Fringe festivals, Shakespeare festivals and New Play festivals may be the big draw for adult theatregoers, but for cultural college students, the real siren call is to the American College Theatre Festival, an annual showcase of acting and writing talent that brings performers from all over the country to various regional fests and to one big, national showcase in Washington DC. This year’s ACTF, the 32nd, took place April 17-25, as ever under the auspices of the Kennedy Center. Gregg Henry, of Iowa State University, is the Fest’s new co-manager and artistic director.
Among the winners in various categories:
Rebecca Basham, of the University of New Orleans, won the National Student Playwriting Award for Lot’s Daughters. Basham’s prizes include $2,500, active membership in the Dramatists Guild, publication by Samuel French, Inc., and a nine-day fellowship at the Sundance Theater Laboratory.
Kristina Leach, of California State University, Fullerton, took The John Cauble Short Play Award for her Supernova in Hamlet. She, too, will be published by Samuel French and be admitted as an active member into the Dramatists Guild.
The Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, which honors plays that deal with living with a disability, went to Viterbo College’s (La Crosse, WI) Kevin Schneipp for A Simple Autumn. For his theatre criticism, Kansas State University’s Christopher Piatt won a four-week scholarship at the National Critics Institute of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT.
Illinois State University’s Michael Dice won the National AIDS Award for Playwriting for The Plaque of the Twentieth Century.
The KC/ACTF Musical Theatre Award was won by James Skousen of Crofton Hills College (CA) for The Picture of Dorian Gray -- A New Musical Play.
Barbizon Design awards went to Matthew Morton (set, True West at Arkansas’ Henderson State University); Joseph Brack (costumes, Crow and Weasel at Mississippi’s William Carey College), and Jeannette Kollmann (lighting, New York’s Ithaca College).
Acting honors include Irene Ryan Award winners Ben Steinfeld, Nisi Sturgis, Jeff Loyd (classical acting), Diana Calegari, Janelle M. Lannan and Geoff Stephenson.
Created by Kennedy Center founding Chairman Roger L. Stevens, the KC/ACTF labors to “encourage and recognize exemplary work produced in college and university theatre programs...and encourage performances of new plays, including those written by students.” As such, eight different colleges held mini-Festivals this winter, including Clarion University (PA), University of Nevada and University of Milwaukee (WI). Judges in those fests looked at full productions by those universities, as well as individual monologues and scenes for Irene Ryan Acting Award Scholarships (Ryan was best known as Granny on TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies”), and ten-minute plays penned by students.
The DC event, though billed as “non-competitive,” does give out some prizes, such as the Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards, the aforementioned Ryan Scholarships, Barbizon & Mehron Awards for theatrical design.
This year’s mainstage shows were Weber State University’s mounting of The Serpent, University of Southern Mississippi’s The Rimers of Eldritch, Butler University’s Five Plays by Samuel Beckett, and University of New Orleans’ Lot’s Daughters (by student playwright Rebecca Basham), as well as the ten-minute play fest.
As a festival adjunct, the Tinderbox Theatre Company of Belfast, Ireland offered three performances of Ian McElhinney’s solo, The Green Shoot, about Ulster poet John Hewitt.
For information about the American College Theatre Festival call (202) 416-8850.
-- By David Lefkowitz