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Theatre Directing (MFA)

This MFA Theatre Directing offers professionally recognised training for theatre directors. The result of a collaboration between Birkbeck and the Arts Council England, Equity and UK Theatre, the course provides a unique opportunity to work with theatre actors, writers and designers, while being introduced to the structural and financial realities of working as a director in the industry.

You will spend time at a leading drama school, learning how actors are trained for today’s theatre. Intensive units with expert professionals, including noted 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.

You will then further develop your skills as a director through secondment to a theatre company where you will have the opportunity to assist on at least three productions; collaborators include the Royal Exchange Manchester, Birmingham Rep, Leicester Curve, HOME Manchester, Octagon Theatre Bolton, the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, HighTide and the Unicorn.

Highlights

  • The course includes a six- to nine-month secondment with a theatre company, providing the opportunity to direct and work with professional actors; a three-month secondment to a leading drama school; extended mentoring relationships between students and professional directors; and regular observation of the course by a highly experienced group of professional directors.
  • The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Scholarship will support an emerging director from an under-represented or disadvantaged socio-economic background to undertake this two-year director training programme from September 2021. The scholarship is for £20,000 over two years to cover the course fees and provide funds towards the costs of study. Visit our School of Arts postgraduate funding page for more details and to apply for this scholarship.
  • 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.
  • In the most recent 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.

Course structure

The course consists of an induction, six compulsory modules and an option module chosen from a range offered by the Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing.

In Year 1, the three-week induction is followed by a term spent at a leading drama school and a further four modules at Birkbeck, including an intensive three-week project working with designers from Wimbledon School of Art.

In Year 2, you spend six months on secondment with a professional theatre company and then complete a further module at Birkbeck.

Module groups

Birkbeck makes all reasonable efforts to deliver educational services, modules and programmes of study as described on our website. In the event that there are material changes to our offering (for example, due to matters beyond our control), we will update applicant and student facing information as quickly as possible and offer alternatives to applicants, offer-holders and current students.

  • Entry Requirements

    Entry requirements

    Either a second-class honours degree (2:2) or above 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.

    Applications are reviewed on their individual merits and your professional qualifications and/or relevant work experience will be taken into consideration positively. We actively support and encourage applications from mature learners.

    On your application form, please list all your relevant qualifications and experience, including those you expect to achieve.

    There are two application deadlines: Friday 28 January for interviews in February and Monday 2 May for interviews in late May and early June. There is no advantage in either deadline but overseas students may wish to apply earlier in order to have more time to secure visas. You do not need to have completed your current qualification to start your application.

    ENGLISH LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS

    If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, our usual requirement is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests.

    If you don't meet the minimum IELTS requirement, we offer pre-sessional English courses and foundation programmes to help you improve your English language skills and get your place at Birkbeck.

    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 UK and you do not already have residency here, 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: Student visa
    • Courses of less than six months' duration: Standard Visitor visa

    International students who require a Student visa should apply for our full-time courses as these qualify for Student visa sponsorship. If you are living in the UK on a Student 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

    Fees

    Full-time home students: £9030 pa
    Full-time international students: £16380 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 course and has a limited number of places. For this reason, you are required to commit to the course 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.

    Process

    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 April, the deposit must be paid by Friday 29 April; for those offered places in early June, the deposit must be paid by Friday 15 July. 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.

    Refunds

    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 the finance department.

    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

    Teaching

    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

    We actively encourage innovative and engaging ways of teaching, to ensure our students have the best learning experience.

    This course is exclusively taught full-time and 80% during the day.

    Teaching hours

    Our evening hours are normally between 6pm and 9pm (6-7.30pm and 7.30-9pm). Some programmes also offer teaching during the day and this will be clearly signposted to you where it is available.

    On our taught courses, you will have scheduled teaching and study sessions each year. Scheduled teaching sessions may include lectures, seminars, workshops or laboratory work. Depending on the modules you take, you may also have additional scheduled academic activities, such as tutorials, dissertation supervision, practical classes, visits and field trips. 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 (if applicable).

    Alongside your contact hours, you will also undertake assessment activities and independent learning outside of class. The amount of time you need to allocate to study both for taught sessions (this might include online sessions and/or in-person sessions) and personal study will depend on how much you are studying during the year and whether you are studying full time or part time.

    Birkbeck’s courses are made up of modules and allocated ‘credit’. One credit is equivalent to ten hours of learning time. Modules are usually in 15, 30 or 60 credit units. A 15-credit module will mean around 150 hours of learning, including taught sessions and independent study or group work. This is spread out over the whole period of that module and includes the time you spend on any assessments, including in examinations, preparing and writing assessments or engaged in practical work as well as any study support sessions to help you in your learning.

    On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, discussion, collaboration and interaction with your lecturers and fellow students is encouraged and enabled through various learning technologies.

    Timetables

    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

    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, Upstart and Yes, Yes, No, No.

    Many graduates have directed at regional theatres, including Sheffield Theatres, the Royal Exchange Manchester, Leeds 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, The Stage Debut Award in 2019 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 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

    You apply directly to Birkbeck for this course, using the online application link. Please note that online application will open in September 2021 and close 2 May 2022.

    Please upload your CV and supporting statement as separate documents to the same portal that you upload your identity documents, degree transcript and evidence of English attainment (if required): there is only one portal for all supporting documents.

    The Curriculum Vitae

    Your CV 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.

    The Supporting Statement

    This should consist of your answers to each one of the following questions, which we have designed to provide us with additional information, both about your experience of (and commitment to) theatre and about your aims, interests and concerns as a director.

    Your responses to these questions are considered to be significant and will be taken into account by selection panels in assessing your potential suitability for the course.

    • What do you believe to be the role of a 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 that you can name and/or describe the work as you wish.)

    Please note that each question should be answered in not more than 500 words, but your answers can be shorter than this if you wish. Please also note that, contrary to the statement on the application form, you are not expected to confine this ‘supporting statement’ to one sheet!

    It is very important to remember that there are no ‘correct’ answers to these questions! We have designed them to allow you to reveal as frankly as possible your present views of theatre and of 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. Feel free to be candid; we will be interested to read your honest opinions and beliefs.

    References

    With regard to your referees, please note that at least one of these referees must be able to supply information about your experience of professional or professional-level theatre. This referee must be able to give an informed view of your professional or professional-level theatre experience in general, which may or may not include directing. Selection panels will be well aware that some appropriate candidates will only have quite minor, if any, experience of directing, and the course does not prescribe a minimum level of directing experience before admission. The status or job-title of this referee is very much less important than her/his ability to describe and testify to your professional or professional-level experience of theatre. You should supply telephone numbers for both your referees.

    If you have questions about the course, or would like a copy of the student handbook, you should contact the Programme Director, Rob Swain, by email at . He will then respond to you within a few days. You will need to prove your identity when you apply - read more about suitable forms of identification.

    Application deadlines and interviews

    The application deadline for this course is 2 May 2022.