Lighting Design


Master of Fine Arts in Theatre: Lighting Design

Creating Connections

Our goal at the University of Arkansas is to provide MFA Lighting design candidates with the opportunity to develop their artistic voice by equipping them with the skills and tools to become visual storytellers. Students are given the opportunity to develop their process of taking a design from idea to reality though project work and fully supported productions. The technical skills necessary to execute a lighting design including drafting, programming and the use of current technology are all stressed in course work and production assignments.

About the Program

MFA candidates in lighting design learn in the classroom through rigorous projects and through real world applications by producing high quality work. The primary focus of the program is on design training and opportunities, but the technical skills necessary to support a lighting design including programming, technology, and electrician work are all stressed.

The program is sufficiently flexible to meet the individual needs of the student and offers strong guidance and mentorship while providing a wide range of classes, training and experiences. Developing a strong portfolio of fully realized designs with careful mentorship is a primary goal of the program, along with exploring non-traditional design opportunities through extensive studio course work. 

Our program fosters a collaborative environment through working with directors, peer designers and theatre technicians in creating theatrical productions. We believe in the importance of well-rounded future professional theatre practitioners and educators who have artistic, intellectual and practical skills that will allow them to be life-long engaged theatre artists.

The Department of Theatre is now accepting inquires for all interested candidates for our Fall 2023 Master of Fine Arts in Acting. Please follow the link below to fill out an application (no fee!) and a faculty member from the Department of Theatre will be in contact with you soon after you submit your form: UA THTR 2023 Interest Form. 

For more information, please contact Head of Lighting Design, Shawn Irish.

In general, the application and admission into the program is a two-part process.


  • First, all applicants must apply directly to the Department of Theatre through our Graduate Application Portal.
  • Before applying, please familiarize yourself with the admission requirements.
  • Please note: there is no application fee for the first step of our application process.
  • The GRE Test is not required for admission to the M.F.A. Program in Theatre.


  • You should not proceed to Step Two or apply for admission to the UA Graduate School until you receive notification from the M.F.A. Theatre program to do so.
  • After departmental review, qualified applicants will be invited to apply to the University of Arkansas Graduate School for formal admission to the University. Please note, the deadline for Step Two will be determined by and communicated to you by the area head after the departmental review.

We offer graduate assistantships*, fellowships, and teaching opportunities.

Our assistantships pay for all tuition and give an $12,200 stipend each academic year. Additional funds are available through our graduate fellowship, which offers an additional $4000 each year to qualified students. There are some other select scholarships for which you might be eligible, as well. Summer assistantships are also sometimes available.

  • All new graduate assistants must have background checks before they can be appointed.  We will be permitted to make offers contingent on a successful background check, but no work can begin until the check is complete. 

  • Lighting Design MFA candidates work in the scene shop and have the opportunity to teach classes.

A typical candidate pursuing Lighting Design will have the opportunity to design a minimum of two fully mounted productions in a variety of venues.

MFA Lighting Design candidates also serve as Assistant Lighting Designer, programmer, master electrician, projection and/or media designer, or special effects coordinator. The MFA Candidate will gain a robust portfolio of designs including dance lighting, period pieces, drama and comedy, non-traditional design and musical theatre.

We provide the graduate MFA candidate in Lighting design with the opportunities and experiences to be competitive in the job market through developing– a portfolio of work, a resume and website, internships as well as providing design and technical assignments.

Masterclasses and production experiences with professional theatre artists enhances the programs intensive curriculum. Recent guest artists include Christine Jones, Howell Binkley and Tim Saternow.

Northwest Arkansas is home to many active theatre companies. The Department of Theatre has local partnerships with TheatreSquared - Arkansas’ only year-round professional theatre company, Arts Live - the regions only dedicated children’s and youth theatre company, The Classical Edge - the only professional company dedicated to producing the works and adaptations of Shakespeare and other classical playwrights, and Trike Theatre - a professional theatre for youth located in Bentonville.

Lighting designers are supported by a well-equipped shop that is staffed by a full-time professional a lighting/sound manager, scene shop manager, a full-time prop and scenic artist as well as a Technical Director.

The Department of Theatre typically produces six productions a year with generous budgets in three different venues giving designers a variety of experiences.

  • The University Theater is a 315-seat proscenium theatre, housing fully equipped scenery, and costume construction facilities and up to date lighting, sound and rigging systems.
  • The UA Black Box Theater is a 181-seat flexible black box space, located on the Downtown Fayetteville Square opened in April 2018. This theatre features state of the art sound, lighting and production systems.
  • Studio 404 in Kimpel Hall is a 75-seat black box space which accommodates student directed, projects, experimental productions and new play workshops.

As part of their training, MFA Lighting design candidates are required to complete one professional internship. Students have recently worked at the Hangar Theatre, Dallas Theatre Center, Chattanooga Theatre Center, The Lab Theatre in Minneapolis and Tibbets Opera House to name a few.

During the professional internships MFA Candidates enhance their portfolios, gain real world skills and build their network of professional contacts.

Travel to Conferences

Each year the Graduate School and the Department of Theatre offers financial assistance to qualified students, enabling them to attend and participate in regional and national conferences and professional auditions.


The Design and Technology faculty are all active members of USITT and have served on a number of panels at the national conference. Students have the opportunity to attend and present their work either at the "Cover the Walls" exhibit or the "Design Expo" and are encouraged to join this wonderful organization. Each year the conference is held in an exciting destination that showcases live theatre and event production.

3rd Year students are encouraged to submit for the prestigious Young Designer’s Forum, held at USITT.  Emily Clarkson (MFA, Lighting Design 2017) and Jacob Hofer (MFA, Lighting Design 2016) have both been invited to present in recent years.

Theatre Studies in London

Students have the opportunity to travel to London for this five-week course. Outside of class, students view at least 12 professional theatre performances at the National Theatre, RSC and London’s West End, tour theatres and historic theatre sites, and take master classes with actors, designers, directors, and critics from the English stage. Excursions include trips to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and Bath to view the costume collection house there among many others.

Nestled in the beautiful foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Fayetteville and its Northwest Arkansas environs are fast becoming a cultural destination. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, only adds to the area's already rich cultural legacy and has announced plans to open a new space for contemporary performance and art.

Fayetteville and the surrounding area of Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale is home to a thriving theatre community. Dazzling architecture and abundant live music, together with the area's natural beauty and congenial urban environment are found in the area. With its many restaurants and cafés and its tradition of live music, Fayetteville is often referred to as Austin's younger cousin.


Sample Plan of Study

Fall Semester

  • Lighting Design
  • Lighting Design Studio
  • Elective

Spring Semester

  • Lighting Technology Studio
  • Drafting for the Designer
  • Script Analysis


  • Internship

Fall Semester

  • Lighting Design Studio
  • Digital Design for Theatre
  • Elective

Spring Semester

  • Lighting Technology Studio
  • Portfolio Development
  • Rendering for Theatre


  • Internship

Fall Semester

  • Lighting Design Studio
  • History of Decor
  • Master’s Thesis

Spring Semester

  • Lighting Technology Studio
  • Master’s Thesis
  • Design Capstone

For a complete list of graduate courses, please visit the catalog of studies.