The Hilberry Theatre Graduate Training Program at Wayne State University

Created in 1963 with the belief that repertory theatre is the best possible training ground for careers in the theatre, the Hilberry Company was the brainchild of Leonard Leone. Clarence B. Hilberry, then president of Wayne State University, personally took responsibility for raising the funds to convert the First Church of Christ Scientist in Detroit into a theatre — named The Hilberry Theatre — which stands as a memorial to his leadership.

The M.F.A. curriculum is a three-year program of intensive practical experience, based on management training, performance and production within the professional conditions of the Hilberry Repertory Theatre. Each year Hilberry students are involved in more than 100 performances of six different shows before an audience of nearly 45,000 people. Chosen in nationwide auditions and interviews, the members of the company receive classroom and applied training leading to advanced degrees in management, acting or design.

Today, the 40-to-45 member company is composed of theatre managers; actors; costume, lighting and scenic designers/technicians; and stage managers who work together to produce what the Detroit News has called “...the longest running, large-scale story in Detroit drama.”

At least 65% of the credits toward the degree are in the student’s major area of concentration. Specialization is offered in

For more detail, check out the theatre department's curriculum guides and handbooks.


The Hilberry Acting program was conceived with the belief that one of the best systems of theatre training is an intensive, performance-guided experience based on a series of European and American classics, combined with noteworthy contemporary plays performed in rotating repertory. Continual performance before a live audience is considered a fundamental part of the learning process.

Highlighted explorations include the processes of Konstantin Stanislavsky, Michael Chekhov, Jacques Lecoq, and Sanford Meisner. Styles and genres covered include psychological realism, neutral mask, Greek chorus, commedia dell’arte, high comedy, revenge tragedy, Shakespeare and expressionism/surrealism. Movement classes emphasize alignment, agility and strength, as well as period dance/deportment and Pilates. Voice classes employ a somatic approach based in the work of Catherine Fitzmaurice.

The department regularly invites guest artists and teachers who provide additional instruction in movement, dance, acting, voice and Shakespearean text analysis, as well as professional talent agents from a variety of regions who offer additional industry insight and training.

The following selection of courses is typical for actors:

  • Studio Acting
  • Studio Voice and Speech
  • Studio Movement and Dance
  • Repertory Theatre (rehearsals and performances)
  • Advanced Script Analysis
  • Dramaturgy
  • Advanced Development of Drama
  • Studies in Dramatic Criticism
  • Seminar: Period Drama
  • Seminar: Modern Drama
  • Seminar: Theatre History
  • Theatre Aesthetics

Costume Design

The Hilberry Costume Design program gives students an opportunity to study and practice the art of costume design through intensive classroom experience, as well as studio and design production work. The course of study includes traditional classes in all aspects of design technique, including script analysis, studio art classes and fashion design, as well as basic scenic and lighting design. Combined with the hands-on approach to technical production, students have the opportunity to design for multiple realized productions at the Hilberry and Bonstelle Theatres during the course of the degree, preparing for professional careers in theatrical or event costume design and costume shop management.

The following selection of courses is typical for costume designers:

  • Fundamentals of Graduate Design
  • Styles of Drama
  • Costume History and Design I and II
  • Professional Costume Design I and II
  • Design Studio I-IV
  • Theatre Costuming I and II
  • Costume Design for the Theatre
  • Advanced Stage and Film Makeup
  • Repertory Theatre (design practicum)
  • Architecture and Decor
  • Teaching Internship Option
  • Play Direction
  • Development of Drama

Additional courses are often offered include:

  • Draping
  • Flat Patterning
  • Tailoring
  • Life Drawing
  • Watercolor
  • Painting

Lighting Design

The Hilberry Lighting Design program focuses on the production of theatre in combination with individualized coursework that develops each student as an artist. Working in both the Hilberry and Bonstelle Theatres, students design for multiple productions during the program. They also have the opportunity to undertake Sound Design for a number of productions.

These opportunities are combined with classes that are kept small enough to address the particular needs of each student. This combination provides a solid experience in both the theory and practice of lighting design, preparing students for careers as designers in the entertainment industry.

The following selection of courses is typical for lighting designers:

  • Foundation of Graduate Design
  • Advanced Lighting Design
  • Professional Lighting Design I & II
  • Design Studio I-IV
  • Technical Theatre Problems
  • Intro. to Scenic Painting
  • Play Direction
  • Development of Drama
  • Theatre Aesthetics
  • Theatre Costuming
  • Stage Design
  • Teaching Internship Option
  • Repertory Theatre (design practicum)
  • MFA Exit Project

Scenic Design

The Hilberry Scenic Design program is a pre-professional terminal degree that emphasizes practical training and experience while providing design opportunities in a wide variety of styles — from the classics to modern works. The Hilberry is devoted to cultivating new theatre artists through the development of particular production-related skills, and our applied learning environment emphasizes collaboration, conceptualization, originality and self-discovery.

The Hilberry offers students both coursework and studio time, as well as opportunities to fully realize their designs on the main stage and in the department’s various spaces. Hilberry graduate students work in rotation as scenic designers, technical directors, assistant designers, property masters and scenic painters. The Hilberry program prepares the student to enter the professional theatre and the broader world of professional entertainment.

The following selection of courses is typical for scenic designers:

  • Stage Design
  • Advanced Design
  • Introduction to Scenic Painting
  • Advanced Scenic Painting
  • Style of Design
  • Advanced Stage Lighting
  • Costume Design for Theatre
  • Technical Theatre Problems
  • Repertory Theatre (design practicum)
  • Development of Drama
  • Play Direction
  • Teaching Internship Option
  • Theatre Aesthetics
  • Design Studio I-IV

Stage Management

The Hilberry Stage Management program trains students for professional positions in higher education and the theatre. The stage manager’s role requires a wide range of artistic, technical, managerial, and communication abilities. It demands a strong commitment to the process of theatre production and a desire to serve that process by fostering a creative work environment that is conducive to its ultimate success.

While here, the stage manager will undertake a minimum of six professional productions at the Hilberry, as well as the chance to mentor a production at the Bonstelle Theatre.

A balanced selection of courses and production assignments at the Hilberry Theatre prepare the student for a professional position immediately following graduation.

The following selection of courses is typical for stage managers:

  • Stage Management
  • Scenic Design
  • Costume Design
  • Lighting Design
  • Technical Production
  • Theatre Management
  • Theatre History
  • Development of Drama
  • Dramaturgy/Advanced Script Analysis
  • Repertory Theatre (stage management practicum)

Additional courses are often offered include:

  • Group Dynamics
  • Labor Management
  • Psychology
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Contracts and Grants

Theatre Management

The Hilberry Theatre Management program is focused on arts leadership. The theory studied is similar to those in other arts administration programs, but the Hilberry degree is focused on practice and gives you the skills to work in a professional capacity immediately.

This full-immersion, practice-based course of study — modeled after real, professional theatres — offers leadership training and the opportunity to network with guest lecturers who work in the field. Our Management students learn, hands-on, what it means to run a professional theatre and often are hired into executive-level positions upon graduation.

The following selection of courses is typical for theatre managers:

  • Development of Drama
  • Human Resources for the Theatre
  • Public Relations and the Theatre
  • Market Data and Decisions
  • Source and Project Funds: Grant Writing
  • Fund Development and the Theatre
  • Leadership in Theatre
  • Desktop Publishing (Adobe Photoshop & InDesign)
  • Publishing on The Internet (Adobe Dreamweaver)
  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Advanced Studies in Theatre Management

Additional courses are often offered include:

  • Dramatic Criticism
  • Theatre History
  • Organizational Communication
  • Legal Environment of the Arts