Technical Theater in the Time of COVID

Hello from a long time lurker and newbie to the theater admissions world (I’m in the medical field). My D is a current Jr and is very interested in technical theater. She was on track to work on productions at her high school and possibly a summer program last year, but COVID changed all that. Fast forward to this school year, still no in person school and possibly no experiences this summer. So basically she has very little for her portfolio. The question is: How are tech/design programs managing this in the admissions process?

Related question: How competitive are the design tech programs? Usually the stats I hear are lumped into MT or other majors in the department. I know that I can’t use the college/university’s overall acceptance rate as a guide, so my D and I are at a loss.

Thanks so much!

Hi, @PathDad! My D is a freshman this year. She applied to 13 BFA programs for Theater Design/Production last year, so we gathered quite a bit of intel. And yet, I still don’t have much info to share that might be illuminating! :wink:

I can tell you that we saw all kinds of portfolios last year, from thin three-ring notebooks with notes and sketches sticking out to large garment bags with costumes designed and made by the applicant. A couple of schools actually mentioned that they recognize students come in with a wide range of experience levels in technical theatre, partly depending on the varied opportunities available across high schools and also on when the student’s interest was sparked, so they are used to seeing all kinds of things presented in the interviews.

Your D can create her portfolio out of whatever she does have from productions, plus any drawings, sketches, art projects, etc. that illustrate her creative process. If she reads a play or an interesting scene in a book, she might sketch out her own potential set design and include that, for example. Has she done graphic design for show posters or program covers, etc.? Does she like to create idea boards on Pinterest? Experiment with color and texture combinations for costumes, sets, or lighting? Anything like that could potentially be included. Honestly, I feel like no one is going to judge applicants on what they weren’t able to do during COVID…everyone (college faculty included) is just trying to get through it as best they can, you know? Presenting whatever she has done to keep creating during this time will probably be perfect.

Regarding the level of competition for the design tech programs, it was really hard to tell, and that information is just not readily available. The schools my D looked at have a small number of spots in each area they offer (e.g., scenic design, costume design, props, lighting, stage mgmt, tech direction) – we saw some with 3-5 spots and some with 10-12. My guess, based on very little information, is that the programs probably make offers to double the number of spots they want to fill and see how the numbers play out when responses start coming in. We guestimated, from looking at interview slots as my D was signing up, that programs had maybe 8-10x the number of applicants as openings, but that might “only” be 40-100 applicants - not a huge pool, but if they’re all vying for a handful of spots, it could be pretty competitive. It was also hard to size up the competition, if you know what I mean.

Does your daughter have a particular tech area that interests her the most?

1 Like

My D is graduating in May and I currently finishing up jer inter iews. Her current area of interest in stage craft based on her experience. This year, all interviews were online and electronic portfolios were submitted through college sites, sideshow, or acceptd. Assuming this is going to continue, I can tell you 99% of the colleges have been wonderful in helping through the process. Based on Logantor’s help, she used PowerPoint to build her portfolio and then exported to PDF. I can send you a link to see her online portfolio through PM so you can get an idea of what we did. There is also a YouTube video from a DT major at Depaul. The most important thing is to read their requirements carefully and have your daughter make it her own.

I am more than happy to help with any questions you may have from starting the process. It will be a great diversion as we wait for acceptance/denied commu ications. LOL.


Thank you for sharing : )
Have you heard any response from the colleges you applied to?

For what it’s worth, submitting at least part of the portfolio through SlideRoom, etc. was required in 2019-20 also. The submitted pieces, photos, or pages were used as a pre-screen of sorts.

I hope your D is knocking the interviewers out, @fatcatpr!

Thanks! She has been getting really positive responses to her portfolio so far and, when I eavesdrop, she sounds very confident and is presenting herself well, at least from this mother’s opinion :slight_smile: Of course it helps that the interviewers are just as nice as can be.

I’m trying to remember what school your D chose. Has she gotten to be on campus at all?


So far she has gotten into all the programs she has applied to that are rolling admissions. Catawba, Salem State, and Baldwin Wallace. We are waiting on Depaul, UNCSA, Purchase, Otterbein, and Ithaca. It’s going to be a long 6 weeks!

I found some information on acceptance rates at Depaul to give you an idea for that school:
Approximate applications that get to the interview stage: •
• Lighting Design – 50
• Stage Management –25
• Sound Design – 35
• Theatre Technology – 30
• Scenic Design – 25
• Costume Design – 20
• Costume Technology – 15
• Wigs & Makeup – 20
• Projection Design – 10

Number of Students/Program
• Lighting Design – 4-5
• Stage Management – 4-5
• Sound Design – 4-5
• Theatre Technology – 8-10
• Scenic Design – 4-5
• Costume Design – 4-5
• Costume Technology – 4-5
• Wig & Makeup – 4-5
• Projection Design – 4-5


Interesting stats from DePaul! Where did you find those? I wonder if similar stats for other programs might be available with a little more detective work – that information would have been extremely helpful during the admission process. We were pretty clueless going into it.

My D is in the Lighting Design program at Rutgers Mason Gross. Fall was completely remote for 1st years, although 2nd years and up had some in-person classes (but no theater productions). This semester, the 1st years are in person as well for about half(?) of their theater classes, and some productions are planned (with COVID precautions in place). Today was supposed to be the first in-person class after being remote the first two weeks of the semester as a quarantine precaution, and, of course, there is a winter storm and anything in person was cancelled. <throws hands up!>

1 Like

LOL! Poor kid can’t win! I couldn’t get mine interested in Rutgers. She felt it was too urban (even though Depaul was #1 on her list, so go figure). What an awesome program!

We were debating applying for a deferral where ever she decides to go, but it looks like things are opening up, so maybe we won’t have to.

The numbers I got for Depaul were sent to her in a slide show she was to review before her interview. When we spoke to Catawba, I think the admission numbers were about the same, but I don’t think the application numbers were as high.

I don’t know if they don’t want to share this data out of fear kids will just not apply, although I would think any ambitious student wouldn’t be deterred. Or maybe they don’t want to be pigeon-holed into their numbers.

1 Like

As someone that has a lot of experience in medical school admissions, I know all about scary numbers. It is not as bad as it seems but the perception is that it is impossible.

I have driven by Catawba College. I am kind of surprised it has such a well known tech program. Who knew!

@PathDad and anyone else who might be wondering about how a student can add portfolio pieces with very little happening in HS theater programs right now – Theatre Three (professional theater in Dallas, TX) is offering a 10-session Basic Design for Theater virtual workshop this spring. It is open to current HS students and could be a great opportunity to create some portfolio additions. The instructor is a scenic and costume design professional who teaches a similar class at a local community college with a good theater program (the workshop is an abbreviated version of that class). Search “Theatre Three Basic Design for Theater” and you’ll find the theater’s education page with all the info.

My D and I searched high and low for Tech/Design workshops and summer programs for HS students interested in Tech Theatre as a college major a few years ago, and they were few and far between <cough SSTI cough> – this one fills that gap! And virtual is a huge plus at the moment because a student can take it from anywhere. HTH! :grinning:


Thanks Logantor! Although my D has a pathologic distain for anything that resembles online education. I think she is going to be in for a rude awaking come college search time.

1 Like

@Loganator how is your D liking Mason Gross? We’re from NJ (I even play in the Rutgers Alumni Wind Symphony) but don’t know much about it as a “college”. I have a bias against it since I went to a private school that was an “enclosed” campus and you never had to take a bus to get to another campus to make a class, so I have a hard time seeing how Rutgers is a “fun college experience”… which to me was very important. I’m trying not to persuade him either way and just letting him choose (between Rutgers Mason Gross and Ball State).

I was disappointed Rutgers closed down a lot more than a lot of other schools (daughter is at another NJ college)… and even though I think they changed recently, they had a press release like a month ago which seemed to be “preparing” people for Fall being not much better than now, whereas other schools are coming off far more optimistic.

Anyway - back to the program - how are they liking it?

So we have a yes from Ithaca AND UNCSA. We are actually going to go visit Catawba and UNCSA at the end of March. I think that will be a big eye opener to the different levels and intensities of programs. I will admit I’m rooting for the Pickles!

And just as a bit of encouragement, I really didn’t think she had a chance at UNCSA. I know so many kids go in with more experience. So, a word of advice…they are definitely looking at more than the quantity in the portfolio, so don’t be afraid to reach high.

Only 3 more to go.


Yaaay congratulations! They just had an opera performance this weekend, it might be streaming again tonight but it involved students from stage, makeup/wig, costumes etc and it was GORGEOUS. I can’t say enough good things about how amazing the D&P dept is! (Mine is in drama).

1 Like

@fatcatpr I don’t know about Ithaca from personal experience, but UNCSA was one of my D’s top choices – really amazing program that was very difficult to turn down. (It would have been even harder if she had been able to visit.) Congrats on two more great options!

1 Like

The recording is going to be up in a couple of days, do we will have to wait until then. I can’t wait to see it. D has never gotten to see an opera. I was going to take her this summer, but we know what happened there.

1 Like

@Loganator Thank you! She got an acceptance call from Otterbein today, so we are down to 2. Since Purchase is closed and the head of her department is known for and a self-admitted jerk, I’m guessing she will put that one lower on the list.

1 Like

@fatcatpr Interesting about Purchase’s department head. Although we visited, my daughter ended up not applying (latest due date, had some great acceptances already, and Purchase had extra items to complete that took more time than she had available at that point), so she didn’t meet any faculty in an interview setting.

Congrats on Otterbein! :smiley: