The MA in Performance Design provides specialist vocational training preparing you for a career in designing for the stage and screen.
The course has been revised with the latest industry developments in mind and is taught over one academic year through a combination of project and production work. You will acquire a broad range of specialist skill sets in both design and making.
Specialisation will enable you to acquire practical knowledge and technical skills from a range of School production staff and/or visiting industry professionals. You will be able to explore unique creative collaboration opportunities within the course and benefit from shared learning, knowledge and skills exchange with other postgraduate and undergraduate creatives.
You will be able to create an impressive professional portfolio of project and realised design work. You will launch your career to a range of industry professionals, one-to-one industry interviews and in a graduate exhibition.
A full time one-year vocational course designed to create confident leading industry professionals.
Learn from design practitioners and visiting industry professionals.
Apply a specialist design approach across projects and on School productions.
Meet a range of industry professionals in a series of one-to-one interviews, including at the public graduate exhibition.
Create an impressive professional portfolio with excellent pathways to employment.
Set and costume design
Set design and scenic crafts: construction and/or scenic art
Costume design and making / supervision
Prop design and construction
Puppet design and construction
Design for screen
Additional specialisations could include
Event Design or Opera Design
Design for Dance
Design for Screen
Design for Theatre in Education (TIE)
Set Design for Touring and Design for Devising.
Specialisation options require approval by the course leader and may be subject to change according to production schedules. Students are always consulted about any change which affects their course.
You will explore your specialisation pathway on at least one realised production. These may include:
School theatre productions which usually take place at venues across Bristol short films produced at the School’s Christchurch Studios
School theatre productions which usually tour to schools, arts centres and regional theatres.
Recent graduates have designed at Bristol Old Vic, The Tobacco Factory, Shakespeare’s Globe, Kneehigh, West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Orange Tree Theatre and the RSC.
Graduates are regularly successful in attaining the RSC Trainee Design positions and as finalists for the Linbury Prize.
‘The course at Bristol is excellent preparation for a career in Design. I got practical, hands on experience as a designer while working in a well-supported environment, and the classes gave me a firm basis in the skills I needed for working life. The small class size is pretty unique too – you really do get catered for as an individual, by both BOVTS tutors and visiting professionals, and I made some lifelong friends and collaborators along the way. It’s a well-respected course, and deservedly so.’
Anisha Fields, Set and Costume Designer
‘It was a wonderful environment to realise how valuable teamwork is and how much every department relies on one another to make a production a success.’ Corina Bona (Design Course), Puppeteer / Theatre-maker
‘Training at BOVTS set me up with the skillset, confidence and connections for the career I now have as a freelance theatre designer’ Max Johns, Theatre Designer
The production designs provide excellent opportunities for collaboration with a range of professional practitioners and student production teams, including collaborative working with the MA Drama Directing and MA Dramatic Writing students.
An impressive and varied professional portfolio of design work can be achieved during the course.
Students gain further promotional opportunities by exhibiting their work in final exhibitions and also create excellent pathways to employment by contact with a high level of industry practitioners.
The course prepares graduates for careers as freelance design professionals and leading creative collaborators. With a focus on providing team leadership, you will learn to apply a flexible approach to design with a high level of specialist and transferable designer skills.
The course structure allows for diversification within the subject area of Performance Design, reflecting specialisation within current industry practice.
At the graduate exhibition you will gain networking opportunities and one-to-one feedback in a series of interviews and events with industry professionals, which can provide excellent routes to employment.
Throughout the course and at the graduate exhibition you will gain networking opportunities and one-to-one feedback in a series of interviews and events with industry professionals, which can provide excellent routes to employment.
Recent BOVTS graduates have designed at Bristol Old Vic, The Tobacco Factory, Shakespeare’s Globe, Kneehigh, West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Orange Tree Theatre and the RSC.
Thanks to the rigour of BOVTS training, graduates are regularly successful in attaining the RSC trainee design positions and competing as finalists for the Linbury Prize.
Applicants would normally be expected to have an honours degree in a related visual arts subject area such as Fine Art, Sculpture, Architecture, Costume, Illustration, Theatre Studies, or Production Arts. However, applicants with extensive relevant professional experience will also be considered. Applicants would be expected to have entry-level skills and experience relevant to the subject specialisation they are intending to follow.
Applicants should be able to provide evidence of their suitability for the course by the production of a portfolio of art and performance design work. It is an expectation that the applicants understand the required basic skills involved and have knowledge of the role of Performance Designer within a production. Good communication and interpersonal skills are important and applicants will be expected to demonstrate these at interview.
Initial shortlisting for interview is based on the work within your portfolio, which you will be required to submit as part of the application process. Shortlisted applicants are then set a design project to complete ahead of their interview. The results of the design project and your portfolio will form part of the interview discussion.
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.
All applicants will be interviewed by professional practitioners, including the Course Leader. Applicants will be given an opportunity to ask questions of staff and current students and be shown the facilities at the School where possible. There are no interview fees.
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 their vocational nature, BOVTS does not award degree classifications – all assessment is completed on a pass or fail basis.
This module map provides a list of the modules that will make up your course.
All modules are compulsory, with each module worth a specified number of credits. They enable you to cover key subject knowledge while developing your own interests.
Performance Design Project – 40 credits
Specialisation Project – 40 credits
Design for Production – 60 credits
Professional presentation – 40 credits
Award: MA Performance Design
Operating on three specialist teaching sites (Downside Road, Sheene Road and Christchurch Studios – all located in Bristol) and usually performing in the major producing theatre venues in Bristol: Bristol Old Vic, Circomedia, Tobacco Factory, Wardrobe Theatre and Redgrave Theatre. (Venues are subject to change each year.)
Student learning at BOVTS revolves around practical project-based work and productions that take place throughout the academic year. Your learning to differing levels will centre on these productions.
You will learn through group seminars, practical and technical workshops, peer learning, working with other creatives, sessions led by industry experts, independent study, field and production visits, attending industry events and extensive feedback from School tutors and visiting industry professionals.
Students will develop an individual design portfolio to present to industry as a specialist Performance Designer with critical understanding of current performance design opportunities.
Professional performance designers need to be self-motivated and able to work independently. Reflecting this feature of the industry, you will be based in a well-equipped communal studio environment, much of your time will be spent studying independently. The Head of Course, based in a nearby office / studio, will be available on most working days to provide one to one support and critical evaluation.
This is a full-time course. Students are expected to work independently in a studio-based environment for much of the course. To support student learning, a wide range of lectures, masterclasses and one-to-one tutorials delivered by School teachers and visiting industry professions and peer review learning sessions are provided throughout the year. This amounts to approximately 20 hours of contact time per week, increasing significantly during production weeks. Students should expect to undertake approximately 25 hours per week independent study. Students will normally be in class Monday – Friday between 9.00 am and 6.00 pm, although during production periods there may also be evening and weekend work.
There will typically be eight students on the course. Some classes are shared with students from other BOVTS courses such as the MA Drama Directing. When working on productions, Performance Design students will work with other groups of students from across the school.
The course is programmatic by design with each of the four modules building your skills and experience in a structured and cumulative way. Training is delivered through tested methods of project exploration and the application of knowledge gained from experience on productions. Work is realised to a professional industry standard.
The course moves from a theoretical broad project, involving taught skills workshops, seminars and peer learning to more self-directed specialist projects and realised production design practice. In the latter you will take a lead creative team role with responsibility on public productions.
Throughout the course, you will work with and learn from industry design professionals and will collaborate with key creatives. Importantly, the School has a strong body of alumni and professional networks to draw knowledge from. You will be ‘connected’ to a web of colleagues with diverse skills from both your cohort and other School creative MA courses. These connections provide networking and peer support opportunities to sustain early career pathways.
All modules are assessed by coursework (meaning there are no exams). There is continuous assessment of project and production work-based challenges.
You will have many opportunities to share your work-in-progress and be observed in your collaborative interaction providing you with formative feedback and suggestions for improvement before final assessment of your skills is made. You will receive formative feedback from your tutor both in the studio and in formal meetings.
You will be assessed on the demonstration of specialist designer skills used in the production of your design. You will be assessed on completed final design at presentation stage in projects and a completed production design. You will be required to present this to peers, course tutors, industry professionals and to a performance company and production teams on realised productions.
Along with developing an analytical and critical continuous appraisal of your progress of design development and process, you will also be asked to evaluate your own learning for each project in a written self-assessment. Progress is discussed in tutorials and your learning pathway, along with your future direction, identified to ensure that your course commitments i.e. roles on realised productions, can support your career plans and specialist area of interest.
You are assessed on a pass or fail basis (meaning that degrees are undifferentiated).
Academic and Student Support
The School is committed to selecting, training and supporting students, regardless of ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion. Applicants are chosen solely on the basis of their talent and potential to develop the skills required for their chosen profession. The School does, however, judge applicants on their suitability for a course and their potential to successfully complete the training, as the work is rigorous and requires high levels of energy and commitment.
Student Support on the programmes at the School covers a variety of areas such as support for disabled students, academic support, student finance and health and welfare. Julia Heeley, Student Support Manager, is able to answer queries about support available for disabled applicants/students. Her email address is [email protected] and she can also be reached by telephone on 0117 980 9247.
Our Academic and Student Support services team provides help in the following areas:
Support for students with disabilities including specific learning difficulties
In our admissions process, we are committed to supporting students with disabilities. Disabled students are encouraged to disclose their support requirements so that we can endeavour to meet them during the audition or interview process and subsequent training. The School welcomes all students regardless of disability. It is our aim to provide appropriate support so that all students are able to achieve their full potential.
Students with a disability will be provided with advice and support from the Student Support Manager. If you have a disability or specific learning difficulty we recommend you contact her either prior to starting your course or during your first few weeks at the School to discuss any support requirements you may have. This may include support resulting from disabilities such as sensory impairment, learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia or mental health difficulties.
We recognise that everyone is an individual and we will work with students to identify potential barriers to training and do what we can to remove those barriers. We will also make any necessary reasonable adjustments, to ensure that disabled students can train at the School.
We are aware that nationally there is a very high proportion of students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) e.g. dyslexia or dyspraxia, in institutions which specialise in art, design or the performing arts. During your first week, the School encourages all students to take a short questionnaire known as QuickScan. It takes the form of an on-line, easy to navigate, questionnaire which will help to identify your learning style and specific areas of learning strengths and weaknesses. It is used in conjunction with other indicators, including student disclosure (as part of the interview and registration process), tutor feedback on practical and written work, and students expressing their concerns and any support requirements which may become apparent during their studies.
Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)
UK students with disabilities (including Specific Learning Difficulties and long-term Mental Health conditions) can apply for the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). DSA usually provides support for students with the specialist equipment and tools necessary to support you with your studies, including software, hardware and study skills support. Unlike a student loan, DSA does not have to be repaid. However, it is rarely awarded in the form of financial support.
Applications are made through Student Finance England (SFE), Student Finance Wales (SFW), or Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). In order to apply for DSA, Student Finance will require evidence of any impairment or disability. This may take the form of a doctor’s or specialist’s letter or, more often, a report from an Educational Psychologist (Diagnostic Assessment Report).
If you require a Diagnostic Assessment from an Educational Psychologist, the Student Support Manager can arrange this for you and can guide you through the process.
Personal Academic Support
Various staff members at the School can help in different ways if you need academic support. If you need help with the content of classes or assessment work, you can ask the relevant head of course, tutor or your pastoral care tutor for an appointment or you can ask the Student Support Manager to arrange a tutorial with the relevant member of staff on your behalf. If you make an appointment, you can prepare for the meeting and discuss your concerns away from class. Heads of courses, modules leaders and individual tutors can all help you with understanding aspects of your training and can offer overall guidance or advice about your programme of study.
Study skills (including reading, note-taking and presentation skills)
Study skills support is usually arranged for students who have been awarded support through Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). However, the Student Support Manager will be happy to arrange one to one study skills support for you if deemed appropriate and necessary.
Mental Health, wellbeing and counselling
BOVTS recognises the challenges faced by students entering higher education and that training in a conservatoire institution can place great demands on a student both physically and emotionally.
The School has a student therapy and counselling service, which is organised and staffed by accredited, registered psychotherapists and counsellors and is there to help with any more deep-seated personal problems on which pastoral tutors are not qualified to advise. If students wish to have an initial assessment with a therapist or counsellor, they should contact the School’s Student Support Manager. A strict professional code of confidentiality is always maintained.
Student welfare and pastoral care
We actively encourage students to develop a pro-active and positive approach to their own ‘wellness’. We are preparing professionals to enter physically and mentally challenging professions and we work to enable students to sustain a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle.
Every student is assigned a pastoral tutor who monitors their progress throughout the year in addition to having access to the Student Support Manager. All students have tutorials with their head of course, head of year or allocated pastoral care tutor in which non-teaching issues can be discussed. A confidential tutorial can be requested of any member of the full-time teaching staff on your course.
In addition, BOVTS students have access to UWE’s Student Wellbeing Service, details of which can be found on UWE Bristol’s website.
For further information on support which the School offers, please see the Guide to Student Support.
You will be taught by an experienced teaching team whose expertise and knowledge are matched to the content of the modules on the course.
The team includes Head of Design (Angela Davies) and other School teaching staff and a range of visiting industry professionals.
Further information about our teaching staff is also available by visiting our staff profiles.
Please note: the named teaching team is correct at the time of writing but may be subject to change.
MA Performance Design
Duration: 38 weeks (one year, full-time)
UK Tuition fees for the three term MA Performance Design Course starting in September 2024 will be £12,000 for the whole course.
International students (non UK) tuition fees for the three term MA Performance Design course starting in September 2024 will be £26,500 for the whole of the course.
(Subject to further increase in subsequent years in line with Government policy)
The 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 studying in the UK can be found here.
(Full-time route only)
It is not possible to confirm fees for future academic years, as these are dependent on Teaching Excellence Framework outcomes, but the maximum increase in each year will not exceed the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The following course-related costs are included in the fees:
We supply some materials such as card and poly-board, there is also a small budget for student expenses for each design project / production design. Students are required to provide specific basic design equipment and additional art materials as needed.
Accommodation and living costs are not included in the fees.
Increasingly much of the information and some of the content of the course is available via the School’s Virtual Learning Environment and so you will benefit from having access to your own personal computer and the internet to make the most of your course. It is estimated that a suitable personal computer will cost £300.00. See the Course Summary document for more details.
Info and advice regarding potential accommodation and living costs can be found in the General Student Information Handbook
Sources of financial support
If you receive funding from Student Finance you may be eligible to apply for additional benefits.
Details can be obtained from our Student Fees home page.
Bursaries, scholarships and prizes
Please see the BOVTS Fees and Financial Support page for details of Bursaries and Scholarships.
The University also provides a number of scholarships and prizes for undergraduate students, which you may be eligible to apply for. Some of these are available to students on any course (such as the Hardship Fund and bursaries offered by charitable trusts).
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.
How to apply
All applications for degree courses at BOVTS are made directly to the School. Please note that the School no longer uses the UCAS system. .
You should submit your application before 29 February 2024. If you apply after 29 February, we can’t guarantee there will still be places on your course.
Applying as an international student and Visa requirements
The application process for international students is the same as it is for everyone else.
As well as meeting our course entry requirements, you may have to provide proof of your level of English. This is because you need to meet the Home Office required standards to get a Student Route Visa to enter the country for study.
You can find out about Student Route Visa from the UK Government.
Applying after a break in studying
The application process is the same as it is for everyone else. You will have the option within your personal statement to explain why you have chosen to return to study now and how you feel you will benefit.
We accept a variety of qualifications, including the Access to HE Diploma and Open University credits. View our course pages to find out about entry requirements for each course. If you are a mature student and you have any questions about our entry requirements or your qualifications email [email protected]
The School is committed to the promotion of equal opportunities for all. We consider each application on the basis of the applicant’s suitability for the proposed programme of study, at the same time acknowledging the statutory and professional requirements of some programmes. We are keen to encourage applicants from a wide range of academic and social backgrounds to take up the opportunity of studying at the School. We aim to create an environment that respects the diversity of students and enables them to derive maximum benefit and enjoyment from their involvement in the life of the School. To do this we will be proactive about ensuring people are treated fairly regardless of age, disability, race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
The Admissions Office deals with enquiries and applications for all degree courses.
Telephone: +44 (0)117 9733535
Email : [email protected]
Post: Admissions Office, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, 1-2 Downside Road, Bristol BS8 2XF, UK
We will only accept one application per applicant, per year. You cannot apply for more than one course. If you need further advice about choosing a course, please contact the Admissions Office.