UMM Theatre Discipline Road Trip!

UMM Theatre Discipline Road Trip!

Written by Geordi Jones, Feature Editor. Originally published in Issue 8, Volume 31 of The University Register on Friday, February 8, 2019.

This past week, the UMM theatre discipline travelled down to Sioux Falls, S.D., to attend the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, or KCACTF. KCACTF is a nationwide theatre program dedicated to supporting, celebrating, and improving college theatre in the United States. More than 600 academic institutions and 18,000 students from across the nation all come to KCACTF to showcase and receive feedback on the work they do in the academic theatre setting.

KCACTF is comprised of eight geographic regions in the United States. University of Minnesota Morris is a part of Region 5, which covers Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This year marked the 51st regional festival, which took place in Sioux Falls, S.D. Since it was so close to home (relatively speaking), the UMM theatre discipline decided to pack up its bags and take a road trip! Due to some generous funding from the University, the backing of the Humanities Division, and the hard work of the Meiningens student theatre organization, the theatre discipline was able to take 15 students to Sioux Falls for a week-long adventure of workshops, performances, and assessments.

Sunday

Sunday, January 20, marked the beginning of Festival 51. Our gaggle of theatre students loaded up into a caravan and began the trek across the snowy plains of western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota. Three and a half hours later, we touched base at the hotel, unloaded our gear, and immediately took off for registration at the festival. The festival itself largely took place in the Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls’ center for arts and science, as well as the Holiday Inn and Orpheum Theatre on Phillips Avenue. After registration (and a short break for dinner), our group reconvened for Festival 51’s opening ceremony.

W. James Wood, the KCACTF Region 5 Chair, welcomed everyone to Festival 51, which had a record-breaking attendance of over 1,500 undergrads, graduate students, and faculty. Wood spoke at length about the role of theatre in today’s society, and announced that the theme of Festival 51 would be “Inspiring Our Global Community Through Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” Many of the week’s workshops would focus on the inclusion and representation of minority communities in theatre, including meet and greets for the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and women in theatre.

Following Wood’s speech, there was a presentation of every show that had been submitted to Festival 51 over the course of 2018, as well as the announcement of any certificates of merit earned by those shows. UMM’s theatre discipline submitted our Spring 2018 children’s show Step on a Crack, directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Siobhan Bremer, and our Fall 2018 production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, directed by guest director Hannah Amundson. Of those productions, Step on a Crack was awarded three certificates of merit. Alyssa Olsen was awarded for her costume design, Tucker Johnson was awarded for stage management, and the design team was awarded for “cohesive design collaboration in support of the director’s vision.”

Following the opening ceremony was a performance of #////#, a one-man show written, created, directed, and performed by Pratik Motwani. The production featured a blend of live performance, multimedia presentation, and audience participation. It focused on a socially-inept man named Cinnamon, who becomes engrossed with the online interaction he has with others to the point where it takes over his life and he becomes enslaved to feeding the monster of an online persona that he created.

Monday

I did not attend anything on Monday, as I spent the day decompressing from the previous night’s travel. However, the major buzz around our group and the festival as a whole was the Irene Ryan preliminary rounds.

The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship is a highly competitive scholarship given to outstanding student performers across the nation. The Irene Ryan Foundation awards sixteen regional scholarships, two for each of the eight regions, and two additional scholarships at the national level. At each region, two nominees are selected. The winner is given a $500 scholarship and is invited, alongside their acting partner, to compete at the national festival. The runner-up is awarded a $500 scholarship as well, but does not move on to the national festival.

Four students from UMM were nominated in the past year, although only three chose to compete. Each nominee brought a monologue, as well as a stylistically-contrasting scene, which they did with a partner.

Katie Booth, nominated for her work as Ellie in Step on a Crack, partnered with fellow student Bailey Soika. Together, they performed a scene from Fefu and Her Friends. Katie also performed a monologue from William Shakespeare’s tragedy A Winter’s Tale.

Caroline Vodacek, also nominated for Step on a Crack for their role as Frizbee, partnered with Laura Steblay. They performed a scene from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, which Caroline then followed with a monologue from Wendy Wasserstein’s comedic Uncommon Women and Others.

Natalie Wallraff was nominated for her work as The Other Woman/The Stranger in this past fall’s production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone. With her partner Ryan Stout, she performed a scene from Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. Natalie then performed a monologue from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Though none of Morris’ nominees moved on to the semifinal rounds, many of them felt as though the preliminary round was a positive experience. Vodacek said they were pleased to have not moved on, because that left more time in the week for them to attend other workshops. Wallraff said she was disappointed to not move on, and that the Irene Ryan preliminary round was the most stressful but most rewarding experience of her life.

Tuesday

Tuesday was one of the first full days of the conference devoted to workshops and performances. Though there were many options, my day started with a 9 a.m. performance of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, produced by the University of Nebraska at Kearney. As a member of the cast when Meiningens produced the same show last February, I was very intrigued to see how they would handle the same material.

If you missed the show when it was performed here, Ruhl’s Eurydice is a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus. Eurydice, the young bride of the famed musician Orpheus, dies shortly after their wedding. Orpheus then descends into the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving his wife. Hades, lord of the underworld, tells Orpheus that he may return with his wife as long as he leaves the underworld without checking to see if Eurydice is following him. Just before crossing into the land of the living, Orpheus turns around to see Eurydice, who is then cast back down into the underworld for his doubts. Ruhl’s retelling focuses on Eurydice after her death, and puts the spotlight on her relationship with her father, who preceded her in death.

UNK’s production of Eurydice put a heavy emphasis on dance, which led to some very intriguing stage pictures and motion. I felt as though the focus on the dance elements took away from the play’s star elements, which is its intense language and heavy focus on music.

The University Theatre at Kearney’s production of Eurydice was directed by Noelle Bohaty, and starred Mary Joyce Storm as Eurydice.

Later that evening, our Morris students attended the one-act play festival. The one-act play festival featured three student one-acts, chosen out of a record-breaking 54 submissions. Of the three play presented that night, two would be selected for a chance to move on to the national festival and compete for the John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Play. As a separate award, one play would be extended the opportunity of a fully-mounted production at the next regional conference.

The first play of the evening was The Gender Reveal, written by Kaylin Jones, a student at the University of Missouri - Columbia. This play was prefaced by a dedication to Kory Davis, a trans activist from Columbia, MI who was lost to suicide this past December. The audience was also asked to keep in mind the recent trans military ban. The Gender Reveal told the story of a trans woman named Mia, and was presented in reverse order, beginning with Mia asking her bigoted mother to give her away at her wedding, and ending with Mia’s parents 20 years prior celebrating the reveal that they were going to have a son.

The second play of the evening was John Hughes Wrote My Diary, written by UMM student Paige Quinlivan. Quinlivan’s play is a commentary on modern teenagers and a love letter to 80s John Hughes films. The play focuses on Marty, a teenage girl crushing on the typical “jock” of her school Chet. Her friend Tommy is likewise pining for a popular girl named Claire. The two friends hatch a plan to hook each other up with their crushes, but things go quickly off the rails as both teenagers develop feelings for the person they’re supposed to be wooing for their friend.

The third and final play of the evening was Fission, written by University of Missouri - Columbia student Taylor Sklenar. Fission is an allegorical play, which focuses on the impending nuclear destruction of a “city that stretches from sea to sea.” Featuring a cast of characters named only by their occupation, Fission covers topics such as string theory, the butterfly effect, and assassination leading to martyrdom.

Wednesday

Though everyone else had been busy since Monday, Wednesday was my first day of actual workshops. Aaron Otten, Natalie Wallraff, Laura Steblay, and I all attended a workshop titled “Broadway Bootcamp: Dance.” Taught by Bradley Zarr, a dancer and choreographer who has been on several national tours, we learned an intense dance combination to “Live in Living Color” from the musical Catch Me if You Can in under an hour.

At 2 p.m., I attended a production of Greek playwright Euripides’ Iphigenia, produced by Iowa State University. Iphigenia is a tragedy that focuses on the sacrifice of King Agamemnon’s daughter, the titular Iphigenia, in order to start the Trojan War. Iphigenia serves as the prequel to the classical trilogy, The Oresteia, in which Agamemnon is killed by his wife Clytemnestra to avenge their daughter. ISU’s production used a lot of original live music, complex puppetry and shadow-play, and traditional Greek masks. The music was well-produced and the characters were well-acted. My personal favorite moment was the ending however, in which Clytemnestra is shown exiting with her daughter’s blood on her hands, holding the knife with which she will kill Agamemnon.

To cap off the evening, we went to the Awesome 80’s Prom. An unconventional production, Awesome 80’s Prom was a classic high school dance put on by Southwest Minnesota State University. SMSU’s theatre department hosted the dance as an improv comedy routine, with actors serving archetypal roles from the 1980s.

Thursday

On Thursday, my day started with another dance workshop. This workshop, “Musical Theatre Dance”, was an intense hour of stretching, warm-ups, and across-the-floor exercises, and was led by Ashley Miller-Scully. Once we were all warmed up, Miller-Scully taught our class two different Broadway combinations, one for “Light of the World” from Godspell and one for “Carrying the Banner” from Newsies.

After my dance workshop, I attended a workshop titled “The Business of Show Business: What They Don’t Teach You in the Classroom,” which was led by a professional actor named Chuma Gault. Gault spent an hour telling this room full of students his story of success and stumbles in acting, and giving us plenty of real-world, down-to-earth advice. He encouraged us to always stay on the grind to find work, but to make sure that we devoted time to keep ourselves healthy in both body and mind.

Alongside the rest of the Morris crew, I attended a late afternoon production of Trifles, produced by Morningside College of Sioux City, Iowa. This murder mystery centered on a pair of Western women discovering the truth behind the death of a local man, while they are being patronized by the sheriff and the prosecutor officially investigating the death as they overlook the clues. The performance featured striking costumes and live foley sound.

Later that evening was the first of two award ceremonies for the festival. At this award ceremony, they announced which one-act plays from earlier in the week would be given the two different awards. The first play nominated for the John Cauble Award was Kaylin Jones’ The Gender Reveal. Then, in an exciting moment, the second play nominated was Paige Quinlivan’s John Hughes Wrote My Diary! They also announced that Quinlivan may have the opportunity to have John Hughes produced at Festival 52 next year.

Friday

Friday morning was the last open day of the conference. I started off my morning by attending a workshop titled “Access to Accents,” led by Foster Johns, a voice and speech coach from the Twin Cities. This extended, three-hour workshop covered the process of developing an accent, as well as four different aspects to look at when using an accent. Johns also provided quite a few resources for us in the form of textbooks, audio databases, and helpful YouTube channels.

Later that afternoon, I attended a roundtable concerning musical theatre repertoire. The roundtable provided students with the opportunity to ask seasoned professionals about what to expect in a musical theatre audition, what kind of music to prepare, and what quality-of-life adjustments they could make to their auditions in order to give the best impression possible.

Friday night was capped off by the closing ceremony, in which more awards were presented and the national-bound Irene Ryan finalist was announced. After the award ceremony, there was a student dance that went well into the early hours of the morning.