Each year, the Emmanuel College Performing Arts Department is lucky enough to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region 1. Adjudicators from the region attend each of our mainstage musicals and plays, and award talented students nominations in several different categories (more on these categories below). Once nominated, these students are invited to attend KCACTF for a full week in January. I was honored to have been invited along with my fellow castmates from The Laramie Project . This year’s festival was held at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT from January 31st - February 4th. Keep reading for an inside look at what happens during the festival!
Students who excel in their acting ability are nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions. They are paired with a scene partner and prepare two scenes and a monologue to perform at the festival before a group of judges. This year, we had four students and scene partners invited to festival: Miranda McLean/Christina Listro (A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine), Alexa Albanese/Elizabeth Keith (alumni - A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine), Makenzie Moore/Jack Constantine (The Laramie Project), and John Nordt/Haley Parker (The Laramie Project). I was able to watch three out of the four partners perform and everyone did an amazing job during their auditions!
Students who have great vocal talent are nominated for the Richard Maltby, Jr. Award for Musical Theatre Excellence. These nominees prepare a full, three-minute song and an audition cut (32 bars) of another song to perform for the judges. This year, Miranda McLean and Temma Beaudreau were invited based on their stunning performances in last Spring’s production of A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine. It was great to watch them perform in the incredible WestConn Visual and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall (pictured below).
Design & Technologies Exhibition
Students can also be nominated for honors and awards in the categories of Design, Technologies, and Management and are asked to present at an exhibition at the festival. This year, Christina Listro and Darren Cornell were invited to attend the expo for their work in costume design and set design (respectively) on A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine. Both walked away with some of the highest awards in their category, and we are extremely proud of them! Christina earned the KCACTF Barbizon Award for Excellence in Costume Design and has been invited to present her work at the Kennedy Center in D.C. in April. Darren won the USITT NE & BMI Design & Technologies Merit Award and will take his set design work to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology Annual Conference & Stage Expo in St. Louis this March.
The reason I was attending the festival was because of the first ever Merit Citation for Ensemble Acting Award for last semester’s production of The Laramie Project. This invitation included performing an 8-minute scene from the production in a showcase with other invited scenes from productions that the region wanted to recognize, but could not bring to festival in it’s entirety. We were very excited to have been included and this sort of encore performance was seen as a testament to our hard work. I was excited to be able to return to Laramie one last time with my castmates Christina Listro, Abby Desrosiers, Jannett Bertha, Jack Constantine, and Eimile Bowden, with the assistance of stage managers Christian Kelly and Miranda McLean.
While individuals from each adjudicated production are invited to the festival, there are also several productions that are “held for consideration” and four to five that are later invited to perform at festival. These shows are the best of the best in the region, and Emmanuel was lucky enough to have our production of A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine held for consideration for this year’s festival. The productions that ended up being invited were Passing Strange (a musical presented by CUNY LaGuardia Community College), The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical presented by Western Connecticut State University), The East (a play presented by Dean College), and The Painting (a play presented by Siena College). Students who are interested in theater criticism can take a workshop lead by the chair of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy, which happens to be Emmanuel’s own Scott Gagnon, and review each performance. Christian Kelly participated in this Critics’ Workshop.
Throughout the week, students have the opportunity to participate in workshops across all areas of theatre and theatrical performance. I chose to attend two dance workshops and a stage makeup workshop. The first dance workshop was called “Broadway Bootcamp: Dance!” There, I was given the opportunity to learn the audition cut of the dance break from “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Anything Goes under the instruction of Bradley Allan Zarr (pictured below), who has performed in the national tours of Bullets Over Broadway, Anything Goes, Catch Me If You Can, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and The Drowsy Chaperone. It was intense, but SO much fun! The second dance workshop was “Latin Dance/Ballroom” with Tiago Fernandes, choreographer of SWAY: A Dance Trilogy. My hips were hurting after that one! Finally, the stage makeup workshop was called “Highlight and Shadow for Basic Makeup Application,” and was a demonstration led by Sharon Sobel, author of Theatrical Makeup: Basic Application Techniques. I learned so much!
Miscellaneous Fun Times
The festival may be jam-packed with auditions, performances, workshops, and more, there’s still time for a little fun. All 15 of us stayed at the Ethan Allen Hotel and went out often for dinner, snacks, and drinks. There was also a closing dance to celebrate after a successful and busy week. We all got dressed up and partied the night away together before returning home to Boston, just in time for the Superbowl!
Overall, KCACTF was a fantastic experience. It was incredible to be around so many students who are so passionate about the performing arts. Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to get there!