Last week, on the snowy campus of the University of Michigan-Flint, theater students from across the Midwest gathered to participate in the Region 3 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. This year, nine students represented Goshen College in a variety of acting, design and production areas.Two students participated in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions throughout the festival. Dontaye Albert, a junior theater major, and Hermione Bean-Mills, a junior history major, were nominated by a KCACTF respondent for their performances in Twelfth Night this past November. Both students participated as semifinalists, with Albert becoming one of 16 finalists in the region.
“Last year I was a semifinalist,” Albert said. “But I knew we were going to go back there again, so I was like, okay, now I know what I’m going to be doing preemptively. So this time, I was ready, and I was prepared.” He is determined to participate in the competition again next year: “I keep getting so close and I can taste it, and this year I have a very strong idea of what they want, and I know how I’m going to get it.”
Among the many audition opportunities at KCACTF was the opportunity audition and act in plays submitted for the National Playwriting Program. Albert was cast in the NPP Regional Finalist One Act Play titled “Momma’s Boy” by Kenndall Wallace from Central Michigan University. Irish Cortez, a fourth-year theater major, acted in an NPP 10-Minute Play titled “Dearly Beloved” by Melíza Gutierrez.
GC was also represented by design and production students. Sarah Bailey was one of 12 regional finalists for the Stage Management Fellowship for their work on Into the Woods in Spring 2023. Bailey and Matija Margetic were awarded KCACTF Certificates of Merit for their work on Twelfth Night in stage management and sound design, respectively, before the festival began. Joseph Mounsithiraj participated in the festival’s Design Storm and collaborated with a team of students from different schools during the festival to design a show. Mounsithiraj was the lighting designer, and his team won honorable mention for the event.
KCACTF helps students network with professionals and prepare for a career after graduation. “You get so many different opportunities there,” said Fatima Zahara, a junior theater and music major. “You just have to take the step and do it, or come prepared, and then you got it, you know?”
KCACTF made space for discussions on diversity in theater. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ affinity groups allowed students to connect with and discuss their experiences in collegiate theater. Zahara attended the BIPOC affinity group. “It was really fun and very affirming,” they said.
“It’s nice because we go to a PWI and it’s nice to just see that there are institutions that also struggle with catering to both BIPOC people and white people, and sort of converging and keeping away institutional segregation. So it was really cool to see all these people succeed, and do well.”
Workshops focusing on how to make accommodations for people with disabilities were also popular among students. “We’re in a world now where people require more help,” Albert said, “And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just something that we need to be more conscious about.”
The connections and conversations that take place at KCACTF are important to students and staff alike. Jacob Claassen, technical director of Umble Center, said, “What I got out of the festival this year is a renewed sense of joy in the art of theater-making. Festival is a great place to remind ourselves that we are not the only theater creators in our own little bubble in our very small community. We are a large group of people who really care about the craft of theater-making and sharing it with others.”