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A strong showing for Eastern at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Published on February 12, 2021

A strong showing for Eastern at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

The Brothers Size
"The Brothers Size" was the last in-person theatre production at Eastern before the pandemic. Directed by Professor DeRon Williams, the play received several awards at this year's Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival, Region One.

Eastern Connecticut State University’s theatre students and faculty recently attended a virtual version of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), where they presented their work, attended workshops, watched productions, listened to keynote speakers, attended an award ceremony and participated in a virtual dance party.

While the online setting did not allow for the conference’s traditional in-person performances and presentations, it opened up opportunities that students would otherwise not have been able to experience, said Professor Anya Sokolovskaya, who also serves as a board member for the conference. “It gave our students possibilities to mix with people who usually aren’t available.” One of those people was keynote speaker Paula Vogel, an American playwright best known for her play “How I Learned to Drive,” which received a Pulitzer Prize in 1998.

Sokolovskaya said the conference also made a point to be more inclusive this year. Senior Austin Washington said, “Each year the leaders of the festival strive to make it more accessible and inclusive, and I would say this year was much more so than last.” The festival kicked off with a homage to indigenous lands and Native Heritage, and students were shown tribal territories that correspond to where the students live today.

Tech Trivia
Eastern students host "tech trivia," which quizzed participants on lighting, projections, costumes, stage management and more.

Along with multiple networking opportunities, students and faculty received recognition for their work during and before the COVID-19 pandemic. Student Michaela Nelson submitted her work in stage management for Eastern’s production of “The Brothers Size,” which premiered this past February. Nelson made it to the second round of the KCACTF recognition awards and received the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas (SILV) Award, which was given to students who showed promise in their respective fields. This recognition will allow Nelson to attend the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas for an intensive workshop in which she will learn more about the craft.

Other recognitions included merit awards for Professors Kristen Morgan and DeRon Williams for their work inThe Brother’s Size.” Morgan was recognized for scenic design and Williams was recognized for directing. Students Ishah Azeez and Jackie Verian also received Merit awards in the category of Choreography for “The Brothers Size.”

Student Edwards Lorsin was a finalist for the SDC Directing Initiative Program and was awarded the David Wheeler Award for Excellence in Director-Actor Communication “for his enthusiasm in conceptualizing Inda Craig-Galvin’s Black Superhero Magic Mama,” said Professor Jennifer Cobb.

Professor Williams, who also serves as a board member for the festival, hopes events and recognitions such as those received at KCACTF showed students that they can explore their authentic selves as artists while still being acknowledged for their craft. Along with the merit award for “The Brother’s Size,” Williams received the Cathy Hurst Award, which Cobb said is given to a “director who has embraced the theatricality of a given piece of theatre, exploiting the unique properties of theatre.”  

“The Brother’s Size, which premiered in February 2020, happened at the “perfect time,” said Williams. “We had young men of color on campus, which is not always the case in college theatre. We were able to showcase our talent and tell an important story for Eastern’s community to hear.”

10-minute play

Professor Williams (bottom middle) directs a 10-minute play as part of the National Playwriting Program (NPP), working with student playwrights, dramaturgs and actors from institutions across the region.

“The Brother’s Size” was Eastern’s last production before the pandemic, allowing participating students to showcase their talents on stage before the University went to remote learning in March 2020.

Along with awards and accolades, Eastern students and faculty were able to showcase their talents in other ways. The most telling was the “Tech Trivia” game, planned and produced by several Eastern students and Sokolovskaya, who served as supervisor. The event, which became the responsibility of the students after they won the 2020 KCACTF Tech Olympics, presented some challenges for adaption to a virtual setting.

“I am so proud of them,” said Sokolovskaya. “To do it virtually they had to learn new skills and technically organize the event.” Students in the tech trivia team included S.J. Reynolds, Jasper Pelletier, Sam Oravits and Emma Kellerman. “Learning professional streaming software was marvelous,” said Oravits, who managed the timer countdown and sounds that brought the event to life.

While Eastern students and staff faced challenges this year adapting to a new setting and situation, Williams thinks this year’s KCACTF brought a new light to theatre. “I think it lit a fire under our students and gave them endless possibilities. More broadly theatre has expanded.” He also stated that this event, coupled with COVID, presented new possibilities for productions in the future. “Many new versions and iterations will be coming to Eastern theatre,” he promised.

Professor Sokolovskaya also found the event to be beneficial for students: “The conference showed students the resilience and drive of the theatre community. They are trying new ways of doing theatre. We saw students experimenting, trying new things, which is remarkable.”

Written by Molly Boucher