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Randolph announces new M.F.A. program in theatre

Randolph College’s new Master of Fine Arts in theatre is designed to fill a need in the American theatre industry.

“We keep saying that we want more diversity. We want students with more life experience,” said Stephanie Earl, a theatre professor and director of the program. “Well, some students need a different way to get an M.F.A. We’re providing something that is more flexible and more inclusive for the students who need that.”

The two-year program will use a similar model to Randolph’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, launching this summer with the first of five week-long residencies on campus.

Each residency is followed by a one-on-one virtual mentorship with a faculty member.

“They will work together remotely to come up with a project focused on acting, directing, design, or some sort of hybrid, creating content wherever they are,” Earl said. “It could be a solo performance, or a professional production they’re already working on. We’re looking for students who can be self-starters and get their own work going in their communities.”

Randolph College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and this program is pending approval by the commission.

The M.F.A. is supported by an active fundraising campaign, with a goal of raising $250,000 before the program starts. Dorothy Orgill Kirsch ’55, a frequent supporter of the College, has made a leadership gift toward that goal.

“The low-residency format has been incredibly successful for our Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, and thanks to a stellar line-up of faculty and innovative programming, we expect theatre to flourish as well,” said President Sue Ott Rowlands. “I’m so proud of our faculty for continuing to create programs that meet a unique need for today’s students.”

The program’s first core faculty members are a diverse, distinguished group.

“They all have a lot of amazing experience and prominence in the industry,” Earl said. “We were looking for these multi-hyphenate artists who would have a lot of different ideas and different ways of helping our students create their own theatrical content from wherever they are.”

Melissa DuPrey is an AfroLatina performer, storyteller, comic, activist, and Steppenwolf Theatre alum from Chicago whose recent TV appearances include ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and Fox’s “Empire. She is also an ensemble member at UrbanTheater Company and the director of production and community relations at Free Street Theater.

José Zayas is an award-winning director who has helmed more than 100 productions around the country. A member of Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, he served as resident director of Repertorio Español from 2008-2018 and has held notable fellowships and affiliations including a Drama League Fellowship and the Lincoln Center’s Theater Directors Lab.

Lelund Durond Thompson, an actor, acting coach, photographer, writer, and director, is based in Los Angeles, where he runs his own company. Lelund Durond Studios provides various services for actors, including on-set and private coaching, on-camera classes, photography, and management. In 2016, his original holiday musical, “The First Noel,” premiered at the Apollo Theater, in collaboration with The Classical Theatre of Harlem.

Dennis Whitehead Darling is an award-winning stage director who works in opera, theatre, musical theatre, and film. In 2018, he was Opera Memphis’ Inaugural McCleave Fellow in Directing, a fellowship dedicated to fostering the careers of stage directors and music directors of color.

Karl O’Brien Williams, a Jamaican-born actor, playwright, producer, director, and educator, will teach the program’s first collective academic course, focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion. As artistic director for New York-based Braata Productions, he curates the organization’s bi-annual Caribbean Play Reading Series and creates educational theatre curriculum for after-school and senior center programs.

“It’s been inspiring to witness the creative energy and intentionality that’s gone into crafting Randolph’s Master of Fine Arts in theatre,” said Elizabeth Perry-Sizemore, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Our founding faculty are well-poised to ensure that students receive an exceptional education distinguished from many in the field for the care it gives to issues of diversity, inclusion, safe practices, and well-being. I am excited to see how the M.F.A. in Theatre, Randolph’s fourth graduate program, will transform lives.”

The M.F.A.’s tagline—theatre for the modern world—is a testament to the program’s goals.

“Theatre is meant to be in every corner in our country,” Earl said. “We want to create quality theatre and a healthy theatre community in every nook and cranny and have it be accessible to everyone.”

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