As participants attend this year's festival, theatre Professor Stephanie Breinholt reflects on last year's achievements
Back, left to right: Ann Hicken, Soren Barker, Stephanie Breinholt, Brittni Henretty, Wade Hollingshaus, Kim Hawker. Front: Ben Featherstone.
Every April, The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) invites students and faculty to participate in fellowships and workshops during a weeklong festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In preparation for this year's national festival, 26 Theatre and Media Arts and Music Dance Theatre students or recent graduates and nine faculty members will be attending the regional festival in Arizona this week.
There are eight regions involved and BYU is a part of Region 8. During their week in Arizona and D.C., the students, who specialize in acting, musical theatre, design, directing, dramaturgy, stage management or administration, learn from industry professionals, share their work, discuss the arts and make connections.
At the end of the week there are a variety of scholarships, fellowships and professional internships given to students who show exceptional skill and promise in their respective area.
The 2017 regional festival was one for the books according to TMA Professor Stephanie Breinholt. Many BYU students finished as national finalists and many received awards and recognitions. Breinholt attends the festival when she is coaching and mentoring students.
Breinholt has coached eight national finalists and their partners since 2005. Of those eight students and partners, seven have received national awards during the Irene Ryan National Acting Scholarship audition finals.
Jennifer Reed, Cali Holcombe, Jake Fullmer, Susan Kupferer, and Julianne Francisco. Photo courtesy of Shelley Graham.
"As an acting coach," said Breinholt, "I attend performances and open workshops and have the opportunity to coach our students on the Kennedy Center stages before we watch them perform for a panel of scholarship judges. As a winner of the KCACTF National Directing Award in 2015, I attended the festival as a mentor for the student directing cohort and received awards at the festival awards ceremony."
Breinholt's favorite activities during the festival vary depending on the role she has when she attends the festival. As a directing mentor in 2015, she loved watching students create work with limitations like directing a scene they had to create in 10 minutes, which was then performed by professional actors.
"It was amazing to see their skill and imagination, especially within a time constraint. The whole week of workshops, lectures and discussions with that student group was inspirational. As a coach, my favorite activities have been watching the students thrive in a setting beyond BYU and come to realize they have so much to offer."
A big highlight of last year's festival for Breinholt was watching TMA student Ben Featherstone participate in KCACTF. "As I watched Ben participate at the national level, I was in awe of his adaptability and his willingness to connect and educate those at festival who had never worked with a deaf performer. To my knowledge, Ben was the first deaf national finalist at festival. Thanks to BYU Accessibility and BYU TMA, we were able to take American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters from BYU so Ben could attend all functions and have a fully accessible experience."
Featherstone's partner, Brittni Henretty, learned ASL in order to perform with him. He also performed Shakespeare in ASL and had a "voicer," Soren Baker, who translated ASL for the audience.
In addition to student awards and recognitions, faculty are also recognized at KCACTF. Last year, Breinholt received the National Partners of the American Theatre for Coaching Classical Work recognition, a recognition she has received six times for either regional or national coaching.
Shelley Graham and Rick Curtis. Photo courtesy of Janine Knighton.
"Each time, I have felt tremendously honored. It is my pleasure to coach these students and especially bring out their individual talents and ideas through Shakespeare's texts. In 2015 when the production I directed received a number of national awards, I was speechless. I think that recognition coupled with the recognitions for coaching have been 'the cherry on top,'meaning I don't do what I do for accolades. I do it because I love the nature of the art and the people with whom I work, the stories and truths we represent. When others recognize there is something special about the art you are creating, it is simply a gift."
Professor Rodger Sorensen. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.
TMA Professor Rodger Sorensen received the Gold Medallion, the most prestigious regional award given by KCACTF, at the 2017 KCACTF. Breinholt was able to present it to him.
"Rodger Sorensen is one of the kindest, truest professors and mentors with whom I have had the pleasure to work," said Breinholt. "Being asked to present the Gold Medallion to Rodger was like being asked to give tribute to your father on Father's Day. There is so much you want to say about how he has shaped your life and what he has been able to contribute, and there is so little time. Words fail you, but luckily I had the words of his students I was able to share in tribute as well. A Gold Medallion is not enough to offer, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to offer it to him as a token of the appreciation I have for him and his contributions to not only my life, but the lives of countless students, faculty, administrators, and fellow theatre artists."
The following is a list of this week's regional participants. The festival is being held on the campus of Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. Congratulations to all of the attendees.
The students include:
Madison Dennis, Alex Diaz, Madison Hall, Madison Haws, Erin Ellis, Stephen Moore, Chelsea Mortensen, Clara Richardson, Emma Sutton
Sarah Bult, Kalea Crapo, Matthew Kupferer, Susan Kupferer, Kristin Tenney
Pollyanna Eyler, Richelle Sutton
Susan Kupferer, Minkyoung Park
Faculty mentors include:
Stephanie Breinholt (who also serves as the Irene Ryan Scholarship Auditions Coordinator), Shelley Graham (Dramaturgy)
Adam Houghton (Acting)
David Morgan (Acting)
George Nelson (Playwriting)
Jennifer Reed (Stage Management)
Rodger Sorensen (Respondent's Workshop and Directing)
Dennis Wright (Design-tech)