This specialist course provides vocational training to prepare you for a career in designing for performance. Over the year, you’ll develop a broad range of practical, creative and technical skills by engaging in skills-based classes as well as a combination of project and production work. You’ll also have opportunities to foster creative collaborations with students from your course, as well as other undergraduate and postgraduate creatives across the School. We aim to support you in creating a portfolio of project and realised design work, in preparation for launching your professional career.
The course curriculum is structured across four modules, aimed at progressively enhancing your skills and experience. The course shifts from theoretical projects and skills sessions to specialised self-directed projects and realised design practice.
You’ll begin your first term by working on a design project, aimed at developing your approach to the design process as well as your collaborative skills. Alongside this, you’ll also attend skill-development classes in model-making, computer-aided design (CAD), costume history, and theatrical context and style. The second part of the term allows you to bring together what you have learnt to design set or costume for one of the School’s spring term public productions.
In the second term, you’ll delve into your design specialisation in greater depth by exploring one of two pathways:
• Either a large-scale, notional design project for a musical or opera alongside a professional director;
• or a site-specific notional project to create a proposal and design in collaboration with an MA Drama Writing student.
Your chosen pathway gives you the opportunity to develop skills and expertise in your desired area of specialisation – whether it is set, costume, lighting, projection or prop design.
Your third and final term will focus largely on realising your work at a practical level. You’ll design for a second live production, taking on the role of set and costume designer for a full professional-standard production as part of the BOVTS Summer Festival. Concurrently, you’ll also prepare for career launch activities including meeting with industry professionals at the end-of-year graduate exhibition. The course’s collaborative approach and structured progression ensure your readiness for professional performance design standards.
This programme will equip you with an advanced level of specialist and transferable skills essential for a successful career in designing for stage, screen, events or other performance-based industries. In the final term, a significant portion of your time will be dedicated to preparing for your career launch.
The highlight of career launch activities is the graduate exhibition where you will showcase your design portfolio at a public venue in Bristol, accessible to a wide audience. Additionally, you’ll engage in a series of interviews with professionals from the design industry at the exhibition, making it the ideal launch-pad for your career.
Our graduates have an excellent track record of consistent employment as freelance design professionals and leading creative collaborations. Graduates are regularly successful in attaining trainee design positions at the RSC and as finalists and winners of the Linbury Prize for design. Recent graduates have designed for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic Theatre, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Shakespeare’s Globe, as well as for BOVTS productions.
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is an associate school of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), a Higher Education Provider registered with the Office for Students. On successful completion of this course, you will receive an award from UWE Bristol. Because of the vocational nature of the degree courses, BOVTS does not award degree classifications – all assessments are completed on a pass or fail basis.
This course is taught predominantly at the School’s site at Downside Road, Clifton. This site is equipped with two communal design studios where you will have your own workspace.
The School stages theatre at venues across Bristol and the spring and summer term productions that you design for will be based in one of the city’s many performance spaces. Recent venues have included Bristol Old Vic, the Redgrave Theatre, the Wardrobe Theatre, Circomedia, Tobacco Factory Theatres, the Malcolm X Centre amongst others.
Your learning experience at BOVTS will revolve around practical project-based work and productions that take place throughout the academic year. Your training will largely centre on hands-on work for these productions, supplemented by seminars, practical and technical workshops, peer learning, collaborations with other creatives across courses, industry expert-led sessions, field and production visits, and participation in industry events.
Throughout the course, you will develop your individual design portfolio which showcases your specialisation as a Performance Designer with a critical understanding of current industry standards. Given the industry’s self-driven nature, much of your time will be spent undertaking independent work in our well-equipped communal studios. The course leader, tutors and visiting professionals will provide you support and feedback through one-to-one sessions, critical evaluations etc.
Your independent work will be supplemented by lectures, masterclasses, one-to-one tutorials, and peer-reviewed learning sessions amounting to around 20 hours of contact time per week. Additionally, you can expect to undertake approximately 25 hours of independent work per week. While normal working hours are from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays, you may be required to work in the evenings and on weekends during production periods.
The course is led by the Head of Design. Teaching is additionally delivered by the Design Tutor, along with a range of visiting industry professionals who will teach specialist masterclasses and workshops, supporting you in developing your professional network. There are typically 8 students on the course, but you will also have collaborative classes with other BOVTS students, such as the MA Drama Directing cohort. Work on productions involves working with staff and students from across the School, particularly those in production disciplines. You can find further information about all our core teaching staff on our staff pages.
The MA in Performance Design is an unclassified Master’s of Arts degree. This means that on completion of your course, you will receive a degree without a classification (i.e. without distinction, merit or pass).
Assessment at BOVTS is continuous throughout each term and all your modules will be marked on a pass or fail basis. Timetabled classes are compulsory and your tutors will monitor your progress closely, providing you with the regular feedback to help you develop. This includes verbally in the studio and in individual tutorials, as well as written feedback at the end of each module. You will also receive feedback from a variety of different staff – for example specialist staff teaching masterclasses or workshops, directors working on spring term productions, production staff, and other core staff observing your presentations.
Nearly all of your assessment will be based on practical work including demonstration of specialist skills within your production designs and portfolio, design presentations to an audience, and input at production meetings. You will be assessed against relevant industry standards and your ability to bring together all aspects of your learning. There are no written exams although you will be encouraged to complete written self-evaluation of your work for discussion within tutorials.
Each module is worth a specified number of credit points. All modules are compulsory, enabling you to cover key subject knowledge while developing your own interests.
Performance Design Project (40 credit points)
In this module, you will develop a variety of specialist design skills through taught classes and workshops before completing a project aimed at developing your approach to the design process. You will select a text from a range provided to develop a design project in collaboration with an MA Directing student.
Design for Production (60 credit points)
This is a fully practical module, comprised of design roles on up to two public productions in the spring and summer terms. You will work in collaboration with directors and other key creatives. This module will give you opportunities to lead teams that produce your designs, as well as to learn how to respond to creative challenges as they arise.
Specialisation project (40 credit points)
In this module, you will explore your specialised area of interest in performance design at greater depth through a project. This could be set and costume design, set design , lighting or projection design, prop design (and making), or puppetry.
Professional presentation (40 credit points)
During this module, you will consolidate your design work from the course, with a focus on presenting your work to industry at a public exhibition, and preparing for the next stages of your career.
We typically expect applicants to have an undergraduate degree in a relevant visual arts subject such as Fine Art, Sculpture, Architecture, Costume, Illustration, Theatre Studies, or Production Arts. We’re also open to considering those who do not have a visual arts degree, if you possess relevant professional experience or can showcase high-calibre visual arts skills in your portfolio. Additionally, we expect you to possess entry-level skills and experience aligned with your intended design specialisation – see the information under selection process for further information.
If English is not your first language, you will need to demonstrate English language proficiency through a relevant qualification, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which can also be used to satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requirements. For MA Performance Design, an overall score of 7.0 is normally required, with a minimum of 7.0 in each component of reading, writing, listening and speaking.
To apply for this programme, you’ll need to submit an application form along with a portfolio of your art and performance design work. We’ll shortlist applicants for interviews based on the work demonstrated within these portfolios. We highly recommend that you include a self-motivated design for a stage production as part of your portfolio. Your portfolio and interview will help us assess your skill level, practical experience, understanding of the role of a Performance Designer within a production, as well as communication and interpersonal skills.
Our interview panel will consist of the course leader alongside professional practitioners. The interview is also an opportunity for you to ask questions to our staff and current students, and be shown facilities at the School where possible. We do not charge any interview fees.
UK students £12,000
International students £26,500
We regret that we are unable to consider applications from students requiring a visa to study in the UK during the 2024–25 academic year. For further information, please see the dropdown “Students requiring a visa to study in the UK.”
Accommodation and living costs are not included in your tuition fees.
Further information about financial support from the government, and bursaries and scholarships that you may be eligible to apply for is available from our fees and funding page.
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School has been approved for the US Federal Student Loan programme. Further details on options for funding and loans for US students in the UK can be found on the US student funding page.
There are some additional costs associated with this course that are not covered by your tuition fee. Students are required to provide specific basic design equipment and additional art materials as needed.
A detailed equipment list will be sent to new students ahead of beginning their training. If you are facing financial hardship, then the School may be able to loan your equipment or help you meet these costs with a bursary. New students should contact admissions for further advice.
Due to a recent change in the Theatre School’s governance, our Higher Education provider UWE Bristol is unable to issue Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) documentation for BOVTS courses. Regrettably we are therefore unable to consider applications from students requiring a visa to study in the UK for 2024 entry.
The Theatre School is able to consider applications from international students who do not require a visa to study in the UK. If you are unsure of your tuition fee status, please consult the UK Council for International Student Affairs guidelines or contact our admissions office for further guidance. Prospective international students for entry in 2025 or beyond are encouraged to join our mailing list to learn more about training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.