Shakespeare and Performance (MLitt/MFA)

The place where scholarship meets practice.

Scholar. Performer. Manager. Director. Why pick just one? MBU’s innovative Shakespeare and Performance program immerses you in the practice of making early modern theatre, from the historical to the contemporary. You’ll learn from professional practitioners and internationally leading scholars, developing your own craft within a context of research-informed performance. And our thriving partnership with the American Shakespeare Center gives you access to one of the most unique stages in the country: the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Time to Completion
2 years
1 year
In Person
In Person
Master of Letters (MLitt)
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Shakespeare and Performance

Why Study Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin?

MBU’s Shakespeare and Performance program is where the page meets the stage. Our Master of Letters (MLitt) program balances four core concentrations: acting, directing, dramaturgy, and teaching. With a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a dynamic interdisciplinary approach, the program enables you to explore classic and new texts in the classroom and the rehearsal room, culminating in public performances and an independent research thesis. 

MLitt grads are then qualified to progress, should you choose, to our one-year ensemble-based Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, which offers a unique terminal degree. In collaboration with faculty and your fellow students, you will collaborate to form a working theatre company, integrating research-informed approaches with practical theatre-making. You will produce a full theatrical season of shows that tour the region and perform on the Blackfriars stage, and in which the company takes on every aspect of theatre production.

And if you are looking to begin your pathway early, our accelerated BA/MLitt program lets you start working towards your MLitt and MFA degrees as an undergraduate. BA/MLitt students complete their undergraduate degrees in just three years and are fast-tracked into the MLitt program with lower costs.

“My thesis explored the direction of our MFA company’s production of Macbeth for young audiences, and offered a practical playbook for how a director can produce an educational Shakespeare show.”

 Katelyn Spurgin MLitt ’22, MFA ’23

The Curriculum: Learn On and Off the Stage

The MLitt curriculum represents the cutting edge of practice-oriented scholarship and scholarship-informed practice. Through a rigorous grounding in the history, ethics, theory, and practice of performing early modern plays, students develop the skills and knowledge to create innovative productions of Shakespeare’s works, the drama of his contemporaries, and contemporary adaptations.

Building on the rigorous underpinning gained through the MLitt, the MFA Company devises, produces, and performs a year-long season of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as modern adaptations. Rather than taking traditional classes, the MFA degree coursework revolves around the work of the MFA theatre company.

Sample Courses:

  • Early Modern Theatre-Making
  • Shakespeare & Textual Culture
  • Tudor-Stuart History
  • Social History of Early Modern England
  • Body in Performance
  • Stage Combat Essentials
  • Shakespeare and Music
  • Company Dramaturgy, Management, Acting, and Directing

View MLitt course requirements

View MFA course requirements

Blackfriars: A World-Famous Stage in Staunton

Shakespeare’s theatre company began performing in the Blackfriars Playhouse in London at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the indoor theatre’s architecture immediately transformed the way his company made theatre. Likewise, the American Shakespeare Center’s recreation of the Blackfriars, built in 2001 here in Staunton, provides a unique environment in which to hone your own theatre-making craft as you rehearse, perform, and learn on this world-famous stage.

Our Current MFA Company

The Meadowlark Shakespeare Players are the latest generation of the Shakespeare & Performance MFA company at Mary Baldwin University. Throughout their 2023-2024 season, they are producing works in Staunton that are free and open to the public, as well as touring productions and educational workshops for students of all ages.

Training for the future.

We are incredibly proud of our alums’ success in many professions. We have recent graduates pursuing doctorates at the University of Washington, Texas A&M, Ohio State University, and the University of Kent. Others are teaching at schools and top universities around the country, including Alvernia University, University of South Carolina, and the University of Colorado. Others have gone on to work as actors, directors, playwrights, dramaturgs, and company managers for theatres including The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and our partner the American Shakespeare Center, as well as founding their own companies, including Sweet Tea Shakespeare Company, Starling Shakespeare Company, and Rubber City Theatre.

Cost & Financial Aid

The Shakespeare and Performance program offers additional financial aid in the form of scholarships, assistantships, and graduate teaching fellowships, along with travel funding for conferences and research.

It’s time to level up your career. Apply today!