As we continue to see our students’ work in the School of Theatre and Dance thrive upon our stages, we come with hope that they be rewarded for their efforts. We clap at the end, bring flowers, ask for autographs, but what do we do for those who stand out among the rest?

Our school, like many others in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, is part of Region 3 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF). The national program involves up to 20,000 students from a network of 700 colleges and universities throughout the United States.

The regional events are usually held in January or February and are hosted each year at a different college within the Midwest. This year, the Region 3 Festival was held from January 8 through January 12. Illinois State University had a large presence at this year’s event with three faculty and 38 students from the School of Theatre and Dance traveling to Madison, Wisconsin.

The students who participated were selected by KCACTF respondents. For each main stage production of the theater season, an adjudicator from a different college within the region attends a performance. If they are moved by the design of a production, they can nominate one or more designer from each show. The respondent and the director of the production meet after the performance to nominate two actors for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, named after the iconic Broadway and television actress.

Approximately 250 nominees are invited to audition during a day and a halftime period of the festival. Each of the nominees is asked to bring a partner and select three separate pieces of theatrical work that must include two scenes, one three minutes long and the other two minutes long, and a one-minute solo piece. Liberty can be taken in the choices, allowing for selections of drama, comedy, classical work, or musical theatre.

After the initial set of auditions, approximately 45 semifinalists are selected for a second round, with only 16 pairs out of the entire region chosen as finalists. A single Irene Ryan nominee is chosen as the recipient of the acting scholarship and is then invited with their partner to the National Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

From Illinois State University, the 14 student actors nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship were Jacob Artner, Megan Compton, Tori DeLaney, Madison Gillis, Rachel Hall, Jack Hradecky, Owen McGee, Derek Ray, Jamia Rockingham, Troy Schaeflein, Nathan Sudenga, Clare Ellen Supplitt, Asa Wallace, and Caitlin Wolfe. Artner, Compton, Hradecky, McGee, Schaeflein, and Supplitt all made it to the second round.

For design students, seven Illinois State University students were nominated for the National Design Excellence Award, with Caroline Dischell, Jordan Gerow, Laura Gisondi, Nicole Kippen, Erica Maholmes, Devon Rodlund, and Megan Wood competing at the KCACTF Regional Festival. Each of the nominees showcased their design work, using things 3D models, fabric swatches, reference and test photos, headphones, or binders of information. Along with the display, each of the designers gave a short two-minute presentation followed by a three-minute discussion with the judges.

Gerow, Gisondi, Kippen, and Maholmes were each selected as finalists. For design students, the final round emulates the first round of the competition, only with twice as much time allotted for the presentation.

Kippen and Maholms both received honorable mentions for their designs, with Gerow winning the National Theatrical Design Excellence award for her work. She will travel (all expenses paid) to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for the KCACTF National Festival, where her work will be presented and discussed one more time with judges that are also top designers from D.C., New York, and other areas across the nation. She will not be alone in D.C., either.

In addition to the acting and design students, two of our directing students, Enrico Spada and MaKenna Lockhart, competed in the Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Directing Initiative where each of the students directed a short scene from a predetermined list. To prepare for the festival, each director must thoroughly research their play and the world within it. Using the pool of actors from the university already going to KCACTF, the director uses a few days before the festival to rehearse. At the festival, the first round is a performance of the scenes. The respondents then choose directors for the final round.

Between the two rounds is an interview round where the respondents speak to each of the directors individually about their scene and their general view as a director. This is also an opportunity to provide feedback on their scene, allowing the directors to rehearse and improve their scene.

For the final round, there were five scenes selected, which included both Spada and Lockhart. The respondents watch the scenes for a second time, now having been rehearsed after their feedback, and selected the winners. Spada’s scene made third place, with Lockhart winning the award. She will direct and work in the national competition in Washington, D.C.

In addition to acting, design, and directing, representing Illinois State University in stage management was Lucy Yahr. Nominated for her work in our production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Yahr brought her script binder to KCACTF to be looked at and critiqued by professional stage managers. Similar to design, her work was presented to the festival respondents. She presented for one-minute and then discussed her overall work and process for four minutes.

Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance students came to KCACTF with a powerful set of work, as was reflected in the results. The College of Fine Arts is very proud of each student who was nominated and participated at the Region 3 Festival, and we are very excited for Jordan Gerow (designing) and MaKenna Lockhart (directing) for their first-place wins and upcoming trip to the national festival. They will represent the University well in D.C. Go Redbirds!

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