School of Design and Production is ranked nationally

The School of Design and Production (D&P) at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is ranked second in the country by OnStage blog, a leading trade publication for theatre reviews and news. OnStage released its ranking of “the Top 10 BFA Theatre Design & Tech Programs in the Country for 2017-18” on Sept. 1.

“D&P has graduated some of the industry’s most accomplished masters of stagecraft, who work behind the scenes of the world’s greatest productions,” said Chancellor Lindsay Bierman. “I’m proud of this richly deserved recognition of the designers and technicians on our faculty and staff who prepare students for lifelong careers on a global stage. We applaud their creativity and we celebrate this honor.”


Each December, students in the Lighting Program present "Photonapalooza," a multi-media rock-concert-style show.

In its post, OnStage noted that UNCSA offers a “rare program in Wig & Makeup Design. Students will have the opportunity to learn all areas of this field including: design, wig making, period hairstyling, makeup techniques, mold making and prosthetic arts.”

It mentioned notable alumni including costume designer Paul Tazewell, winner of a Tony Award for “Hamilton” and an Emmy for NBC’s “The Wiz! Live;” makeup designer Brittany Steele, who leads the wig and makeup team for the international tour of “Beauty and the Beast;” and lighting engineer Milton Davis of Doug Fleenor Design.

OnStage writers and editors spent months researching the best B.F.A. programs, considering tuition, curriculum, faculty, and career support. 

Truly, all the world is a stage for graduates of this program.

D&P Dean Michael J. Kelley

D&P Dean Michael J. Kelley, an alumnus of the program, said the ranking is welcome acknowledgement of the scope and quality of the program.  “Our job placement rate is astounding – nearly 100 percent, and it’s because we stress professional standards from day one,” Kelley said. “Even before they graduate our students are working for course credit or income at a professional level, whether it’s stage productions or in one of our high-growth industries like themed entertainment or large-scale special events.”

For example, he said, five students were recently in Atlanta for a week setting up the Cirque du Soleil show “Luzia.” And for the past two years, students and faculty traveled to Washington D.C. to help stage the White House Halloween party for military-affiliated families.

“We are increasing our reach exponentially,” Kelley said. “Truly, all the world is a stage for graduates of this program.”

Man of Mode

"Man of Mode," February 2017. Scenic design by Jason Harbeck, properties design by Morgan Ochs, lighting by Matt Tillett, costumes by Jordan Jeffers, wigs and makeup by Emily Young.

Students and faculty support more than 60 school productions annually, including plays and musicals, dance concerts, operas and special events like Commencement. Lighting students design and produce an annual public art installation downtown and a multi-media rock-concert-like light show.

D&P currently enrolls 231 students in nine undergraduate programs (Costume Design and Technology, Lighting, Scene Design, Scene Painting, Scene Technology, Sound Design, Stage Management, Stage Properties, and Wig and Makeup Design); 49 students in nine graduate programs (Costume Design, Costume Technology, Scenic Art, Scene Design, Sound Design, Stage Automation, Stage Properties, Technical Direction, and Wig and Makeup Design); and 39 students in its high school Visual Arts Program.

Kelley and his faculty are also working to launch transformative programs and curricula, including an animatronics program in UNCSA’s nascent Institute for Performance Innovation, funded by an anonymous gift of $10 million, the largest in UNCSA history.

“This groundbreaking program is a blend of technology, mechanics and art that will keep D&P in the forefront of technological advances in the industry and will solidify our current position as a global leader in the rapidly-changing world of design and production.”

Animatronics will build on existing curricula in areas including stage properties, wig and makeup prosthetics and stage automation and robotics, training the next generation of artists for leadership-level positions in the fields of Creature/Animatronic Design, Sound Design, Sound Engineering and Mechanical Engineering for the broader entertainment industry.

Tales of Hoffman scenic painting

Scenic painting for A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute's "The Tales of Hoffman," January 2014.

While the animatronics program is a few years away, next year D&P will launch a new graduate program in project and production management. “There is not another program like this in the country,” Kelley said. “We will be the sole providers of individuals to fill vital leadership roles in the arts and entertainment industry.”

The school is currently hiring faculty for the two-year graduate program and will enroll the first students in Fall 2018.

UNCSA’s stand-alone School of Design and Production is the only program of its kind in the nation (most universities combine design and production with drama in general theatre programs). It has long-established relationships with top companies in the industry (such as WorldStage, Electronic Theatre Controls, and TAIT Towers), where literally scores of its alumni are employed.

Founded in 2014, OnStage features reviews and articles written by actors, directors, writers, designers and fans of theatre.

by Lauren Whitaker

September 18, 2017