MSUM theater department shares passion for arts at regional festival

by Ellen J. Rossow

Last week, theater Dragons had the opportunity to travel to the Twin Cities for this year’s regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) to perform, compete, attend workshops, receive awards and celebrate their passion for the stage alongside their peers from the upper Midwest.

Throughout the school year, college theater students and staff involved in school productions can be nominated for various awards based on their contribution to the show. Last spring, MSUM’s cast of “Carrie: The Musical” won an Ensemble Award for their performance as a whole. This fall, the department’s Head of Design and Technology, Ricky Greenwell, won an award in Costume Excellence for “The Jungle Book.” Acting and Directing junior Nora Flaherty was presented an award in Directing Excellence for this winter’s production of “ben and trish.” Flaherty said these awards are not only a great accomplishment, but also motivation to keep following her dreams.

“This award has encouraged me to continue to do what I love,” she said.

On top of these awards, student performers nationwide are eligible to receive “Irene Ryan” nominations throughout the school year. A nomination is their (and a partner of their choosing’s) ticket into a regional acting competition. Last week’s competition included nearly 400 couples, only one of which will advance to the national level in April. Of the nine MSUM nominees that competed this year, three students, senior Michael Johnson, junior Kate Aarness and sophomore Sammy Lorenz and their partners were asked to compete in the semi-finals. Although they did not advance to finals, Johnson said making it that far was an honor.

But KCACTF isn’t only about awards. The ability to perform and share talents with peers plays a big part in the annual festival. The event offers an opportunity for those passionate about all aspects of theater to share their crafts. A handful of MSUM students participated in a devised theater project, in which they performed original pieces of theater that explore topics in unique and sometimes obscure ways. Junior Ally Beil was one of the students to perform her devised theater piece alongside fellow actors Caleb Reich and Taylor Hought.

“Our performance was about an individual struggling with drug addiction and having to choose between two sides of the addiction, which were illustrated by me, a demon, and Taylor, an angel,” Beil explained.

According to Beil, a lot of the experience of KCACTF is receiving feedback that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

“To finally have the opportunity to perform it in front of people we didn’t know and receive feedback from professionals who weren’t our professors or peers was a great learning experience,” she said.

The entirely student-created production “ben and trish.,” which premiered on the MSUM stage last month, was also presented at KCACTF last week. According to Johnson (writer/producer), the opportunity to perform a play for KCACTF’s audience is a large feat, as it was one of only six chosen shows from the region (which includes all of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.) The show performed five times Thursday to packed audiences, including not only students, but various theater professionals and, most importantly, KCACTF respondents who have the ability to send “ben and trish.” the national festival in April.

When KCACTF attendees weren’t taking the stage or attending performances they were engaging in workshops and theater intensives where they could work with professionals from around the region.

KCACTF’s website describes the festival as “a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States.” With the large involvement Dragons have in KCACTF, it’s no wonder the department continues to earn recognition and create exciting and rare theater.

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