The Chronicles of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, January 10-15, 2017

The Chronicles of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, January 10-15, 2017
Caitlin Burke
Cáitlín Burke (center) with Karen Sheridan (back row) and OU students

by Professor Karen Sheridan

In mid-January, 64 theatre majors and several faculty attended the Region III Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Indianapolis. The goal of the festival is to encourage, recognize and celebrate the finest and most diverse work produced in university and college theatre programs around the country. It provides opportunities for participants to develop their skills and insights through workshops, scholarship opportunities, feedback sessions and productions. Region III includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. This year’s festival was co-hosted by the University of Indianapolis and Butler University.

The Oakland Posse
The evening before the festival starts students going to ACTF, their parents, friends and anyone else who is interested can come to the Varner Lab Theatre to see the presentations of students entering the acting and design competitions. The presenters have been preparing for the evening intensely, and it is our practice round for the festival. This year we had eight students nominated to compete in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition (which can include musical selections), six students bringing research/renderings/models/displays to the national design competition, and one student bringing a paper project for the regional design competition.

The KCACTF Irene Ryan nominees are selected from our productions by outside adjudicators. The Ryans then select a partner for scene work. This year the Ryans and their partners were: Joey Fontana nominated for his work in Faust(us) – partnered by Billy Robinson; Caleb Alman for his work in Assassins – partnered by Maggie Hinckley; Lily Talevski for her work in Assassins – partnered by Brandon Santana; Sammy Borla for his work in The Adventures of Pinocchio – partnered by Kristin Rebera; Stefanie Sambrano for her work in The Adventures of Pinocchio – partnered by David Bashaw; Maria Reed for her work in The Scarlet Pimpernel – partnered by Kayla Pingerelli; Ian Turnwald for his work in The Scarlet Pimpernel – partnered by Tony Sharpe; and Ayanna Greene for her work in The House of Bernarda Alba – partnered by Marissa Pattullo.

Krystal's set
Krystal Smoger's set in performance

The students bringing their designs from our main stage productions for the National ACTF Awards for Theatrical Design Excellence were: Ellie TeuckeAssassins – Makeup and Hair Design; Shelby VanophemThe Adventures of Pinocchio – Costume Design; Emily Christenson - The House of Bernarda Alba – Costume Design; and Krystal SmogerThe House of Bernarda Alba – Scenic Design.

This year’s students bringing their designs for the National KCACTF Allied Design and Technology Award were: Shelby VanophemThe Adventures of Pinocchio – Nose Design; and Alex Johnson and Katie PersonThe Scarlet Pimpernel – Wig Design.

The student bringing a conceptual design for the Regional Design Project Competition was: Sydney ThurmanThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Costume Design.

A number of the Oakland musical theatre majors signed up to compete in the Musical Theatre Intensive. There is a Singing Performer Competition, and this year they added a Dance Competition. Students could sign up for one or both.

For our students and the theatre faculty who are their mentors and coaches, the preparation for these events started long before the festival began, so it is great to share that work with supporters on Monday night before we depart. This year, Fred Love accompanied his singers at the piano.

We’re Off
Tuesday morning we all awoke to the effects of an overnight snow storm. After the 16 drivers dug themselves out, off we all went to 40° plus in Indy.

Cáitlín Burke, one of our alums, was performing in Indianapolis. Cáitlín lives in New York and is on the national tour of The Sound of Music. She heard ACTF was in Indy and got in touch. She arranged some complimentary tickets for the show and some of us saw the show Tuesday night and went out with her afterward.

The Festival
The festival is a daily opportunity for all the students, with on-going displays, workshops, performances, competitions and productions. There is not an aspect of theatre work that is not represented there. And the student conversations between events are rich and interesting.

All 16 of the Oakland Irene Ryan students felt they did very good work in their preliminary rounds and that is the most important part. We want them to feel well-prepared and able to create the theatrical moment even with respondents watching them, pencil in hand. They all felt they received valuable feedback from their faculty respondents after their rounds. Caleb Alman and Ian Turnwald both advanced with their partners to the semi-finals—as two of only 45 selected to advance from our four-state region.

Of the Oakland student singers in the Musical Theatre Intensive, three advanced to the finals—Tyler Bolda, Stephanie Gettings and Clayton Sallee. A number of Oakland students danced in the final presentation of the dance competition. The performances were a celebration! All three of our singers did some of their best work and the crowd adored their songs, their voices and their acting. All of our participants were delighted to have had the chance to be coached in the Intensive.

Our student designers also felt very good about their verbal and visual presentations to the design judges. Krystal Smoger was selected as a finalist in the national competition for her scenic design for The House of Bernarda Alba. Oakland was indeed a presence in the exhibit hall.

Oakland faculty were also busy. Anthony Guest, David Gram and Lynnae Lehfeldt were all invited to give workshops. Karen Sheridan was a respondent to students in Irene Ryan preliminaries with faculty from Wisconsin and Illinois. Kerro Knox also attended as past region co-chair. He helped coordinate the Irene Ryans and assisted the judges and guests from outside the region and the Kennedy Center.

Sammy Borla
Sammy Borla

We arranged for Cáitlín Burke to meet with interested students before her call time on Friday night. There was a great turnout. After a few introductory questions from Karen (who directed her in Fiddler on the Roof and Rock ‘n’ Roll Lysistrata at Oakland), the Q&A was off and running. In particular, Cáitlín was able to address diversity issues in theatre and shared some of her own experiences. She was generous and candid – “Now’s your time. Go for it!” What a wonderful chance meeting for our students.

On Saturday night, two Oakland students received recognition from the Region III KCACTF festival. Krystal Smoger received a National ACTF Honorable Mention for Theatrical Design Excellence for her scenic design of The House of Bernarda Alba. And Sammy Borla received the Music Theatre Dance Award which included a partial scholarship to Open Jar Institute’s Broadway Actor Intensive this summer in New York City. Oakland was elated to stand and cheer our students, whose hard work and talent was acknowledged.

Final Shout Out
Our student organization Actors and Techies does an incredible job of creating opportunities for students to attend the regional festival at a reasonable rate. All of the officers of this student organization are involved in counting points and making decisions. Special kudos goes to Maggie Hinckley who helped with the Irene Ryan schedule and collected money. And super kudos to Andrew Muylle, our fearless leader, who blazed a trail of text communication that linked the whole Oakland posse. With one text Karen could let 64 students know about Cáitlín’s visit and Andrew could remind them that they were human beings who needed sleep. Thanks, “Dad!”