The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) is a yearly event many college theatre majors look forward to. It offers students across the country an opportunity to showcase their work to professionals in the field, experience the work of other students, and learn from a variety of professionals in related fields.

As a part of KCACTF’s Region 3, Illinois State University joins other schools from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Western Ohio. This year’s Region 3 Festival was presented entirely online January 6-9. Keynote speakers were able to smoothly present to a large number of individuals, schools were able to perform over Zoom or present pre-recorded performances, and students in a variety of disciplines presented their work digitally to respondents.

The virtual nature of the festival offered many more students the opportunity to attend, and it also made coordinating events easier than ever. All Illinois State University attendees were invited to join a group via Facebook that allowed faculty to share event times and details to make sure that everyone would have something to participate in. It also allowed for an easy way to bring more support to students who were publicly presenting their work.

School of Theatre and Dance students participated in the Region 3 Festival in many areas, with many advancing to final round competitions. Three students were chosen to advance to the National KCACTF Festival in Washington, D.C.


A major feature of the festival is the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition. Throughout the academic year, festival respondents view university performances across the region and nominate actors that they find particularly compelling to compete at the regional festival. In a normal festival year, this process involves a series of competitive live auditions, memorizing several monologues, and having partner pieces to show versatility.

This year, to meet the challenges imposed by COVID-19, the festival allowed nominated students to record their monologues until the final round of the audition process. Finalists are awarded a $500 scholarship and the chance to compete in the national audition for an award of $3,500.

School of Theatre and Dance Irene Ryan nominees included the following students:

Guys and Dolls (Spring 2020) – Emily Franke and Dylan DeWitt

The Wolves (Spring 2020)Elena Sasso and Bri Golden

1984 (Spring 2020) – Jack Hradecky and Abby Langner

Pipeline (Fall 2021) Alexis Harris-Dyer, Bryson Kramer, and Terrence Mayfield

Richard III (Fall 2021)Kelly Fitzgerald, Cody Hedera, and Jack Hradecky 

Topgirls (Fall 2021) – Eve Doyle, Alex Jorn, and Leela Wolgemuth

From this group, eight students advanced to the semi-finals (Teresa Estrada, Emily Franke, Bri Golden, Cody Hedera, Jack Hradecky, Bryson Kramer, Terrence Mayfield, and JaMia Rockingham). Franke, Golden, Hradecky, Mayfield and Rockingham advanced to the final round, where each presented three live-streamed monologues to a virtual audience. This year’s award-winners included Emily Franke (Selector’s Award for Comedy) and Bri Golden (Selector’s Award for Drama), with Terrence Mayfield winning the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship award and advancing to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Design and Directing

Three graduate students presented in the Design Expo: Michael Mason presented his scene design for Pipeline; Lindsey Van Wyk presented costume design for Richard III; and Isabel Samuel presented lighting design for Pipeline.

Mason advanced to the design finals and received multiple awards, including the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award and the award for Theatrical Design Excellence in Scene Design. He will be advancing to nationals in Washington D.C. to further showcase his work.

MFA Directing student, Maria Faris and undergraduate Deja Holmes took part in the directing competition. While the virtual layout of the festival prevented the directors from presenting complete scenes in action, competitors instead met with judges to present conceptual frameworks for their productions. Faris presented on Three sisters, and Holmes presented on Shoe. Both were invited to the final round, where they were able to incorporate feedback from the earlier round into their presentations.

Faris won the SDC National Student Directing Fellowship Award, which advances her to nationals in Washington D.C., resulting in an impressive total of three students selected to present at nationals.

Jess Fleeman took Honorable Mention for her work in Scenery Design during the Design Storm event, where students collaborate to quickly put together a complete hypothetical production design. In this unique event, directors, designers, and dramaturgs from different schools are teamed up to create the production of their dreams in a timed collaborative event, where participants from all areas have the opportunity to approach a classic or contemporary text in a way that is unlike all previous productions. Several plays are part of the event each year, with students requesting positions on their preferred productions.

Stage Management, Dramaturgy, and ASPIRE Program

Student presenters in stage management included Zach Mlekush with his work on Pipeline and Jojo Wallenberg with their work on Hit the Wall for the Stage Management Fellowship. Wallenberg was selected to advance to the final round.

Dramaturgs included Samuel Langellier with Richard III, Hayley Brenner with Topgirls, and Kevin Goffard for Hit the Wall. Brenner was honored with Outstanding Dramaturgy for a Virtual Production and Outstanding Digital Dramaturgy Website for her work on Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls.

Carol Kelleher was a finalist in the ASPIRE Arts Leadership and Management Program. The festival defines the ASPIRE program as “designed to cultivate a new generation of artistic and administrative leaders for the American Theater with a focus of engaging Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and members of other groups that are consistently underrepresented in the field.” For her presentation, Kelleher developed a concept for a theatre company that would serve underrepresented communities in the Chicago area.