Over winter break while JMU football was out in Texas scoring a national championship, the JMU Theatre Department was winning big in New Jersey! January 3rd-7th, students competed in multiple areas at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). Students competed in the categories of:
- Musical Theatre
- Critical Response
- Scenic Design
- Sound Design
- Stage Management
- Technical Direction
JMU performed phenomenally across the board with many winners in multiple categories, some of whom will advance to the national competition at the Kennedy Center in April. I spoke with a few of the students who competed about their experiences.
Casey Martin Klein
Major: Musical Theatre
From: Rockville, Maryland. Moved to Fredericksburg, VA when he was 16.
Won the Musical Theatre Initiative (MIT) Competition, and will be competing at nationals at the Kennedy Center.
How were you nominated for KCACTF?
CK: Last spring I was in The Wild Party and I played Burrs [who was one of the leads]. For each mainstage show that we do, a respondent comes from KCACTF and they nominate actors for the competition. I received a nomination [for playing Burrs] to compete in the Irene Ryan Scholarship Competition, which is an acting competition where you have a partner of your choice.
How did you choose your partner?
CK: I went to one of my mentors on the faculty and asked who should I take and the first name he said was Matt Merline. He was an incredible scene partner and super generous. It was great to work with him.
What did you perform at the competition?
CK: For the Irene Ryan Scholarship, Matt and I performed a scene from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare and a scene from Almost, Maine, which is a contemporary play. I also sang a song called “Along the Way” from the musical Edges. Matt and I began rehearsing the second week of last semester once we figured out that I was nominated. So we worked our butts off…and we had such amazing results. We progressed from the preliminary round (240 pairs), to the semi-finals (32 pairs), and to the finals (16 pairs).
And in addition to that, you competed in the Musical Initiative Competition?
CK: Yeah, I decided to do that kinda on a whim. I sang the first song, thought it went horribly, but ended up going through the rounds from 100 people to 20 people. Then I got to sing again and ended up being one of the 2 winners from that competition. Both of us won partial scholarships to the Open Jar Institute, which is a one week musical theatre intensive training program in New York.
Diego Fernando Salinas
Majors: Theatre and Italian
From: El Salvador, came to the U.S. with his family in 2001, now lives in the Richmond area
Advanced in the 10 Minute Play competition with a Certificate of Merit and his play will be considered for national awards.
How was your play chosen for KCACTF?
DS: Last semester, it was my first time ever taking a playwriting class and part of the assignments for the class was to submit two 10 minute plays to the KCACTF competition. So I submitted two plays and was surprised when one of mine got selected.
What is your play about?
DS: For one of the assignments, we had to find a news article and use that as our basis for a 10 minute script. I found an article about a women’s chess tournament in Iran that was forcing all the international competitors to wear a hijab regardless of race or religion, in order to compete. This one Russian American grand champion was boycotting the championship because of it. I was enamored by that idea, so I based my play around two characters, an American woman who was an established champion and an up-and-coming young Iranian player. The point of conflict is that the young Iranian woman wants the American woman to compete so she can beat her. But, the American woman doesn’t want to compete because she doesn’t think it’s right for them to force her to wear a hijab. The play makes someone question if the hijab is a tool of oppression or if it is a symbol of culture.
What would you like to do post-graduation?
DS: I want to work in theatre that brings to light minority issues. I would love to find a voice and strengthen the voice of Latinos in theatre across the country. I’m tied up between L.A., New York, Chicago, and D.C. Right now I feel like my options are pretty open. The ultimate goal is to give people like me a voice in the theatre community.
Majors: Theatre & Dance and SMAD
From: Harrisonburg, VA
Won the regional award for Scenic Design.
How were you nominated for KCACTF?
MH: A professor nominated me for my set design on the show Serpentine Pink by Megan Breen, it’s a new work.
Can you describe your set for me?
MH: It was a unit set that had one moving piece. My favorite thing about it was being able to create a more abstract world. I designed the entire set as a giant sandbox, because they’re in a desert and the revolve in the middle is supposed to represent an abstraction of the motel that one of the characters was in. I also designed the seating because it was in a black box theatre; I designed an arena-style, with audience members around all four sides of the stage.
What was one of your favorite parts of going to the competition?
MH: We were so close to New York, so the professors took a bunch of us into the city to visit. I also really enjoyed going to watch my friends in their shows and performances at the competition.
There were many other accomplished JMU Theatre artists at the competition:
- Sky Wilson won the O’Neill Critics Institute competition for critical response, and is under consideration for the national competition.
- Sierra Carlson won the Dramaturgy competition, and may have the opportunity to advance to the national competition.
- Simon Lass won the regional award for Technical Direction.
- Jessica Bae received a regional Honorable Mention award for Sound Design.
- Simon and Jessica both won awards through the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas.
- Chelsea Janke reached the finals in the Stage Management competition.
- Seven acting teams competed in the Irene Ryan acting competition, with three teams from JMU reaching the final round. From 240 teams starting in the competition, the three nominated actors: Melissa Carter, Irene Hamilton, and Casey Martin Klein; where among the 16 finalists, comprising 19% of the field in the finals.