Acting and Contemporary Performance Making (MA | MFA)

Applications for this program are not being accepted at this time.

Columbia’s MFA in Acting and Contemporary Performance making is a rigorous one-of-a-kind international experience. This two-year program prepares performers and creators to create the theatre of tomorrow.

Deepen your craft – not only as an actor, but as a theatre and performance maker. Develop your creative vision in collaboration with fellow students from around the world. Enhance your performance skills in multiple media and deepen your journey as the creator of your own original material. Engage with classical and contemporary texts, while at the same time practicing the skills of a generative artist, devising innovative pieces of new work. Graduate ready to form a company, work as an actor and performance maker, and teach at the college level.

All classes are taught in English.


Degrees Available

Acting and Contemporary Performance Making, MFA

The MFA is an intensive two-year program requiring a year of professional work in Chicago followed by a year of training at Arthaus Berlin International School. This program is a good fit for students who want a solid training in acting and performance making from experienced international teaching artists, while also developing business, networking, and creative research skills necessary for forging a successful career in the field. Your degree will culminate in the creation of a thesis project - an original performance work, which many students have subsequently produced professionally, at resident theatres and international festivals.

MFA Quick Links: See application requirements | View required courses | View program costs (PDF)

Acting and Contemporary Performance Making, MA 

The one-year MA is a good fit if you are interested in acting and devised performance and want to take your craft to the next level by staging productions and sharpening your business and professional skills. As an MA student, you'll deepen your acting skills, develop and perform original material, and graduate with business skills and networking experience that will expand your career options. MA students do not participate in the training at Arthaus Berlin. However, a non-required 12-day intensive in London is offered to MA students half-way through the program.

MFA Quick Links: See application requirements View required coursesView program costs (PDF) 

International Experience


MFA students spend their second year at the Arthaus Berlin International School (formerly LISPA). The program was founded in 2003 by Thomas Prattki, former pedagogical director of the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. He leads an international team of teachers who have varied experience in acting, performing, writing, directing, and teaching. You'll have substantial studio time and mentorship with instructors (about 25-30 hours per week, more than most other graduate programs), and your work will include the research and creation of original performance work presented to the public. Learn more about Arthaus Berlin and the program in the second year. 

Pictured left: EDEN Studios (an international hub for dance, theatre, performance, music, and film), where much of your creative work will happen in Berlin. Photo: Arthaus Berlin

Program Timeline

First Year

The first year for MFA students is based in Chicago, where you will immerse yourself in the practice and theory of contemporary acting and performance making. You’ll spend full days in the studio studying movement, improvisation, voice, acrobatics, performance theory, and a rich array of performance styles and techniques. You will train in performance for theatre and other media, as well as collaborating with faculty members and fellow students every week in the creation of original performance. Your work will evolve through multiple phases, leading to a culminating performance for the public at the end of your first year.  

MFA student thesis performance
MFA students perform their original devised work, Manifest(o).

Second Year

Students spend the entire second year of the MFA at the Arthaus studios in Berlin, Germany, where they join a global cohort of students. While in Berlin, you will immerse yourself in the study of performance styles and will learn to create within a variety of forms and collaborative approaches. You’ll develop your thesis project, the culminating performance of your degree. Your thesis will include visual and written documentation detailing every stage of the process, from conception to performance; this research is an exciting component of the public display during the performances. The thesis projects are performed for the public as part of an annual festival at Arthaus. 

Along the way, you’ll immerse yourself in Berlin’s thriving theatre scene, one of the major centers for devised performance practice. You will also have the optional opportunity to spend 12 days exploring the London theatre scene and participating in specialized workshops during the London International Mime Festival, an annual celebration of visual and physical theatre from around the world. 

Graduates of the MFA program often form companies, work as actors in the industry, teach, lead community work, and even pursue more advanced graduate study. You’ll find your own path with the guidance of our faculty members, professional mentors, and your peers. 

Outside of the Classroom

You’ll spend time in three great theatre cities. You’ll watch renowned international companies and pioneering solo performers at events such as the London International Mime Festival, the performance series at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Chicago International Puppet Festival, and the Chicago International Physical Theatre Festival. 

The wealth of theatrical activity in Berlin, Chicago, and London will give you opportunities to form professional connections with artists and entrepreneurs. These valuable industry relationships will help you better understand how to launch a theatre company and achieve a successful career in devised performance. 

Graduate Faculty

Our faculty members and guest artists are leaders in contemporary acting, performance making and collaborative creation. They have research and teaching backgrounds in physical theatre, movement analysis, and Lecoq-based approaches to actor training. At both Columbia College and Arthaus Berlin International School, you’ll work with teachers who have performed with companies pushing boundaries in contemporary performance and devised theatre. The Acting and Contemporary Performance Making program directors at Columbia College Chicago will serve as mentors and provide valuable insight into the entrepreneurial and creative aspects of the industry.  

Michael Brown

Program Director Michael Brown is a graduate of LISPA and taught there for nine years. He has appeared in and directed numerous theatre productions in the United States, United Kingdom, and China. He created a physical adaptation of Jason and the Argonauts for AFTEC theatre company in Hong Kong, China. Michael has also performed in feature films including Dark Shadows and World War Z and has served as a movement artist and trainer for the international phenomenon War Horse and for the feature film Gravity. He is the co-founder of ShadowApe Theatre, a critically-acclaimed experimental theatre company based in Indiana with whom he devised, produced, and performed over eight seasons. 

Valentina Bordenave

Valentina Bordenave is a freelance dancer, choreographer and certified Alexander Technique teacher.

She graduated from the Folkwang University in Essen, Germany. With over 20 years of experience as a dancer and movement teacher, Valentina has been actively researching the integration of mechanics and poetry of the body. Her work has a strong focus on the body support system, spatial and energetic awareness, intense physicality and utmost sensitivity.

As a performer, Valentina has worked with the choreographers Mark Sieczkarek and Editta Braun among others, and in 2014 she founded the international Collective ANDERPLATZ with nine other actors and dancers.

Cat Gerard

Cat is a performance-maker, storyteller, director and teacher from London. She trained at Drama Studio London and LISPA. Cat has toured Europe with solo work and with various puppetry, physical theatre and storytelling ensembles, including Theatre Témoin and Impronta Theater. She is Artistic Director of storytelling company TailSpin. She has been exploring the depths and heights of voice, text and telling – as a practitioner and a teacher – since 2010, colliding her cross-arts interests with a movement towards wholing.

John Green

John Green, the program's Associate Director, is a professional theatre director with extensive experience as an educator and academic leader. His productions have been staged in the UK, including four productions at the Edinburgh International Festival, and at international theatre festivals in Ireland, France, Slovenia, Russia, and Australia. He has received a number of best director awards at festivals including: the London Student Drama Festival, the National Student Drama Festival of Great Britain, and the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. A published scholar, Green’s research interests focus on theatre and anthropology within a post-dramatic context. 

Ariel Gutiérrez

Originally from Buenos Aires, Ariel has a background in international politics, Literature and Performing Arts.

He studied at the Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in 1996 and joined LISPA in 2011, where he completed the Advanced Devising Practice program as well as the pedagogical training.

An active collaborator with companies in the US, Europe and Latin America, he also holds a PhD in Modern Languages and Literatures from the University of Miami with an emphasis on Performance. His dissertation “Scenic Landscapes: The theater in the global city” explores the relation between globalization, theater and non-conventional performance spaces.


Rachel Karafistan

Rachel is a British performer, teacher, academic and director based in Berlin. She is the founder of Cosmino Productions which she runs with her partner and long-term Blue Man, Kuba Pierzchalski. In 2001 she completed her PhD research into Shamanic dimensions within contemporary theatre practice and has run regular workshops exploring the connections between the actor and the shaman internationally. Rachel has worked as an actor with internationally acclaimed Polish company Teatr Biuro Podróży and has directed for Greenwich Theatre, Northampton and Leeds Universities and the State Theatre of Salzburg. She is currently external examiner at East 15 Acting School in the UK. Rachel’s latest solo performance Dreams Die Hard is touring internationally and she is relieved that after 35 years of making theatre, it is still the greatest thrill imaginable.

Thomas Prattki

Thomas is the founder of, an international creative hub for theatre makers from around the world.

He has been the pedagogical director of the Ecole Jacques Lecoq, before creating in 2003 the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA). In 2018 he creates, which hosts the international school of theatre and performance makers, an international workshop and research space and the Thomas Prattki Centre for Integral Movement and Performance Studies.

As a performer he has toured the world with Mummenschanz, a world-renowned company combining movement, mask, puppetry and the visual arts. He has directed, taught and lectured for the last three decades in over 30 different countries, pursuing his interest in the practice of Embodiment in art and life.

His most important reference point next to the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq is the strongly Jungian and Zen based work of Maria Hippius and Karlfried Graf Duerckheim. 

Patrick Soul

Patrick is a multi-instrumentalist with over 25 years of experience both performing and writing in many different styles of music.

He has a Masters degree in Jazz Performance from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and sang for seven years with the London Vocal Project, performing with them at London’s best jazz clubs as well as at the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican. Since 2008 Patrick has been encouraging and assisting theatre students at / LISPA to playfully explore and expand the musical possibilities available to them, individually and in the group, through mindful listening, rhythm games and improvisation.

He also composes electronic and acoustic music, with a particular interest in the layering of patterns, additive and subtractive process music, free improvisation and instant composition.

Kelley Soul

Kelley is a facilitator, performer, art-maker and collaborator, interested in cross-disciplinary and multi-modal approaches.

As an actor she has performed with a number of US-based theatre companies, devising experimental work, whilst working professionally as an arts-in-education activist. She has an MFA in Actor Created Physical Theatre from Naropa University (USA), completed in partnership with LISPA, and a Certificate of Advanced Post Graduate Studies (Expressive Arts in Education) from the European Graduate School (Switzerland). She has taught with the LISPA/arthaus team since 2005. Kelley is also a visual artist, working primarily in acrylic, ink and watercolour. She has a deep interest in the development of sustainable creative practice, and the act of ‘making’ as a way of shaping the self and the world.

Kendra Thulin

As an Associate Professor in the Theatre Department at Columbia, Kendra coordinates Voice and Foundations Performance for the Acting program. She teaches acting, accents and dialects, and voice for both undergraduates and graduate students, with particular emphasis on the fully embodied use of language. Her research practice investigates the integration of vocal technique with various physical theatre modalities, with the voice as both content and conduit for the actor-creator. She is a professional dialect coach and has worked at several Chicago theatres as both dialect coach and actor, including, Steppenwolf and Steep Theatre, where she has been a member since 2011. She is a multiple Joseph Jefferson Award nominee and winner for much of her work there. Her next project is the American premiere of Simon Stephen’s Light Falls. She serves as a board member of Rough House, a puppet theatre collective in Chicago. She holds an MFA in Acting from The Theatre School DePaul University, and an AB in English, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Sigma Nu and Magna Cum Laude from Fordham University, Bronx, NY, further training American Conservatory Theatre, Arthaus Berlin, Lecoq (with Taylor, Prattki, Brown, Coletto), Viewpoints, Philip Zarillii, Meredith Monk Ensemble.