European Devised Performance Practice (MFA)

Time to degree: two years (51 credits)

Modern theatre is in a time of transformation. Today’s performing artists have adopted a collaborative approach known as devised performance. This approach has produced some of the most innovative and compelling theatre to date. Join this artistic movement by enrolling in our theatre MFA program, a partnership between Columbia College Chicago and the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA).

Drawing inspiration from dance, visual arts, and traditional theatre, the MFA emphasizes collaboration as the main expressive tool for the creation of original work. Devised performance is also known as physical theatre, movement theatre, body-based theatre, or visual performance. The MFA is inspired by the ideas of Jacques Lecoq, a central figure in mid-20th-century European physical theatre training.

Columbia College Chicago devised theatre MFA

Devised theatre performers develop the script together, and the work evolves over time as they perform it. Columbia’s program emphasizes artistic development and entrepreneurial skills for launching successful touring companies. Throughout the program, you’ll work as a playwright, director, performer, designer, technician, and administrator.

You’ll spend the first year of the program at LISPA in Berlin, Germany working with faculty members and other emerging artists in state-of-the-art studios. During this time, you’ll have the option to enroll in a short course that will take you to London for a 10-day immersion in the city’s physical and devised theatre scene. You’ll spend your second year studying at Columbia College Chicago. 

All classes are taught in English.



International Experience


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You’ll spend your first year at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA) in Berlin. LISPA 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, directing, and teaching. You’ll have substantial time to interact with instructors (about 25-30 hours per week, more than most other graduate programs). Learn more about LISPA.

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: arthausberlin


Program Timeline

First Year

You’ll travel to LISPA in Berlin and join a cohort of 20 to 30 first-year students from various countries. You’ll spend full days in the studio studying movement, improvisation, voice, rhythm, acrobatics, and mask making. You’ll collaborate with faculty members and fellow students every week. Your work will evolve, leading to a culminating performance for the public at the end of your first year. You’ll also learn from second-year LISPA students and immerse yourself in Berlin’s thriving theatre scene, one of the major centers for devised performance practice.

Columbia College Chicago devised peformance MFA
Photo: arthausberlin

Second Year

Your second year brings you to Chicago, where you’ll learn the theory and history of devised performance. You’ll develop your thesis project, the culminating performance of your degree. In the spring semester, your cohort will use its practice-based research to form an ensemble company and create an original piece of theatre. This original piece will be performed in Chicago with one of Columbia’s collaborative partners, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). Your thesis must include visual and written documentation detailing every stage of the process, from conception to performance. The research component will be on public display during the performances.

Graduates of devised theatre programs often form companies, teach, lead community work, or pursue 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 Puppet Festival, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

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


Meet a Current Student

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Meet current student Brittany Price Anderson, who is chronicling her time in the program for Marginalia, Columbia’s graduate student blog. She’s also the program’s ambassador, and is happy to talk to you about her experience. You can email her at devised.mfa@colum.edu.

Read the blog


Graduate Faculty

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

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Michael Brown

Program co-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. Brown 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.

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John Green

John Green, program co-director, is a professional theatre director with extensive experienece 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.