Last week, Weber State University hosted the annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for the first time, which involved opening its facilities to approximately 1,000 theater students from across the region.
“This is kind of like the Super Bowl of college theater,” said Jim Christian, director of musical theater studies at WSU. “We have these beautiful facilities, and for several years, they’ve really been encouraging us to host one year, and this year we decided it’s time to step up.”
KCACTF is an annual theater conference sponsored by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Each region hosts its own festival, featuring workshops and competitions that, if won, give students the chance to attend the national festival in D.C.
WSU is placed in Region VIII, which means it hosted students from schools representing Utah, Southern California, New Mexico, Guam and many others. Christian was the director of Xanadu, which ran an encore performance as WSU’s contribution to the festival’s week-long lineup of shows.
“The cast and crew of this show have just loved the experience,” Christian said, “and when we were given the opportunity to remount the show, they were all thrilled to death.”
He said the cast did the show three times in one day last Thursday, and after the third time many members of the cast were still willing to do another performance. There were about eight other imported shows, too, including The Elephant Man from Brigham Young University and Eurydice from Utah Valley University.
“It’s also a very good learning experience for all of us to know what goes into the festival,” said Sean Bishop, president of WSU’s Associated Actors and Technicians and a Xanadu cast member. “It’s just a different respect level for the people who are helping because we are in those shoes now, and we are here all day long, more so than regular.”
Besides a week full of plays, the festival also featured dozens of theater workshops, competitions and audition opportunities for the students.
“It’s a place where all of us can come and share our work,” Bishop said. “We have a design expo, we have shows being brought, and we have acting competitions, so we all get together and share our craft.”
Some of the competitions and auditions available were from a program called Next Step, an open audition where several casting companies and agencies were present and available to offer students audition positions and internships based on their auditions. There was also the Irene Ryan Nominee, a scholarship awarded to actors participating in the regional festival.
“You can make a lot of really good contacts and get a lot of really good practice and real world application and in presenting your work in such a way that will get you more work,” Bishop said.
There were several social events during the week for the students attending conference to intermingle and become acquainted. AAT hosted the regular semester event cabaret, which allowed the students from all of the other schools to get up before the festival audience and showcase any talent they had.
“Weber State is awesome,” said Marilu Bustamante, a musical theater major from Riverside City College in California and an Irene Ryan scholarship nominee. “The people are so nice. The other festivals we’ve been to, it wasn’t as social. In L.A., people just do their thing and get their Irene Ryan and talk. It’s really cool they actually have cabarets and events.”
The Shepherd Union Ballroom B, where the cabaret was performed, was full, and one student after another got up and performed theatrical songs, scenes, or improvised entertainment. So many students had wanted to actively perform in the activity that AAT had to run a second cabaret Friday night just to give everyone on the list a shot at going up on stage.
The national festival is set to happen this April, and the winners of the festival’s competitions will go onto compete there. The festival for Region VIII will be moving back to L.A. next year, and entries for design, playwriting, acting and productions can be submitted any time during the year. More information can be found at http://www.kennedy-center.org.
“I feel like every one who comes here is like, you know, it’s a competition,” Bustamante said, “but really, it’s showing everyone what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been working for and what you can do. Seeing the growth in myself from all the years I’ve been at festivals to how hard I’ve worked to see myself from four years ago from what I could do now, being able to grow so much in my craft . . . it’s really a blessing.”