By Brian Hanlin
The dust has finally settled at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) at Colorado State University, after a busy but successful week hosting the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region VII conference February 13 through 17. The week-long event saw more than 1,400 theatre students from nine different states flocking to the CSU’s new state-of-the-art facility. To these students, KCACTF provided an unparalleled glimpse into what is takes to succeed in theatre; providing specifically catered workshops and discussion sessions, allowing them to attend professional presentations, and critiquing their own individual works and abilities.
“Hosting is a great honor,” notes director of theatre Walt Jones. “[Being selected to host] is an investment in those who will be leaders in the future of American Theatre.”
The festival granted the perfect opportunity for CSU’s theatre program to showcase the suitability of its cutting-edge facility, along with its fully-professional theatrical resources.
“It was amazing,” said CSU freshman Lily Aspen. “I loved having ALL theatre, ALL the time.”
“I’ve been to many theatre festivals, but this one, in particular, I will remember as being especially well done” said Philip Kelley, a junior theatre major from the University of Wyoming. “It was really a good overall experience.”
In addition to the aptness of the facility, the creativity and expertise of this year’s performances at the event were inspiring to conference participants. School productions handpicked to be featured in the festival included 14 from the University of Colorado at Boulder, All in the Timing from the University of Portland, US from Western Washington University, and The Kafka Project from CSU.
“US blew my mind!” said theatre major Sean Nill from Sacramento State University. “It taught me to continue to work and move forward in my art—acting takes a lot of time and effort.”
The festival represented a culmination of 18 months of preparation and required a disciplined joint effort between CSU faculty, staff, students and volunteers from the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance. It fell upon Cory Seymour; technical director at the UCA, to spearheaded the event’s coordination.
He described how other schools who have hosted in the past kept relating an almost-doomsday apprehension once CSU had been selected to host in 2012—mostly a result of horror stories from previous festival hosts. Luckily, disciples of the performing arts are accustomed to overcoming anxiety and trouble-shooting—the key being hard work mainly in the planning and preparation process. Close to 100 CSU students aided in the organization and execution of CSU’s hosting duties for the festival, and Seymour commented that it was amazing to see them step up to help run the festival. The “chaos” that can sometimes ensue and the need for intricate organization during these types of events brought students closer together, provided an unparalleled learning experience for those new to the festival and amplified the positive dynamic between students and faculty.
“Overall it was just about keeping our eyes on the prize,” said Seymour. “And in the end, we all succeeded together—as a team; both with our festival participants and with our hosting duties. We showed the total experience of what theatre truly is at CSU.”
The hard work put into the event certainly paid off; with an event that met universal praise from students, faculty, presenters and performers attending the festival. In fact, CSU’s execution and organization during the festival week was so admired that, at the request of KCACTF Region VII officials, the UCA production team will provide a “host template” for subsequent festivals.
“It truly was an extraordinary event, and I was so impressed by the professionalism of our faculty, staff and students,” said Dr. Todd Queen; Music, Theatre and Dance Department Chair. “The week really came off without a hitch, and that was due to the great organizational skills of our theater faculty and staff.”
The festival was not just a learning opportunity for theatre students or a chance for the UCA to show off its organizational aptitude; KCACTF also presents coveted awards to those who distinguish themselves as on the frontline in theatre innovation. CSU’s theatre program scored big with seven students receiving accolades. In addition, The Kafka Project, an original production written by director of theatre Walt Jones and the COMPANY, achieved the honor of becoming a regional finalist production.
“The event gave us “bragging points” to the university, Fort Collins, our region and it places CSU theatre in a national spotlight,” said Jones. “It helped us define what we do, our status and our significance.”
CSU’s KCACTF Winners:
Honored students included Parker Stegmaier, for first place in Theatrical Design Excellence for the Sound Design in The Kafka Project, and Kaylen Higgins, for first place in Theatrical Design Excellence in Stage Management on A Few Good Men, both of whom will be moving on to compete at the national KCACTF conference in Washington D.C. in April.
"The moment they announced my name as the winner, I was completely exhilarated, so much so that I tackled Price Johnston, my adviser," said Parker Stegmaier. We are a powerful theatre program, and the industry is starting to learn that. I will do everything within my power to represent CSU well in D.C.," he said.
Additionally, Nicole Newcomb, who received first place in Theatrical Design Excellence in Projection Design for Kafka, was commended with a full scholarship to attend the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas; Brittany Lealman was awarded the Props Allied Design and Technologies S.P.A.M. Award for her work on Kafka, which included a scholarship to the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT); Lealman and Taylor Webster were granted the USITT Award, the highest honor given by the institute; Alex Ostwald earned the Lighting Design Meritorious Achievement Award for his work on Kafka; Rebekah Mustain was offered a position as Assistant Stage Manager and Charge Artist for the production of My Fair Lady at the Mt. Baker Theatre in Washington as a result of an interview during KCACTF; Cecilia McNeel and Aleisha Mork both were offered a summer tech position at Creede Repertory Theatre in Creede, Colorado based on their performances at KCACTF; and The Kafka Project was named a regional finalist production and will now compete for a national production award.