The Master of Fine Arts in Acting program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City has been ranked among the top programs of its kind worldwide. Actors who graduate from this program are known for their talent as well as their high-quality training, which benefits them in any medium, be it theatre, film, or television. Nick Gehlfuss (MFA Acting 2010) and Dina Thomas (MFA Acting 2011) both serve as examples of this, as they continue to create solid reputations for themselves as skilled, professional actors.
Since graduating, Nick Gehlfuss, who hails from Cleveland, has been working vigorously in theatre, film, and television. He has acted in the shows Shameless and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as well as in the film Love & Mercy. His Dr. Will Halstead has been a staple on the NBC Chicago franchise, which includes the shows Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med. He has a role in the upcoming film Butterfly in the Typewriter, directed by David DuBois, about the writer John Kennedy Toole.
Of his time at UMKC, Gehlfuss says, “Ted Swetz, Stephanie Roberts, Dr. Jennifer Martin, and Carla Noack inspired and motivated me every day. They were always willing and available to dissect the work and help deepen my understanding of it. I’ll never forget the moment in class when I went from being afraid to fail, to expecting to fail. This informs everything I do.”
Gehlfuss’s career is on a sharp upward trajectory. Known not only for his natural talent, but for his stamina and professionalism, he offers the following advice to aspiring actors, “If at the end of the day you cannot answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Did I do everything I could today to achieve my dream?’ then you must adjust.”
A graduate of the MFA in Acting program at UMKC who is experiencing a different kind of success from Nick Gehlfuss is Dina Thomas, who is working in professional theatre. Thomas, who had studied under Theodore Swetz at Binghamton University, followed him to UMKC. Of this decision, Thomas remembers thinking, “I’m not done training [with Theodore Swetz]. There’s more I can learn and more I can do.” Dina Thomas has learned a lot from Swetz over the years, adding, “His ability to see a person and recognize their potential is a rarity in a teacher.” Thomas has fond memories of her other teachers at UMKC, including Carla Noack, of whom she says, “There’s nothing that Carla won’t do for a student.”
After graduating, Thomas was cast in her off-Broadway debut, Tribes by Nina Raine, which was an opportunity to work with esteemed director David Cromer. She also created the role of Lisette in the world premiere of The Metromaniacs by David Ives at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. This past year, she performed in I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard at Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City with Theodore Swetz, which was an opportunity for her to come full-circle to act with her teacher professionally on-stage.
Dina Thomas continues to be cast in juicy roles in theatre, saying that when she auditions in New York, “People ask, ‘where did you train?’ and I say, ‘UMKC.’ They say, ‘UMKC? We see really good actors from there’.” Thomas is proud of where she trained, adding, “There’s a pride to our work. There’s a pride to who we are as UMKC actors. I’m proud to maintain that standard for myself.”
by Amanda Davison