Students attend, perform at annual theater fest

by Tyler Jensen

MSUM’s theater department took 30 students to the Twin Cities for the 48th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, during which they performed the play “Really, Really.” 

In the fall, the play was a part of First Year Experience curriculum and stirred up campus discussion about sexual assault.

In the same way, after being performed at KCACTF, the play created a buzz about “using theater as a tool for social justice,” Director of Theatre Arts Craig Ellingson said.  He added that controversy is something that comes with the play.

“Regardless of wherever this play is presented, I think there will be controversy, and controversy was one of the main issues we talked about at the post show discussion,” he said.

MSUM was one of only six schools chosen to give a performance  at the festival consisting of more than 1500 students from 86 schools.

Ellingson said the selection process began with schools applying for spots before engaging in a process similar to college sports scouting. 

“What happens is, there will be two people who come out and see shows that we want to be performed at the festival, then there’s a meeting in December about what shows they are still considering, and after that they’ll decide which ones that will come down,” Ellingson said.

He added that the visits aren’t blind and the two visitors will meet with the cast and crew afterwards to give them feedback about the play.

The festival also includes comptetitive acting performances put together by attendees and classes.  Three of MSUM’s eight competetors made their way to the semi-final round of the acting competition. In addition, two groups participated in the devised theater project.

The project this year, according to the festival’s website, consisted of a 20-minute performance in a 16-by-16-foot space. Performers were told to base their ideas on things that inspired them. They would put on a play accordingly.

The website indicates that, “devising isn’t an aesthetic; it’s a process. This approach to creating new work includes multiple aesthetics, production value spectrums and performance styles.”

The festival also put on a 10-minute play, consisting of students cast right there. Junior Brandon Hecker played an optimistic cancer patient named Charlie. He described getting into the character’s shoes as “a really humbling experience.”

For Hecker, it’s been two-and-a-half years since he became a theater performer at MSUM, but this was not always his plan. 

“I initially did not think of theater as an option,” he said. “I pretty much just decided to do it one day, and it completely changed my life. By far the best decision I have ever made.”

Hecker loves attending festivals like KCACTF, ever since he attended his first one two years ago in Lincoln, Nebraska.  One of the things he enjoyed was catching up with people he met last time.

Ellingson was grateful for the location of this year’s festival, which moved from Lincoln to the Twin Cities.

“It’s nice, because usually we travel seven to 10 hours for the festival, whereas this year it was only three-and-a-half, which is much more doable,” he said.

Now, theater students are gearing up for their spring productions. “The Vagina Monologues” takes the stage Feb. 11, and “Eurydice,” a modern take on the Greek myth of Orpheus’ quest to save his wife from the underworld opens Feb. 24. Running April 13 — 16 is the play “Working,” which centers on characters doing jobs most people take for granted.  The year concludes with the department’s annual “Evening of Dance” in May.

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