Arcadia University Comes Alive at the Kennedy Center American College Regional Theater Festival

January 23, 2014 Purnell Cropper

By DAMIEN FIGUERAS ’16

At the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), Arcadia students earned awards for design and sound for the University’s production of Alive!, an evocative circus-themed puppet performance. During the four-day festival at West Chester University Jan. 15-18, students competed in acting and design competitions, as well as performed play readings and entertained festival goers with an invited performance of Alive!

“I cannot tell you how thrilled and proud I was of our students,” said Mark Wade, artistic director of Arcadia’s theater program. “Our region is huge; it includes New York (excluding the New York City area), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. To be able to share our work with students and faculty of large, small, graduate, and undergraduate programs—places like Carnegie Mellon, Towson, and University of the Arts—and then to have the work of our students stand out against these larger programs and be chosen to represent the region at the National Festival is a testament to the strength of our program, the talent of our students, and the mentoring done by our faculty.”

For work with Alive!, Samia Merritt ’14 won the KCACTF Allied Design and Technology Award and Zack McKenna ’13 was awarded the KCACTF Award for Theatrical Design Excellence for his original sound design for the production. Merritt and McKenna will head to Texas in March and Washington, D.C., in April, respectively, to compete at the national level. In addition, Amanda Sharp ’13 received Honorable Mention for design work for the production’s puppets

“Composer and sound designer Zack McKenna deserves the largest round of applause for the sweet, sassy and evocative musical portrait,” wrote Megan Diehl in a review of the KCACTF production for Philly.com. “Whether the puppets’ head tilts and tapping toes were informed by the songs or vice versa, McKenna’s heart-melting score, played on a single electric guitar, had as much of a role as any character or operator in the piece.”

Arcadia’s production of Alive! was well received as an invited performance in the KCACTF Fringe Festival, which aims to exhibit unusual productions. More than 100 students were turned away at the doors after waiting for more than an hour because the production had sold out.

Ian Agnew ’15Jeff Barth ’14Damien Figueras ’16Kelsey Hodgkiss ’14Clare McLaughlin ’14Katrina Naxera ’15, and Merritt also competed against 370 students from across the region for the festival’s Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Barth and Merritt were two of 32 nominees chosen to progress to the semi-final round, and Merritt was selected as one of 16 actors to move to the final round of the regional competition.

“I cried a little bit,” Barth said. “It was nice though. You feel validated for your work.”

During the festival, Barth, Ryker Fry ’15, Hodgkiss, Jesse Jenkins ’14Olivia Lantz ’14, and McLaughlin also were cast in readings of new plays as part of the National Playwriting Program, which produces new work written by students and directed by experienced directors. This gives actors a chance to experience never-before-heard plays and learn from some of the best directors in the area.

The experience and the lessons learned are things that the students will take with them as they move forward with their theatrical careers, said Merritt, adding “It’s good to recognize every once in a while that you made the right choice by choosing what you love to do. If you love theater, surround yourself in it.”

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