MFA, Lighting Design



Program Specifics




Financial Aid

Frequently Asked Questions

Robert A. Shakespeare Robert A. Shakespeare
Head of Lighting Design
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Taught by working professionals, the rigorous sixty-hour program, focused on the process of artistically designing light for stage productions, offers a strong curriculum as the foundation for training in studio, classroom and theatre settings, coupled with one-on-one tutorials with the students major professor. Highly developed research, collaborative and communication skills, a mature professional process and a rich understanding of the breadth and depth of the lighting art are emphasized. With state of the art lighting resources available to every production, the program builds upon essential techniques, traditions and professional practices to establish an enduring approach to the lighting art, prepared to embrace new developments in technology and changing aesthetics with imagination and candor.

To ensure a deep understanding of related specializations, a student will also earn a minor selected from Scenic Design, Costume Design, Theatre Technology, Sound Design or successfully complete an approved sequence of courses from at least three of these areas. Additionally, a student is exposed to the diverse applications of architectural, interior and museum lighting design, built upon this professional stage lighting process. The goal of MFA Lighting Design program is to foster a students artistic ability, intellectual capability and professional practice for participation in the lighting design profession.


Students are admitted into the program after proving competency as shown by their portfolio, statement of goals, and required onsite interview. Judgments of portfolio, writing quality, and professional potential are made by members of the Design and Technology Faculty Committee.


Each year students are invited to continue in the program after the faculty has assessed a student’s academic success, artistic growth and professional development. A 3.2 GPA or higher typically indicates academic success. The student’s faculty advisor provides an interim evaluation at the end of each Fall semester, and at the end of the first and the second year, students are required to present their portfolio with an oral interview to the Design and Technology Faculty Committee. At this time the committee will determine whether a student shall be advanced in the program. Weaknesses in the areas of academic success, artistic growth and professional development will be identified and may result in a probationary semester or dismissal from the program.

Program Specifics

MFA Lighting Design students are assigned at least five main season lighting designs during their tenure in the program. One production in the third year will be designated as the MFA thesis project which will be documented and then evaluated by the students Thesis Committee. Lighting Design students will receive additional production experience by being trained as an assistant lighting designer and serving as a master electrician for other designers shows. Leadership and organizational skills will be developed by teaching and supervising undergraduate lighting design students and by managing various lighting related areas, such as lighting inventory and work call scheduling. Summer production and design opportunities are available at our thrust stage summer stock theatre.


The successful student will complete the three year M.F.A. degree program with an extensive and diverse portfolio of realized designs and project work in all genres of theatre including musical theatre and contemporary dance, as well as architectural lighting and lighting consulting. The graduate from Indiana University will be well prepared for a career in the professional or academic environment. Emphasized skills include; productive methods of research, effective collaborative and communication, a mature professional process, efficient design development, analysis and implementation, and an essential understanding of visual storytelling and orchestration.

Graduates of the Lighting Design M.F.A. program are employed as resident and assistant designers, and lighting supervisors in companies such as the Washington National Opera, Chicago Shakespeare, Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and Available Light, as well as in academic settings including Michigan State University, Baylor University, and the University of Utah.


Stage Lighting Design
(Undergraduate only)
This course is structured to introduce the student to the aesthetics of dramatic stage lighting, to develop and practice a systematic approach to creating a lighting design, and to build an appreciation of lighting design's artistic contribution to staged productions. Script analysis, concept development, effects plotting, conventions of stage lighting, properties of light and visual perception, basic lighting technology, drafting of plans, organizational paperwork, and related aspects of producing a design are taught in the course. The labs, assignments and practicum are structured to provide a progressive and challenging exploration of theatrical lighting fundamentals and skills. The final project provides an opportunity to create, on paper, a complete lighting design for a modest production.

(No Credit)
All MFA Lighting Students will schedule a weekly, one hour personal tutorial with the Faculty Lighting Designer.

Lighting Design
(for incoming MFA Lighting Design students and MFA Lighting Design Minors) This course explores, on an intermediate level, the aesthetics of dramatic stage lighting and systematic approaches to the processes needed to transform design goals into an effective lighting design. An emphasis is placed on concept development and communicating the design idea through a series of exercises including verbal presentations, visual materials/light renderings, and written reports. The research, analysis, engineering and organizational techniques required by the Lighting Designer will be developed into a set of working tools and methods. The practicum component of the course is designed to bridge the theories of the lighting design process with the realities of production.

Lighting Design Aesthetics
This course, with a seminar type structure, provides the advanced graduate student in Design with an exploration of contemporary visual styles and values with the goal of increasing visual vocabulary and developing a deeper sensitivity to Lighting Design Aesthetics and related arts. The course will also explore the history behind modern lighting techniques and then strive to define a set of lighting conventions in current practice and the current lighting aesthetic. Television and film productions have significantly influenced the practice of lighting design and capture, in motion, the visual aesthetic of their time. Part of the course focuses on viewing and analyzing the visual techniques associated with the significant genres of television and film entertainment between 1910 and the present. The evolving visual vocabulary will be used to analyze various approaches to live entertainment lighting design. Efforts will be made to attend some performances, as a class, selected from opera, theatre, movies and a music concerts.

Dramatic Lighting for Environments
(taught in tandem with Consulting)
This course is intended to instruct graduate students who are experienced in stage lighting design or have studied interior lighting design, in the approaches, tools and methods necessary to begin designing dramatic light within an urban environment. Architectural lighting aesthetics, human factors, task determination, code requirements, basic illumination engineering calculations, design approaches, evaluation methods, luminaires and layout, lighting technologies, specification procedures, presentation techniques and professional practice will be studied through the lectures, labs and project work. The course provides a framework to migrate theatre collaboration, lighting concept development and implementation to the architectural lighting process and practice. The IESNA Howard Brandston student lighting design competition project serves as the final project for the course.

Lighting Consulting for Theatre Spaces
(taught in tandem with Lighting for the Environments)
Lighting designers are often asked how to improve/update the lighting systems in a theatre and most prominent theatre consultants have their roots in lighting design. Following a survey of basic lighting tenets and code sources (Electrical, Building, Fire, Life Safety) the course centers on creating a full lighting consultation for a modest theatre space, from concept and program development through schematic and costing. The course concludes with a class presentation to the theatre’s management.
(Guest presenters include practicing consultants, engineers, project managers and manufacturer reps)

Rendering Light
The purpose of this studio course is to provide the advanced student in Design with a guided hands-on experience through the techniques and applications of Physically Based Computer Visualization and related imaging techniques, following a survey of traditional light rendering approaches used in design development and presentation. Progressively complex projects, including interior design and theatre lighting, will be assigned to challenge the student's analytical, concept and modeling skills culminating in a large concept study. The course will cover such topics as Global Illumination vs Traditional Computer Graphics, data acquisition and translation, geometric and material modeling, the Radiance scene description and rendering procedure, visualization and the design process, output formats, image enhancement, and packaging the picture. The student is assumed to have an intermediate knowledge of stage/studio lighting or dramatic architectural lighting design, computer skills in CAD and image manipulation, and experience in the concept development process as it applies to theatre. Software applications include RADIANCE, WYSIWYG, EFFECT, LytPlot, AutoCad, Photoshop. Projects include lighting the Statue of Liberty, or possibly Mount Rushmore , in a simulation environment.

Advanced Lighting Design
Offered as needed. Cotemporary lighting design practices and techniques are explored through a series of weekly projects and presentations such as a critique of current control systems, moving light challenges, new lighting tools, developing an effects based language and advanced lighting problems and organization.

Lighting Design Workshop
(proposed course)
Offered as available. These intensive workshops, varying in format and duration, are designed to advance professional practice and skills. A topic might be centered around the expertise of a guest artist or taught by faculty or staff specialists.

Independent Study
All students are encouraged to develop and propose independent projects/courses in personalized areas of professional interest. Lighting Topics have included Advanced Architectural Lighting Design Practice, Developing an Approach and Curriculum for Undergraduate Lighting Instruction, Advanced Sound Design and Mixing Techniques, and Laser Projection Techniques and Applications.

Design Research and Collaboration Studio
(Taught by Design and Technology Faculty)
This studio course builds and strengthen research, collaboration, communication and artistic/presentation skills. Student teams research, investigate, design and present innovative approaches to major projects, devised to challenge their individual and collective growth as collaborative artists and technologists.

MFA Thesis
See thesis requirements.

Financial Aid

Graduate students in the Design and Technology M.F.A. programs are typically awarded an assistantship which includes a tuition waiver covering most fees, in addition to a stipend (currently a minimum of $11,000) for working 20 hours a week in their area of expertise. Academic merit fellowships and research/creative activity travel grant opportunities are also available on a competitive basis.

Student Academic Appointees and Fellowship Recipients are automatically enrolled in the student insurance plan and the cost of the student premium is paid by the university. The plan also includes dental, mental health and prescription drug benefits. Eligible students may also insure their dependents. Eligible dependents are the spouse/same-sex domestic partner (residing with the Insured student) and unmarried children under the age of 24.

Learn more about the Student Academic Appointee Health Insurance Plan

Additional benefits include a "green conscious" campus with free buses, free Adobe and Microsoft products, and a ubiquitous wireless internet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many realized, fully-mounted production assignments can I expect in the program?
Students can expect at least 5 main season production assignments in their area of study over the course of their 3-year program.

How many shows do you do each season?
The Department of Theatre & Drama produces 8 fully-mounted stage productions each season in addition to a 4-show summer season, a modern dance concert, a new musical, and special events.

Will I work on the "Main Stage" or on the "student season"
We offer one season that we cosider a main stage, 8-production season, where graduate students serve as the primary designers (lighting, costumes, scenery), technical directors, scenic artists, and properties masters for all shows. See details about the season here.

Is the GRE required for admittance?
No, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is not required for the M.F.A. program.

How many students are in the program?
We have graduate students in all design & technology areas. There are 5 Scenic Designers, 5 Costume Designers, 4 Lighting Designers, and 4 Theatre Technology (TD) students. When combined with M.F.A. Acting, Directing, and M.A. and Ph.D. graduates, the Department of Theatre and Drama has 55 graduate students and approximately 250 undergraduate majors.

What types of financial aid are available?
Financial aid resources are available from the financial aid office.

Does the program offer assistantships?
Yes, all M.F.A. students accepted into the program are offered graduate assistantships which provide a full tuition waiver, plus a competitive stipend, for each of their three years of study. Some fees cannot be waived.

Are teaching opportunities available?
If teaching coincides with the students professional goals, opportunities exist to gain college-level teaching experience through both laboratory instruction and classroom lectures.

What styles of shows do you do?
The department takes pride in offering a wide range of theatrical genres to students and audiences. Two musicals are produced each season in combination with six plays which are presented in diverse styles.

How do I apply to the program?
You can find admission information here.

What types of job placement services are offered?
Students are mentored into their respective professions by the major professor in their area (Lighting, Costumes, Scenery, or Technical Direction) with the purpose of meeting each individual student’s professional goals.

Where do the faculty instructors work professionally?
All Design and Technology faculty maintain active professional careers. Please see individual faculty profiles for more details.

What jobs do recent graduates have?
Recent graduates of our programs are employed all across the country. Please see specific program web pages for further information.