‘Swing of the Sea’ Packs House and Stands Up to Stiff Competition at KCACTF

By Purnell T. Cropper | January 27, 2012

Professor Mark Wade and a brigade of 26 theater students piled into a bus and headed west, about 275 miles, to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pa., where the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) was held in early January. Only six of them were cast members in Arcadia’s production of The Swing of the Sea—one of eight plays selected for performance at the regional festival—but as Wade explains, “You take a truckload of people [along]” to pull everything together.

The technical feats and physical labor required to stage a traveling show are awesome, and often invisible. “You only have three hours to move your set into a space, and then, if you have any extra time, you get to rehearse (and you never have any extra time). Then you do the show once or twice and then you have an hour and a half to get your stuff out.”

The work was worth it though, and by the end of the weekend, the show had been seen by more than 400 people.  “It was a really nice bonding experience, I think, for the group to: A) be part of a show that people were talking about at the festival, and B) to just be in a big theater and have to throw everything in there and sort of sweat and bleed a little bit to get it on.”

The KCACTF is the ideal environment for theater students to network and grow their craft. Case in point: Wade met playwright Molly Hagan there in 2010 and directed her 10-minute play, Space Ships and Things that Look Like Them. The young artist was so pleased with how it turned out that she handed him the script for a new work, The Swing of the Sea. (Read more about the encounter here.) Wade jumped at the chance to direct the original full-length production.

In December 2011, The Swing of the Sea ran on Arcadia’s MainStage. A month later, Wade and company were adapting the show for an even bigger stage. “The show really came alive [at KCACTF] in a way that it hadn’t [before]—it just grew in that period of time,” Wade says. “I think that has something to do with the fact that this cast cared about the script more…they cared about the piece, they cared about who they were playing, they cared about the playwright, they cared about how they were interacting with an audience. They cared.”

“It’s kind of a wild experience,” adds Theater Arts major Alex Pappaterra ’12, who played Eggs in The Swing of the Sea. “There is this competition thing in your mind…there are a lot of people there that are really good which is great to see—it’s very motivating to be in a place like that…being a part of a program that is smaller, it is easy to get kind of lost in your mind and forget about the bigger picture out there, so being at something like this really allows you [to see] there are people who are working tooth and nail on all different things. It’s really cool to see how people are kind of not competing to do the best work; they’re competing to learn the most.”

In addition to staging The Swing of the Sea to two packed houses, seven Arcadia students presented work in makeup, hair and costume design: Amanda Sharp (costume), Monique Gaffney (hair and makeup), Jackie Sherman (costume), Dawnelle Jewell (makeup), Nicole Samuel (makeup), Olivia Lantz (make up) and Kelsey Hodgkiss (make up).

Sharp was selected as the regional winner in costume design for her work on Arcadia’s 2011 production Club California. The award carries with it an invitation to present at the United States Institute for Theater Technology (USITT) conference in Long Beach in March.

The festival also included the casting, rehearsal and production of several 10-minute plays. More than 160 students auditioned for 20 roles—seven of which went to Arcadia actors.

Lauren Suchenski auditioned for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Out of approximately 220 students, she was one of 32 selected as a semi finalist.

Wade did more directing at the 2012 festival, overseeing the winning 10-minute play, “Actual Magic,” by Ira Gamerman, which will be presented at the National Festival at the Kennedy Center in April. He notes that the students’ performances moved him to tears of pride a number of times during the festival.

“Our University has a long and proud tradition of excellence in the fine and performing arts, including such great teachers as Judith ElderW. Lawrence CurryDavid BassukBill FabrizioJohn Hathaway, and Benton Spruance,” says Arcadia President Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III. “Not only are they great in their own right, but they have inspired greatness in their students. We are all incredibly proud of the excellence that our students demonstrated at the KCACTF regional festival and of the creative, inspirational genius of Mark Wade, the most recent in a line of great teachers.”