On the Boards
This January, 1,400 college students and professors from the New England states and New York will descend upon the Durham campus. For five days, they’ll be screaming and crying, laughing and singing, fighting and maybe even—well—dying, in a sense. These are “theatre people,” gathering for the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), hosted both this year and next by UNH.
KCACTF, initiated in 1969, is a national theatre program intended to recognize and encourage excellence in all aspects of college-level theatre production. With funding and administrative support from Washington’s Kennedy Center, adjudicators from each of the eight regions in the U.S. spend a year evaluating productions, considering each for possible re-mount during regional festivals or for recognition of outstanding individual work, such as fine directing, design, or acting. Selected actors, for example, participate in acting competitions during the regionals, and winners proceed to the nationals. Hundreds of original scripts are also reviewed, several of which are produced at regional festivals, and only a handful of which move on to the nationals. Workshops and exhibitions round out festival activities.
Though UNH has hosted the regional festival before, it was less than half the size it is now. Recently redrawn boundaries have increased Region 1’s reach to include eastern New York, producing the largest Region 1 conference in festival history. UNH Theatre Professor David Kaye, who is co-hosting with colleague Professor Raina Ames, notes that challenges as well as benefits accompany the increased size.
“With numbers this large, and the amount of extra events, it is very much like we have never hosted before. In addition to trying to find enough hotel accommodations, we have another interesting challenge: the Hennessy [Theatre] has gone from a proscenium theatre to a very extreme thrust. Most productions will have to undergo pretty significant restaging in order to make their play work in this wonderful, but rather tricky new space,” says Kaye.
Audience space, too, is at a premium. The venues in the Paul Creative Arts Center—the Johnson Theatre and the Hennessy Theatre—seat 688 and 150 people, respectively.
“In the past,” says Kaye, “we had plenty of seats for everyone in the festival to attend productions both in the Johnson and the Hennessy. With these far larger numbers, this is no longer the case. We are working on an equitable way to distribute tickets.”
Kaye and Ames have been recruiting student volunteers to assist with the sheer volume of people. Information booths will be set up at various locations around campus to assist participants.
For volunteers, festival admission is free—one of the perks of hosting the festival on the UNH campus. When the festival is held elsewhere, UNH students who wish to participate typically must pay for travel, hotel, and food costs in addition to festival registration. The expense can be significant. Not so this year. Any Theatre and Dance student who wants to attend the festival can.
Many will. About two dozen UNH students will not only be attending, but competing. Twelve UNH students have been invited to the acting competition, including Joe Nelson and Jess Emerson who were nominated for their roles in the recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several others have submitted original plays. Design students such as Kevin Wilson and David D’Agostino will be displaying their work. A UNH stage manager, dramaturge, and two directors will also compete.
The festival will provide a forum for students to share their work, hone their skills, and express their passion. It is an opportunity, too, for the campus to share in that passion.
“Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of hosting the festival is the energy and focus that all these people will bring to campus.” says Kaye. “For five days, theatre will be alive on this campus in a way that we have never experienced.”
As it happens, academic year 2010-11 will be the Year of the Arts at UNH, acknowledging 50 years of creativity in the Paul Creative Arts Center, a celebration that will coincide nicely with UNH’s second year of hosting KCACTF.
Of the concurrence of events, Kaye says, “I cannot think of a more fitting time to be hosting the festival.”
The Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival runs January 26-30, 2010. The design exhibit, which includes hundreds of drawings, renderings, set design models, photographs, and costume pieces representing the best student theatrical design work of the year, is open to the public. Running January 27-30, the exhibit will be held in Holloway commons. More information is available at the Department of Theatre and Dance website.
‹‹ back to top