Big Wins for Hope Theatre

Hope College Theatre Department attended the Region 3 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Jan. 11-15. At this festival, there are workshops for all facets of the field such as playwriting, design, directing and acting. There are also competitions that students participate in such as Design Storm, National Playwriting Program and The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions.  

There were many theatre students who were awarded for their accomplishments within the festival and students who participated in various competitions: 

  • Danai Mandebvu (‘25) was selected runner-up for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award, and Katy Smith (‘23) was in the top 16 for the same competition. 
  • Kelsey Sivertson (‘24) received an award for her work in the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA). 
  • Lydia Konings (‘24) was the recipient of the Stage Management Off-Headset Book Award for her outstanding work in Hope Theatre’s production of “Bright Star”. 
  • Sofia Wake (‘26) will be serving on the KCACTF Student Council in years to come. 
  • Both Sofia Wake and Annika Dekker (‘22) were scene partners in the Irene Ryan Auditions. 
  • Annika Dekker also participated in the Stage Management portion of the festival, as did Emily Dykehouse (‘23) with Dramaturgy for Hope’s production of  “The Winter’s Tale” and Abby Doonan (‘24) with ITJA. 
  • Ingrid Baker (‘26) appeared in a devised work created at the festival. 
  • Bri Tomczak (‘24), Blade Gates (‘22), Sofia Munoz (‘22), and Renee Marting (‘25) participated in the primary round of The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. 

Along with this, many other students from Hope participated in the festival. 

Danai Mandebvu, Kelsey Sivertson, and Lydia Konings after the awards ceremony. Credit: Katy Smith

Insight from Danai and Katy on Their Experience with the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions 

The last time Hope College had two finalists in the Irene Ryan acting competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival was in 2018. It’s not an understatement to say then, that the air was filled with delight when it was announced that both Katy Smith and Danai Mandebvu had made it to the top 16 and even more so when Mandebvu received runner-up in the competition. I had the opportunity to discuss with the two actors their thoughts about the competition directly after the final round. 

The Irene Ryan acting competition consists of three rounds:

  1. Preliminary round- 178 actors submit a video of two contrasting monologues. 
  2. Semi-Finals- 45 actors perform one monologue and one scene. 
  3. Finals- 16 actors perform two monologues and one scene. 

Each round is followed by a response session with the judges so that the actors can get direct feedback on their performance. 

Many people take the competition very seriously, rehearsing late into the night and through the day. Mandebvu commented on the scale of the competition and the difference between last year’s online version and this year’s at UofM Flint, saying, “Last year, I had never heard of KCACTF, so I didn’t know the scale of this kind of thing, so I just knew that I was nominated and that I should send some things, so I sent them. Whereas, this time around, doing it in person, I experienced the scale of it and how grand it’s supposed to be and what it means to so many people. So, that brought a lot of pressure to it as well, realizing that, but I’m grateful because I think that I’ve learned to appreciate it even more.” 

Smith also added to this, discussing her preparation with her scene partner Annika Dekker and Hope Theatre faculty member, Rhett Luedke, “We worked with Rhett, we coached. I heard that other schools, once they heard the announcement, they went to the hotel immediately and coached and I was like, ‘That’s intense. I want to celebrate and I want to have fun because that’s what the festival’s about.’” Hope’s theatre students made the festival more centered around learning new things and making meaningful connections over enforcing the competition with other schools. 

Sofia Wake, Danai Mandebvu, Katy Smith, and Annika Dekker. Credit: Hope Theatre Department

In 2020, right before the shutdown due to COVID-19, Smith participated in the preliminary round of the Irene Ryan competition but didn’t make it past that. Last year, she tried again and made it a step further to the semi-finals. Her goal of making it to the final round finally came to fruition this year. Smith added to this, commenting, “So it kind of has this full-circle moment to it.”

Smith did monologues from Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson and Year of the Rooster by Olivia Dufault, and then did a scene with Annika Dekker from The Dream of the Burning Boy by David West Reid. In her performance, she effortlessly switched from silly and sassy, to an intelligent avid dreamer and then, to a grieving sister. Yet, even with all of this talent, she still was surprised: “I was really shocked that I made it. I wasn’t shocked at all that Danai made it. But I was really shocked that I made it.” 

Mandebvu had a similar reaction, “First of all, it’s a good feeling to make it to the finals. But it’s complicated because it’s a good feeling because I tried to be really intentional about not hanging my self-worth on achievements in my life because then that’s a slippery slope. So, making it to the finals for me has been very faith-based. I’m a Christian, and keeping in mind that I don’t know what the plan for my life is and I don’t know what the next steps look like, I took this as an opportunity to surrender the process to God, have fun, and see if I could actually get a little better.” 

Mandebvu performed a scene with Sofia Wake from The New Sincerity by Alena Smith and monologues from Ultimate Beauty Bible by Caroline V. McGraw and The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. She was able to hop from her heart-wrenching Shakespearean monologue to a knee-slapping comedic scene and back to a monologue that left chills on my shoulders. A beautiful performance. She was pleased with the way her performance went, saying, “I think [the performance] went really well, and when I say really well, I mean that there’s nothing that I regret and there’s nothing that I think could’ve gone better. I think we left it all out there.”

Danai Mandebvu and Katy Smith, participants in the Irene Ryan final round.
Annika Dekker presenting her stage management book from Silent Sky. Credit: Caitlin Bales
Emily Dykehouse presenting her dramaturgy boards from The Winter’s Tale. Credit: Caitlin Bales

Both actors were excited to be able to perform for audiences filled with theatre people– people that they knew could appreciate their work for what it was after two years of being online. “I think the opportunity to have theatre kids have theatre audiences is unlike any other,” Smith says. “I felt so supported in my audience today. And I know consciously that I was competing, but I just felt like it was a reward to have a theatre audience that appreciates the nuance of what I’m doing.” 

This year’s KCACTF Region 3 festival has been one like no other, as we soak in the joy we feel to have a community again; a community of people that support each other’s work and love for the art of theatre. 

Abby Doonan ('24) is the Arts Editor for The Anchor and was previously a staff writer. She is a theatre and communication double major from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Abby loves acting, any music that makes her dance or sing, hula hooping, romcom movies, and all things Marvel. She is passionate about arts journalism and strives to publish content that keeps you updated on all the artsy things!

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