research, of which 75% was recognised as world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • Direct input of professional theatre practitioners; Mike Leigh, Vicki Mortimer, Lyndsey Turner and Mike Alfreds have been recent contributors.
  • Includes a nine-month secondment with a theatre company, providing the opportunity to direct and work with professional actors, and a three-month secondment to a leading drama school. Extended mentoring relationships between students and professional directors, regular observation of the course by a highly experienced group of professional directors.
  • Our Centre for Contemporary Theatre runs a postgraduate reading group and offers opportunities to show work in progress as part of the School of Arts summer festival Arts Week.
  • The School of Arts is an official partner of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Opportunities for students have included a year’s free membership of the ICA, private views, discounts on all talks and events, free members' screenings and £3 cinema tickets on Tuesdays, up to 25% off ICA Artists' Editions and a monthly e-newsletter.

Course structure

Year 1 enables you to acquire an informed experience, knowledge and understanding of the work of the professional director with key collaborators such as actors, writers and designers. You will also be introduced to the current structural and financial realities of working as directors in the industry. One term is spent at a leading drama school, learning how actors are trained for today’s theatre. Intensive units with leading professionals, including members of the RSC’s voice and movement departments, and leading practitioners such as Mike Leigh, Mike Alfreds, Vicki Mortimer, Natalie Abrahami and Lyndsey Turner will concentrate on the director’s relationship with the designer and the writer, and offer a practical understanding of how theatre companies and pieces of work are funded and managed.

Year 2 enables you to develop your skills as a director through secondment to a theatre company (or companies). During the secondment you are given a number of opportunities to work as a director with actors and other appropriate collaborators in the creation of theatre pieces. In the final term of the degree, students reassemble as a group to acquire practical knowledge and skills that will enable them to begin their careers as independent artists.

Collaborating theatre companies will be drawn from a group of committed organisations. This group currently includes: the Royal Exchange Manchester, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Rep, the Citizens Theatre Glasgow, Home Manchester, the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and HighTide.

Module groups

To find out more, read our programme handbook.

  • Entry Requirements

    Entry requirements

    Either a minimum second-class honours degree from a UK university (or a directly comparable qualification from a non-UK university), together with some significant experience of professional or professional-level theatre; or an undergraduate- or postgraduate-level diploma from a recognised UK drama school (or a directly comparable qualification from a non-UK drama school), together with some significant experience of professional or professional-level theatre (normally three years); or extensive professional experience.

    Considerable importance will be attached to your ability to demonstrate commitment to professional theatre directing. If you are considered to be initially qualified, you will then be interviewed.

    International entry requirements

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the requirement for this programme is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each of the sub-tests and at least 7.0 in writing.

    Visit the International section of our website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

    Visa requirements

    If you are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or Switzerland and you are coming to study in the UK, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months' duration.
    • Courses of less than six months' duration.
    • Pre-sessional English language courses.

    International students who require a Tier 4 visa should apply for our full-time courses (with the exception of modular enrolment certificates of higher education and graduate certificates), as these qualify for Tier 4 sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Tier 4 visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck's part-time courses (with the exception of some modules).

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

    Credits and Accredited Prior Learning (APL)

    If you have studied at university previously, you may have accumulated credits through the modules you studied. It may be possible to transfer these credits from your previous study to Birkbeck or another institution. You should discuss this with the Programme Director when you are making your application.

    Find out more about credits and Accredited Prior Learning (APL).

  • Fees


    Full-time home/EU students: £8350 pa
    Full-time international students: £15200 pa

    Students are charged a tuition fee in each year of their programme. Tuition fees for students continuing on their programme in following years may be subject to annual inflationary increases. For more information, please see the College Fees Policy.

    Additional costs

    Deposit to secure your place on the MFA Theatre Directing

    The MFA Theatre Directing is an extremely popular programme and has a limited number of places. For this reason, you are required to commit to the programme by paying a non-refundable deposit of £500 to secure your place. This deposit is part of the overall course fee, and not an additional amount.


    If you are made an offer of a place on the course, your offer letter will advise that you need to pay a non-refundable deposit of £500 to secure your place. For those offered places on the MFA Theatre Directing in February, the deposit must be paid by Friday 5 May; for those offered places in early June, the deposit must be paid by Friday 24 June. Deposits are collected by the Fees Office and recorded against your fee liability in the usual way.

    If you do not pay your deposit by the set deadline, then you forfeit your place on the course and this will be offered elsewhere. A later deposit deadline will be set for students on the waiting list who are offered places later in the cycle.


    These deposits are non-refundable. If you do not take up your place on the course, you forfeit your £500. In certain circumstances, for example severe illness, where you are prevented from taking up your place through no fault of your own, it may be possible for your deposit to be rolled forward to the next year of entry, if the School is willing to defer your place. The decision on whether your place can be deferred will lie with the School, and the decision on whether your deposit can be rolled forward will lie with Finance.

    If you do not attend the course, and so withdraw or ask to withdraw, the deposit is excluded from any other fee refund you might be awarded.

    International students

    International students are required to provide a deposit of £2000 as a matter of general College policy. £500 of the general £2000 deposit will be deemed to be the non-refundable element.

  • Teaching and assessment


    At Birkbeck, almost all of our courses are taught in the evening and our teaching is designed to support students who are juggling evening study with work and other daytime commitments. We actively encourage innovative and engaging ways of teaching, to ensure our students have the best learning experience. In the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the government’s system for rating university teaching, Birkbeck was allocated a Silver award.

    Teaching may include formal lectures, seminars, and practical classes and tutorials. Formal lectures are used in most degree programmes to give an overview of a particular field of study. They aim to provide the stimulus and the starting point for deeper exploration of the subject during your own personal reading. Seminars give you the chance to explore a specific aspect of your subject in depth and to discuss and exchange ideas with fellow students. They typically require preparatory study.

    Our distance-learning and blended-learning courses and modules are self-directed and we will provide you with interactive learning opportunities and encourage you to collaborate and engage via various learning technologies. These courses involve limited or no face-to-face contact between students and module tutors.

    In addition, you will have access to pastoral support via a named Personal Tutor.

    Methods of teaching on this course

    Much of the teaching takes place in drama schools and design studios, including a full-time six-month placement in a professional theatre. In addition, there are practitioner-led workshops.

    Contact hours

    On our taught courses, you will have scheduled teaching and study sessions each year. Alongside this, you will also undertake assessment activities and independent learning outside of class. Depending on the modules you take, you may also have additional scheduled academic activities, such as tutorials, dissertation supervision, practical classes, visits and fieldtrips.

    On our taught courses, the actual amount of time you spend in the classroom and in contact with your lecturers will depend on your course, the option modules you select and when you undertake your final-year project.

    On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, discussion, collaboration and interaction with your lecturers and fellow students are encouraged and enabled through various learning technologies, but you may have limited or no face-to-face contact with your module tutors.


    Timetables are usually available from September onwards and you can access your personalised timetable via your My Birkbeck Profile online (if you have been invited to enrol).

    Indicative class size

    Class sizes vary, depending on your course, the module you are undertaking, and the method of teaching. For example, lectures are presented to larger groups, whereas seminars usually consist of small, interactive groups led by a tutor.

    Independent learning

    On our taught courses, much of your time outside of class will be spent on self-directed, independent learning, including preparing for classes and following up afterwards. This will usually include, but is not limited to, reading books and journal articles, undertaking research, working on coursework and assignments, and preparing for presentations and assessments.

    Independent learning is absolutely vital to your success as a student. Everyone is different, and the study time required varies topic by topic, but, as a guide, expect to schedule up to five hours of self-study for each hour of teaching.

    On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, the emphasis is very much on independent, self-directed learning and you will be expected to manage your own learning, with the support of your module tutors and various learning technologies.

    Study skills and additional support

    Birkbeck offers study and learning support to undergraduate and postgraduate students to help them succeed. Our Learning Development Service can help you in the following areas:

    • academic skills (including planning your workload, research, writing, exam preparation and writing a dissertation)
    • written English (including structure, punctuation and grammar)
    • numerical skills (basic mathematics and statistics).

    Our Disability and Dyslexia Service can support you if you have additional learning needs resulting from a disability or from dyslexia.

    Our Counselling Service can support you if you are struggling with emotional or psychological difficulties during your studies.

    Our Mental Health Advisory Service can support you if you are experiencing short- or long-term mental health difficulties during your studies.


    Assessment is an integral part of your university studies and usually consists of a combination of coursework and examinations, although this will vary from course to course - on some of our courses, assessment is entirely by coursework. The methods of assessment on this course are specified below under 'Methods of assessment on this course'. You will need to allow time to complete coursework and prepare for exams.

    Where a course has unseen written examinations, these may be held termly, but, on the majority of our courses, exams are usually taken in the Summer term, during May to June. Exams may be held at other times of the year as well. In most cases, exams are held during the day on a weekday - if you have daytime commitments, you will need to make arrangements for daytime attendance - but some exams are held in the evening. Exam timetables are published online.

    Find out more about assessment at Birkbeck, including guidance on assessment, feedback and our assessment offences policy.

    Methods of assessment on this course

    A combination of oral presentations with supporting material; practical exercises; the assessment of your practice as a director by peer and leading practitioners; and a final dissertation.

  • Careers and employability

    Careers and employability

    Recent graduates have directed productions at prestigious theatres including: the National Theatre, the RSC, the Royal Court, English National Opera, the Almeida, the Young Vic, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Gate and in the West End. Others have established their own companies, such as Coney, Curious Directive, Rough Fiction, commonpractice and Red Herring.

    Many graduates have directed at regional theatres, including Sheffield Theatres, the Royal Exchange, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse, and many have assisted on productions at the RSC, the National Theatre, the Globe, the Old Vic, the Young Vic and in the West End.

    Others have won awards, such as the 2014 Olivier Award for Best Director, the James Menzies-Kitchin Award (the JMK) in 2012 and 2015, the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme (RTYDS) Award, and the Stage Award for Best Fringe Theatre.

    Possible professions include theatre director, artistic director, associate director, opera director, theatre producer, literary manager and dramaturg. 

    We offer a comprehensive Careers and Employability Service to help you advance your career, while our in-house, professional recruitment consultancy, Birkbeck Talent, works with London’s top employers to help you gain work experience that fits in with your evening studies.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    We want to secure the most talented, qualified and appropriate students for this course. There will be a maximum of 10 places on the course each year, and competition is expected to be considerable. Please read our guide for applicants 2018-19 before you start your application.

    During the admission process we are concerned above all to assess your potential both to cope with the considerable demands of the course and to achieve the necessarily high standard required on completion. It is also equally important that we assess the suitability of the course for each candidate's wants and needs, since the philosophy and content of the course may not be appropriate for every aspiring director.

    The admission process is therefore designed to allow us to be satisfied that candidates:

    • have the necessary abilities to undertake and cope with the demands of this course
    • show evidence of the skills and understanding needed for a course at this level of expectation and rigour
    • demonstrate the personal qualities and commitment essential for the completion of this course.

    Application guidelines

    If you decide to apply for the course you should note that in addition to completing the online application, you must answer some specific questions designed to supply additional information about your experience of, and commitment to, theatre, as well as about your aspirations. Your responses are significant and will be taken into account in assessing your suitability for the course.

    You must also supply details of two referees, whom the College will contact. At least one of these referees must be able to supply information about your experience of professional or professional-level theatre.

    Overseas candidates

    Candidates from overseas must attend the selection process in person. If your first language is not English, you should note that certified evidence of your proficiency in spoken and written English is required prior to interview for the course. The minimum level of proficiency required to undertake this course is 7.0 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test.

    Please note that the admission of successful candidates whose first language is not English will be made conditional on their achievement of certified attainment of this IELTS level or its equivalent.

    Selection process

    After the consideration of all written applications, those applicants who are considered to be suitably qualified will be invited to participate as candidates in the course's selection process. During this process, each candidate's potential to become a professional director will be scrutinised and assessed. Details of the selection process will be supplied to candidates in due course.

    Notes on making an application

    In addition to the completed application form you should supply us with the following four items: the answers to the questions below, your professional CV, and two references. They should be uploaded as separate documents to your completed application form. Please keep a copy of all parts of your application for future reference.

    • A completed copy of the online application. Your CV will supplement the brief summary details you give in the professional experience section. At least one of your referees must be able to supply information about your experience of professional or professional-level theatre and give an informed view of your professional or professional-level theatre experience in general, which may or may not include directing. The selection panels are aware that some appropriate candidates may have quite minor (if any) experience of directing, but the course does not prescribe a minimum level of directing experience before admission. The status or job title of this referee is less important than her/his ability to describe and testify to your professional or professional-level experience of theatre. Please supply telephone numbers for both your referees.
    • A copy of your up-to-date CV, which should include details of your professional or professional-level experience of theatre (not just of theatre directing) and, in addition, should include details of any theatre directing experience you have had, whether at professional level or not.
    • A supporting statement, consisting of written answers (each of 500 words or fewer) to the questions below. Your responses to these questions are significant and will be taken into account by selection panels in assessing your potential suitability for the course.

    The supporting statement

    Please note that each question should be answered in not more than 500 words, although your answers can be shorter if you wish. Contrary to the statement on the application form, you are not expected to confine your supporting statement to one sheet.

    • What do you believe to be the role of the theatre director in relation to actors and other creative collaborators?
    • Describe how you might approach directing a particular play or theatre piece (of your choice).
    • What kind of theatre or theatre company do you want to direct and why, and what kind of work would you programme and why? (Please note: you can name and/or describe the work as you wish.)

    There are no correct answers to these questions - they are designed to allow you to reveal, as frankly as possible, your present views of theatre and what your potential or possible work as a director might be. We will expect our applicants to reveal a wide range of experience, opinions, interests and ambitions. Please feel free to be candid; we are interested in reading your honest opinions.

    Application deadlines and interviews

    We hold two rounds of interviews each year. The deadlines for applications for entry in 2018 are 19 January 2018 for interviews in late February and 4 May 2018 for interviews in mid-June.

    Candidates may apply for either round of interviews and there is no advantage in applying for the earlier deadline, except to have greater notice of your acceptance onto the programme.