Hello, I am awesome and here is my portfolio.
February 16, 2007 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Hey, creative sorts: I could use a little help with a theatrical directing portfolio for an MFA interview.

I haven't a terribly long resume, and hardly any pictures to speak of, so I'm looking for ideas on what I might include. (I do have a very kind and sparkly recommendation from a grad program head at the interviewing school, which will help greatly, I hope.)

Ideas so far are prompt book and script analysis samples, stage layouts, publicity materials (a little sparse), and naturally a pretty resume. Would it be crass to include some write-ups from actors and intelligent audience members? I remain a little unclear on what the portfolio is meant to convey in a directing interview setting. Would it be silly to toss in a few samples of scenic painting from shows I've charged, as an example of leadership skills and professionalism?

I also plan on visiting a few classes beforehand (with permission, naturally), so with any luck, I'll meet the interviewing professors beforehand.

So, kind people, any ideas about content and presentation? I'll appreciate anything you've got to offer.
posted by lauranesson to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
God, lauranesson, it's such a crapshoot. I applied to about 10 MFA programs (and eventually wound up at Ohio University's Professional Director's Training Program), and each one of them was run by a different whacko -- er, I mean person -- who had his own ideas of what to look for. There are no standards, and one of the reasons I chose OU was because George Sherman, who run the directing program, wasn't interested in my portfolio. He was interested in talking to me about my ideas and aspirations.
(Alas, he has retired.)

So if I were you, I'd include all that stuff. Some people will be impressed letters from actors, some won't. just make your portfolio easy to navigate (big tabs or whatever), so that people can skip past stuff that their not interested in.

By the way, the world needs more theatre directors. I'm glad you're applying! If you need any more help/advice, feel free to contact me. My email is in my profile.
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on February 16, 2007

Holy shit.

And now to make this an "asnwer":

Would it be silly to toss in a few samples of scenic painting from shows I've charged, as an example of leadership skills and professionalism?

I think you should definitely do that. It's all part of the mise en scene, you know.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:35 PM on February 16, 2007

Response by poster: Trucker Cowboy! How'd you know this was your old roommate speaking? (Heh.)

And thank you, grumblebee, for the encouragement. I almost titled this question something like: "Hey, grumblebee, you on today?" I might very well email you soon with a couple of questions.
posted by lauranesson at 1:41 PM on February 16, 2007

Any time, lauranesson.

Just my opinion, but I'd avoid schools that, as part of the interview process, want to see you direct. I mean, if the interviewer actually wants to spend five hours with you, great. But they won't do this. The ones that want to watch you will do so for 10 minutes.

I applied to Columbia, and they threw me in a room with two actors I'd never met before (and who clearly didn't want to be there) and said "direct them in this scene ... we'll be back in an hour to see the results."

Now is real life -- and in any sane world -- you don't immediately start blocking actors or trying to crank out a finished process. The first hour with actors -- especially actors you don't know and have never worked with before -- should be used for everyone to get to know each other. Maybe to read through the script a bit and talk about it.

If I'd been older and cockier, that's what I would have done. And the interviewers would have returned after an hour to find no staged scenes -- but happy, relaxed actors who had just begun to think about the script. That's what a good director SHOULD do. But these people wanted me to show them how I would work if I was a bad director. I was young, nervous, and stupidly wanted to get in -- so I did what they wanted and showed them something totally fake. Which, of course, they liked.

I'm SO glad I didn't go there.

Go for the schools/people who make a personal connection with you.
posted by grumblebee at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2007

As a current Columbia MFA directing student, I would first mention that the admission process for Columbia has changed--only Yale retains that weird "direct two actors you've never met" thing in an hour, but there is still a practical component to the directing audition. The thing about directing is that it requires you to articulate an idea, in space and time, with human beings, and that's what the interviewer wants to see. So at Columbia, the heads of the program spend the the entire weekend with you and the other interviewers and test your ability to stage those ideas. I am SO GLAD that I go there.

To answer your question lauranesson, I'd include any kind of write-ups about your work, even campus newspaper reviews of shows you've done) In general when people look at your portfolio, they want to see how your ideas are translated to the stage, how you were able to make a vivid theatrical event, so any kind of material that you have that would allow the interviewer to be taken through your process of directing a play, with images or reviews of the final product would be great.

If you have more questions, feel free to email me. I went through this process 2 years ago, and like Grumblebee says, it's a total crap shoot, and the best way to go about it is to see if you have a personal connection with the students, the school and the professors.
posted by geryon at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2007

Visuals. Pictures or designs. Failing that, notebooks with visual components, followed by reviews.
posted by rainbaby at 10:08 PM on February 16, 2007

No matter what the portfolio looks like, go in to the interview confident to the point of arrogance.
posted by rainbaby at 10:33 PM on February 16, 2007

I teach undergraduates how to prepare their portfolios for MFA auditions and just generally trying to get work as designers and theatre artists in the industry. I work as a freelance lighting designer/programmer/consultant as well, and I'm a member of the United Scenic Artists Local 829 in the category of Lighting Designer. Does this really matter? No, of course not. The industry is full of professionals, I am just one who is working. Working in the industry and continuing to further my own career and agenda is something that all educators should do, in my opinion.

The one thing that I try to teach my students going into an MFA program over anything else is some overall diversity in your work. If you're a student designer, for example, I would try to make sure that you were displaying an amount of work across a few disciplines of design, including any special emphasis (lighting design, for example). If you were a scenic painter (or interested in that line of work as well) I'd want a section devoted to examples of that work. Pictures and images of the work, of course, are included; just make sure that you're efficiently utilizing your portfolio page space. If you're creating a digital or CD portfolio, make sure that it's something that is either web-based, extracts and auto-opens when inserted into the CD drive, or is an optimized PDF that is saved for the a variety of releases of Acrobat. A good working philosophy is to assume that your document's viewer is computer-illiterate.

I'd also want to see the completeness of your process; I'd be looking to see your process as an artist from conceptual ideas and sketching through research and renderings, and final design work (light plots, paperwork, hookups, etc) with . In my opinion, and I don't mentor directing students, the interviewer(s) are wanting to see that you have a design process and that you use the process to progress through a project. Directors' binders, conceptual work, research, et al are things I'd want to see.

If you're developing something and want a critique, put your portfolio together as you see fit, and take some pictures - email them, post them here, or post them somewhere on the web and I'd be hapy to give my opinion and make suggestions if neccessary.

The figure that I give my students is that your portfolio will cost you around two hundred bucks a year if you maintain it; building a nice working portfolio can be expensive to start!

I hope this helps in same way.
Good luck! Happy Portfolio-ing!
posted by jimmyhutch at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2007

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