This past weekend, many of Hope College’s Theatre majors and minors traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region III, a five day extravaganza created to help encourage and teach theatre students across the country. Over the course of the weekend, students were invited to participate in workshops, compete for awards — such as scholarships or entries to larger competitions — and watch and support other artists. Said awards and workshops varied in type, ranging from playwriting to stage combat knife fighting. Many of Hope’s students took the festival as an opportunity to shine. Throughout the academic year, Hope’s Theatre Department puts on four faculty-led productions and a number of student-led productions. During one performance of each of the productions, KCACTF sends in a representative to view and critique the show in order to decide which students, if any, they will nominate for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Students nominated for this scholarship then choose a partner and prepare two scenes and a monologue to perform for judges at the festival to compete for the earnings. The competition begins on the festival’s first day with a preliminary round.
This year, the preliminary rounds housed over 200 talented competitors. Forty of the nominees were chosen to move on to the semi-finals, which yielded sixteen finalists. This year, Hope brought seven Irene Ryan Nominees to compete: Megan Clark (’20), Maxwell Lam (’20), Madison Meeron (’21), Zach Pickle (’22), Cameron Baron (’23), Adam Chamness (’23) and Katy Smith (’23). Megan Clark and her partner Emi Herman (’22) moved on to semi-finals. Similar to the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, students at the festival are given the opportunity to audition for the Musical Theatre Intensive (MTI). Finalists of MTI get the chance to work one-on-one with Broadway alumni and perform at the closing ceremony of the festival, making them eligible for multiple scholarships. Senior Katie Joachim and freshman Cameron Baron both moved on to the final round and serenaded the audience with their angelic voices. Baron, who sang “Astonishing” from the musical “Little Women,” said her favorite part of the experience, interestingly enough, wasn’t making it to the finals, but Hope’s theatre students themselves. She gushed, “I was really nervous about going to the festival. I was nervous about performing, I was nervous about being around all the theatre upperclassmen in that setting. But I was blown away by how genuinely supportive everyone was. Everyone wanted to go watch one another and cheer them on. It sounds cliche, but I really felt like we were one big family.” She went on to talk about the MTI finals, saying, “I don’t usually get nervous for performances anymore, but I was really nervous that night. Truly, the one thing that calmed me down was knowing all of [Hope’s students] were in the audience somewhere, cheering Katie and I on.”
As formerly mentioned, KCACTF provides opportunities for many talents in the field, not just acting and singing. Emily Sandstedt (’20) and Katie Joachim (’20) participated in KCACTF Stage Management Fellowship, an opportunity to interview with and show off their impeccable organization through the script books they kept while stage managing productions. Gracen Barth (’20) presented in the Regional Crafts, Engineering and Management category, speaking on production managing repertory changeover. Directing student Makeya Royer (’20) participated in the Student Directing Competition with her scene entitled “Ye Ole Flame” with her actors, Maxwell Lam (’20), Megan Clark (’20), Madison Meeron (’21) and Alex Johnson (’22). Royer moved on to the SDC finals. All of this is just the beginning of what Hope’s wonderful theatre students participated in this week. They return with a fire in their bellies to create new art. Emily Dykhouse (’23) returns with new ambitions, saying, “[She] was inspired to explore playwriting for the first time after the playwriting workshop [she] attended.” Congratulations, Hope Theatre students! Your remarkable work has not gone unnoticed. To witness their talents for yourself, look out for their upcoming productions “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley and “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare, which are coming to the DeWitt Student and Cultural Center in February and April, respectively.