The questions below are answered by the program director.
What do I need to include in my application materials?
In addition to the letter of intent, transcripts, deposit, three reference letters, application form, and fee, we require the submission of your current directing resume, a professional bio, and your artistic portfolio. The portfolio might include directing notes from prior productions, photos of those productions, and reviews. You don’t need to have done a lot of work prior to application, but we want to get a good sense of what that work is and where you would likely stand in the final selection of this cohort. We are looking for each cohort to be balanced, so that no student feels they are not getting as much attention as those who are substantially less experienced. We might be very excited about a student, but suggest that they wait until the next rotation and get some additional experience in the meantime. This would not be an indication of a lack of merit, but rather a way to better prepare the student for success in the program, which we intend to run by professional standards as taught by working professionals in the field.
When is the deadline for applications?
Because we need to have a pretty good idea of how many students will be attending the summer session before we send out contracts to visiting faculty, our posted deadline is February; however, we know that not everyone is able to meet that deadline.
We frequently will allow applicants who are having difficulty getting their full application package together by that deadline to have as much time as they need–so long as we are aware of your intention to apply. Contact us as soon as you know you are interested and we’ll help you get started with the application and set up your file.
If you are interested in the program and the deadline has already passed before you have gotten in touch with us the first time, don’t worry. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll discuss options.
How many directors do you accept?
No more than 10 for each two-year cohort rotation.
When are acceptance notices sent out?
We let applicants know as soon as the decision is made, which is entirely dependent on when the completed application is submitted. We don’t begin review of an application file until everything required is in place–this includes all relevant fees, transcripts, letters, and so forth.
In my first summer, what classes am I allowed/required to take?
The structure of our professional training certificate programs is deliberately designed to follow a progression of courses. All students are required to take, along with our first year M.F.A. playwrights, Narrative Theory and Practice (which covers terms and principals of playwriting) and Playscript Analysis (which provides a baseline of important dramatic works and how to approach discussing them in a dramaturgical fashion). These two courses are required the first summer so that all first years have an opportunity to form a peer group and gain a common language for all the course work which will follow.
Wait a minute! I’m a director, not a playwright! Why do I have to take a playwriting course?
For the same reason that we encourage our playwrights to take classes in acting, directing, arts management, and even design. The more you know about the other disciplines you will be working with, the more respect and understanding you bring to the collaboration. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to turn directors into playwrights, but rather we are dedicated to making sure that a director knows firsthand exactly how a playwright feels about the work they have created and the process a playwright goes through before sharing that script with a production team and ultimately an audience. Yes, you will have to do some writing, but you won’t be evaluated on anything but being able to demonstrate your understanding of the craft of playwriting, not how good your play is. If a playwright can be a better playwright by finding out just how hard it is to cast a play, organize rehearsals, pull a performance out of a problematic actor along with all the other incredibly difficult parts of a director’s job, then we’re pretty certain a director who wants to direct new plays can get better at their craft by learning how to write a play.
OK, I get it. What are the other classes I have to take?
Your first summer you will also take a course on the fundamentals of directing a new play, and how that can be different than working on a published play where the script is finished and most of the problems of production have been solved by lots of other directors before you got your hands on it. You’ll learn the tricks of the trade involved in asking for and accepting rewrites, how to talk to a playwright, how to keep actors from going bonkers after they work hard on a scene that the playwright decides to cut, or rapidly learn new lines right before opening. Of course, all the normal directing principles will be reviewed and reinforced.
In your second summer you take a course on Viewpoints Training and Composition, which will teach fundamentals of devised work creation. You also take a course on creating and running your own theatre company dedicated to producing new plays in collaboration with playwrights, and a course on fundamentals of design in which you will create set, costume, and lighting design options for the festival script you are directing that summer, along with an examination of graphic illustration for publicity purposes.
There is one class that you take both summers, and that is called Directors and Playwrights in Collaboration. Over the six weeks of the summer session, you will be directing a reading that will be part of our annual playwrights festival. This course is designed to be one half weekly production meeting to check in with how your collaboration with the playwright and actors is going, and one half discussion group for identifying problems and finding solutions with the guidance of the instructor.
I’m directing a reading? How is the play selected? Do I have any say in what I direct? How much rehearsal time do I have? Where do I get the actors from? Who prints the–
Slow down, there! Yes. You will be REQUIRED to direct a reading of one of the plays and we know that means you have a lot of questions, but some of those questions are best asked in the classroom on campus and not answered in a sheet like this. Trust us, we have a plan.
Our playwrights generate an astounding amount of work in the classroom each summer, and we’re proud to say that a pretty fair percentage of that work has been presented in readings and even produced and published. In addition, every playwright is required to submit a brand new full-length play or two thematically related one-acts by April 15 every year. From the entire body of work, our New Works Advisory Board reviews around 60-70 plays every year and selects 10 for inclusion in the festival as staged readings, which are announced on May 15. Every playwright will be told that in order to be included in the festival, they must agree to have the reading directed by one of our certificate directors. They must also commit to coming to the Monday morning meetings of the Directors and Playwrights in Collaboration course.
All 10 plays will be sent to each certificate director, who will read them and put together a short list of notes on each script–a kind of pitch of a concept for the play. Each director should (without telling the playwrights) rank the 10 plays in the order of preference as a directing project. The playwrights will all be sent the bios of the 10 directors.
On the first day of the summer session, the Collaboration course will meet and we will have a session that is a little like speed dating. Each director will sit down with each playwright and discuss that play. After about seven minutes, a bell will ring and directors will rotate to the next playwright. After every playwright has discussed the play and concept with each director, we’ll talk a little as a group about how to interview each other for further collaboration. By Wednesday morning, playwrights will ask a director to do their reading. The director may decline, if they wish, but must do so politely because they still may end up having to direct that play if they are not given the opportunity to direct their first choice.
Wait, I might have to direct a play I don’t want to direct?
Yes. This happens all the time in the profession and one of the things we hope to teach is how to invest in a project that wasn’t your first choice. Remember, we said that you were required to direct one of the readings. Hopefully everyone will be able to pair off organically, but if playwrights and directors have not partnered up themselves by Wednesday morning, the program director will make those pairings and that decision will be final. We only have six weeks and there is a lot more to work on during our summer session than the festival readings. And, all the directors, playwrights, and even actors are new to this kind of work, or they wouldn’t be doing the program. It very well may be that how you go about selecting creative partners will change as a result of the training and a project that you weren’t excited about your first year might be exactly the kind of thing you want to work on by the end of your second year. We have a whole series of structured exercises to help our students find effective strategies for working together in a variety of ways under a variety of conditions.
Got it. So, once we have our play and our playwright, what about the actors?
Every summer at the end of the first week, we hold a joint unified audition for local actors. Our directing students will be required to attend these auditions, as well as help facilitate them. They are held at Mill Mountain Theatre, which is our local equity playhouse, and go all day on Saturday and Sunday. All of our students in the Certificate for New Play Performance are also required to audition, and our playwrights are also strongly encouraged to audition so that even if they are not cut out to be performers themselves, they know just how difficult an audition can be for the person on the stage. Lots of our playwrights are pretty good actors, though and we encourage you to cast from that pool when appropriate–but you are not allowed to cast a playwright in their own show.
Festival casting happens the following Monday in the Collaboration class. Most Mondays the actors will also attend this class as part of their Ensembles in Collaboration course–but NOT this Monday. While we are making sausage, they will be meeting with their instructor doing a post mortem review of their auditions.
Casting notices WILL go up by NOON on that Monday, and then the lamentations and celebrations will commence.
Are actors allowed to decline a role?
Yes and no. Actors who are in the certificate program are not allowed to decline a role, for all of the reasons we mentioned about why directors might have to direct a play they have been assigned rather than chose. There just isn’t time during the summer session to spend on negotiating who is in what shows and the actors also need to learn how to invest in a project that they were not initially excited about. Local actors, however, might decline or drop out, because they don’t have the same consequences for those decisions. Also, these auditions are jointly held for all of the community theatres in the region and some auditioners are there more to be seen by those theatres than they are to be cast in our readings. This is why on every audition form we ask if there are things that the actor would not do on stage (kiss someone, swear, get naked, be up high, etc.) and we also ask about conflicts and whether or not they would accept a role if cast. We try to cover all the bases, but surprises happen and sometimes people change their minds.
What about rehearsals, staging, props, costumes, and stuff?
Festival shows are prohibited from having more than seven total hours of rehearsal. This is so that no one is in danger of prioritizing rehearsals over other course work. Just like any rehearsal for any play, you will need to work around the class and work schedules of your actors. We also want these to be mostly Orchestra style readings, with binders or music stands. Minimal costumes, no props, no special effects, no elaborate sound effects, and almost no blocking. The idea is to present the text to the audience and give an impression of what a production might be like, not to try and get a mini-production experience.
Apart from Festival, what other directing opportunities will I have during the summer?
In addition to the festival, there are readings of very early drafts of plays every Wednesday night in Lab, and though you are not required to go to Lab for the readings, we really encourage you to do so in order to hear how we discuss new plays, participate in those discussions, and meet the playwrights who might not have been selected for Festival through their work. We encourage our playwrights to also work with directors for these readings, and the same rules apply to them as to festival readings.
Every Friday night we have a venue called No Shame Theatre, where short original performance pieces are staged. The rules are simple: 1) pieces have to be short, no more than five minutes; 2) pieces have to be original, with no copyright violations; and 3) you can’t break anything, including the law. Very often these pieces are fresh out of the printer and have neither been rehearsed nor employ a director. We would love it if having access to directors meant that some of those pieces ended up getting a little more polish.
Halfway through the summer session we partner with Mill Mountain Theatre to present our version of the 24 Hour Plays, which we call Overnight Sensations. At 8 pm on a Friday night, six playwrights are randomly paired with six directors. Then those teams are randomly paired with six pre-selected groups groups of six actors. Then a bunch of writing prompts are drawn and the playwrights get rushed off to the library to write a new 10-minute play based on what they got. Directors usually go to No Shame to take their mind off of worrying about the kind of play they will get in the morning. At 8 am, the playwrights meet the directors at the theatre to read the draft and discuss any changes to the text, then the scripts are printed out while we have a production meeting. Actors arrive at 11 am for lunch and rehearsals begin at noon. At 5 pm we do a cue to cue, and at 7 pm the audience starts arriving. At 8 pm the curtain goes up on six freshly baked new 10-minute plays. The directors are selected from among our certificate students as well as our faculty, guest artists, and local directors. Any certificate directors who are not selected to direct in Overnight Sensations are encouraged to participate as performers if they wish. Everyone is required to attend the performance, however.
There are also other opportunities during the summer, as our playwrights are allowed to check out performance spaces in two hour blocks for their own student initiated projects, like private or public readings and they may request a director to work with their script. You might also like to propose a project of your own or even a devised piece with multiple collaborators.
What opportunities are there during the rest of the year?
We have a fund for offsetting the costs of producing plays written by our student playwrights called the New Works Initiative fund. If you are able to get a theatre you work with to include a play by a Hollins playwright in their season, whether studio or main stage, and you will be involved as either the director or assistant director, that theatre can apply for production assistance of between $500 and $5,000. Additionally, since we encourage mutually beneficial relationships between playwrights and directors, it is possible that should a playwright get a production and they are asked if they have a director they prefer to work with, you might be that director. In that case, a request could be made by the producing theatre that NWI funds be used to help pay for your travel and accommodations, although we are prohibited by law from paying current students in order to avoid any appearance that grades are related to any kind of pay-to-play scheme.
Suppose I already got, or am getting my M.F.A. in playwriting at Hollins but also want the certificate training. Can I do that? How does that work with the classes I already took?
When a student who had graduated from the program is accepted into the certificate program, they would not have to take Narrative Theory or Playscript Analysis again. Instead, they would substitute those two courses with a creative and an analytical course from the playwriting curriculum that meets at the same time as those foundational courses. The same thing is true of a certificate student who chooses to continue their studies by getting the M.F.A. in playwriting.
How quickly can I expect to graduate?
Every student in the certificate program is expected to complete their training in the two-year rotation. If for some reason you had to unexpectedly leave the program, you would have to wait until that rotation came around again to take those courses.
What can you tell me about letters of reference?
Letters of reference are a very important part of your application process, not just a hoop to jump through. Give serious thought to ensuring they are significant, supportive, and above all, relevant.
An artistic director, literary manager, or famous director of a major theatre looks great as a reference, but most people entering grad school are going to find those kinds of references difficult to obtain.
A lot of programs ask for three letters and not coincidentally, are looking for people who can speak directly to three specific things. Your talent as a director, your ability to handle the academic rigor of a graduate level study, and your potential for success in the field. Our suggestion is to try to get references that can each speak in general about all three of those things but then be very specific about one of them.
Find someone who can speak about why they think you are a talented director. If possible, ask another director, an actor, or a playwright you have worked with.
Find another someone who can speak to your academic ability, especially if that ability is not reflected in the grades on your transcript. A supportive teacher is better than the head of a department who hardly knows you.
Find someone who can speak to your passion and commitment to pursuing your dream, and if possible, mention how you have helped others to do so.
Where possible, make sure those someones are accomplished themselves so that their evaluation of you carries weight. You want references who know you well, will describe you favorably but not with faint praise, know something about the program you are applying to and your goals, and willing to take questions about you over the phone.
Lastly, remember that your reference is putting their reputation at risk by writing your recommendation. Don’t ask if you aren’t reasonably sure they’ll say yes. If they do say yes, don’t make them regret it.
What do you need in terms of a resume and transcripts?
The need for official transcripts is obvious. We need demonstrable proof that you have obtained your undergraduate degree. If your undergraduate degree is not from an accredited college or university, a special request for a waiver of that requirement must be made to the full Grad Council and approved by the vice president for academic affairs.
And, we need all transcripts from every academic institution you have attended, even if you didn’t graduate from them, your grades there weren’t good, or you don’t think the field of academic study represented by them is relevant to your Certificate Training.
Do you really look at my grades?
Will you reject me if my undergraduate grades are terrible?
Not necessarily, but we do use past performance as an indicator in determining if you are up to meeting the demands of graduate level study.
A lot of people who do extremely well in graduate school have undergraduate grades they might be less than proud of. Don’t try to hide them. Don’t decide not to submit a transcript just because it reflects progress in an unrelated field or a degree you didn’t complete. Address those issues in your letter of interest and speak to both your desire to make a stronger showing in this program and discuss some of your strategies for doing so.
Don’t obsess about past grades. The quality of your writing sample, strength of your letter of interest, and the enthusiasm of your references will likely outweigh that D– you got in calculus.
Often I hear people stressing over their resume or CV… even about what the difference between a CV and a resume is, and which one is appropriate, how long should it be, and how much not having a bunch of professional credits on it matters.
To all that, I can only say, “Relax.”
A resume is geared more toward employment and a CV (Curriculum Vitae) is geared more toward academic achievements, so for this program resume is probably more appropriate, but that doesn’t mean the academic achievements are irrelevant.
As for credits, we don’t want you to prove you don’t need the instruction in order to get into the program. What we want is an accurate idea of your background, where you’ve worked and what you’ve done and who you’ve done it with.
Be truthful. Be complete. Be concise.
What are you looking for in a statement of purpose or letter of interest? How important is that to the application as a whole?
In a lot of ways, your letter of interest is the most important thing in your application. Lots of pressure, but the only good introduction is an honest one. In short, be yourself. Trying to be anyone or anything else is more work than it is worth.
Before you pick a school, you should have been selective in that choice—you should know why you want to go there, have specific goals and a plan for how the program you are applying to can help you meet those goals. All that should be in your letter of interest.
How else are we going to know anything about your passion for theatre, how much you looked into our program, and whether your expectations of the program are realistic? Your letter of interest is the best tool we have (outside of an actual interview) to help decide whether or not the school and the student will be a good team for the next two years.
Choosing a cohort of students is like casting a play. Talent is important, but so is knowing the ensemble will work well together, be mutually supportive and be good ambassadors for the institution. And if you don’t get in, that means nothing more than the path to your success might lie in another direction.
Ask hard questions of yourself and the institution. We’ll do the same—and that is going to be a very good and useful conversation to have regardless of the outcome.
How do you select your guest speakers and visiting faculty?
One of the greatest strengths of our program is our visiting faculty and guest artists. Our unique schedule allows some of the best known names in new play development to participate in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional program. Busy working professionals can fit in six weeks of teaching much easier than five months. For the certificate program it is VERY important to us that our faculty not be academics but actual working professionals who can model best practices. Whenever possible, we look for faculty who are also playwrights, or who have extensive experience in working on new plays with playwrights.
We bring in experts representing every aspect of professional theatre—playwrights, agents, directors, artistic directors, dramaturgs, producers, composers, agents, publishers, designers, actors, and lots of other disciplines.
We invite individuals who’ve made an impact on modern theatre with their own work who also have a proven record of successful and inspirational teaching or a history of helping emerging talents find their voice and be heard by a wider audience.
A successful community shares a common philosophy and enthusiasm for the mission it embodies, so we want visiting faculty and guest artists who will be good ambassadors for the program. What our guests and faculty say about Hollins has a huge impact on who is willing to come in the future.
We look at more than resume and reputation, we look for those who are eager to join our community, and excited about helping it grow.
Often, we’ll invite someone as a guest responder for the festival of student readings. If that goes well, we might invite them back as a guest speaker, and then (if it fits our curriculum) we may invite them back for a summer of teaching.
We don’t want people who are trying to find work, we want people who will help us create new work together.