Keene State College Dance and Theater majors received awards for their work on productions at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Sixteen KSC students attended the weeklong festival in Fitchburg, Mass. this past January. The festival, now in its forty-fourth year, attracted students from seven states and over 50 colleges and universities. According to the Kennedy Center’s website the festival’s goals are to encourage, recognize, and celebrate the work done in America’s university and college theater programs, to provide opportunities for development of skills, and to assist students in becoming more professional. Students who attended the festival, which was free of cost, spent the week attending classes during the day and viewed student performances at night.
Alexandra Vendt, a senior and theater design major, said, “It was really neat because you basically just go hang out with a bunch of theater people all day long, and discuss your ideas…and we had a job fair and a college fair, and it was just all sorts of really neat stuff. You got your grad school opportunities and you got to meet with people for job opportunities.”
Vendt said, “One of the things I’m really interested in with my theater degree is applying it outside of the theater world because although I’m really interested in doing traditional theater, I’m more interested in community level and it doesn’t really pay well right off the bat, so I’m hoping with other opportunities I might be able to take my design degree and apply it elsewhere.”
Students at the regional festival in Fitchburg are nominated to participate in the national competition in Washington, D.C. Students presented their work to a panel of experts using a display board. They each had a five-minute consolation with the professionals in which they presented their work and received feedback.
Festival judicators selected Vendt as a runner up for the national festival, and she also received the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award for Excellence in Design-Technology for the lighting she did for the play “Agnes of God.”
Vendt said, “I didn’t really even expect to go on to semifinals… the fact that it was even pulled from the first round into the second was really neat, because I had done dance performances before but this was my first theatrical design that was longer than 20 minutes, so it was really neat to have my work recognized as, yes this is a first time designer but she’s done really good work.”
”Agnes of God,” which centers around a nun on trial for murdering her own child, takes place in the present, as well as through two different characters’ memories of the past, which gave Vendt the opportunity to be able to work with different aspects of lighting, depending on the time period and on the characters point of view.
Vendt started doing lighting for dance performances her sophomore year, but the dance performances only allowed her to design for two to five minutes.
“Designing for a play is much more massive because you spend several months going to production meetings and you’re responsible for all your lighting, all the equipment you will need, all this paper work that you have to do. I mean just the research itself is intense, it’s several months of just researching.”
Freshman Michael Portrie, a theater major with a specialization in design tech, attended the festival to present his work as the sound designer for KSC’s performance of the “The Rocky Horror Show.”
Portrie said, “It was really cool, especially as a freshman. It was amazing that I even got to design as a freshman to be honest, that doesn’t happen very often. It was really luck and timing that just worked in my favor, and it was even cooler to then go to festival my freshman year because that’s pretty rare for design too.”
Portrie said he was already a fan of the “The Rocky Horror Show” before he was assigned to work on it.
“I would have designed any show they gave me. You know, I would have been happy to do anything but the fact that was the one I started with in college with my design credits was just phenomenal,” Portrie said. As part of the sound design for “Rocky Horror,” Portrie needed the sound of a tire exploding, which he couldn’t find a sound bite of anywhere, so he created it himself, by combining air escaping from an air compressor and a balloon popping.
Gary Beisaw, the props designer for the production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” was nominated as a finalist and won the S.P.A.M. Award for excellence in stage properties.
KSC’s Riley Ahern was chosen as one of 36 semifinalists, chosen from 240, in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition.
Eric Walker can be contacted at