Best of region’s college theatre to be showcased Jan. 26-31 at WCSU
Western to host 1,200 at Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival
DANBURY, CONN. — Western Connecticut State University will host the Northeast region’s premiere annual showcase of college theatre programs from Jan. 26 through 31 as some 1,200 students, faculty members and other participants gather in Danbury for the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).
The WCSU Department of Theatre Arts will take center stage at the main KCACTF performance venue in the university’s Visual and Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, as it presents the Western production of the award-winning musical, “Parade,” directed by WCSU Musical Theatre Program Coordinator Tim Howard. The WCSU presentation in the MainStage Theater is one of only five shows chosen for performance during the Region 1 festival by a KCACTF selection panel charged with the assignment to highlight college theatre offerings that exemplify the highest overall quality in dramatic performance, directing and technical production.
The five-day festival marks the beginning of a three-year commitment by WCSU to host the annual Region 1 festival of the KCACTF, a program founded in 1969 that seeks to promote excellence in theatre through a higher education network that now reaches more than 600 colleges and universities nationwide. Paul Ricciardi, co-chair of KCACTF Region 1, estimated that approximately 850 students representing some 50 colleges and universities in New England and eastern New York State will participate in the 2016 event at Western.
“We are excited about hosting the festival at WCSU for the next three years because of Western’s new state-of-the-art facility, the stellar reputation of its theatre arts program and its location. KCACTF has not had a festival in Connecticut for a long time,” he said. Ricciardi is an actor, solo performer, acting coach and vocal coach who currently teaches acting and voice at the City University of New York/Kingsborough Community College.
The Visual and Performing Arts Center will become the festival’s focal point for performances in the MainStage Theatre, the Studio Theatre and the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall. VPAC and other sites on the WCSU Westside campus as well as several Danbury hotels will accommodate a wide range of additional festival activities including student performance auditions for the Irene Ryan Scholarship program and diverse workshops covering the gamut of the theatrical arts including acting, directing, playwriting, theatre design, costuming, makeup and technical production elements ranging from sound, lighting and scene construction to stage management.
“The KCACTF experience has expansive value for our student participants,” Ricciardi observed. “In addition to celebrating the very best in college theatre in America, we are bringing together world-class theatre artists who provide workshops, classes and lectures, and our students make invaluable connections at the festival.” Curt Columbus, artistic director of Trinity Repertory Theater Company in Providence, Rhode Island, will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 festival. Approximately 30 awards will be presented at a closing festival ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 31, in theatrical disciplines including acting, directing, dramaturgy, criticism, management, design and other technical fields.
Pam McDaniel, chair of the WCSU Department of Theatre Arts, noted that a motivating factor in bringing the festival to Western is the recognition that it offers an extraordinary opportunity for the 110 students currently enrolled in the university’s theatre program to develop their professional skills and learn from the work of their peers at other colleges. Western theatre arts students have participated in regional KCACTF festivals for nine years, she said, but the expense of travel to previous sites in Massachusetts and other locations limited the number of participants generally to the 20 to 30 students involved in WCSU presentations at past festivals.
“Now all our theatre students will be able to attend festival events and workshops, participate in productions, engage in intense networking, see all the shows and find out what other theatre programs are doing,” she said. At the same time, the gathering of some 1,200 theatre students and professionals at Western and the selection of “Parade” for a featured festival performance offer “a great opportunity for Western to take a step forward in giving our program more visibility and making it better known what we have done in building our theatre program,” she added.
The opening of the VPAC in the fall semester of 2014 provided further impetus to discussions already under way to bring the festival to Western, setting the stage for the agreement to host three annual KCACTF Region 1 festivals through January 2018. “The VPAC is the perfect facility to host an event of this caliber, not only because of the capabilities of our performance venues, but also because of the creative environment that exists within our School of Visual and Performing Arts,” VPAC Coordinator Sarah Renninger said. “We hope this festival will put our school on the map as a leader for higher education in theatre, and will further our mission to bring high-quality performing arts to the Danbury community and to our students.”
The two performances of “Parade” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 will present Howard’s interpretation of the musical written by Alfred Uhry, with composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown, based on the 1913 murder trial of factory manager Leo Frank. The play, which explores issues of anti-Semitism and racism while also recounting a moving love story, opened on Broadway in 1998, winning two Tony and six Drama Desk awards.
Other performances featured at the festival will include “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, presented by Suffolk County Community College, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, in the Studio Theatre; “Godspell,” a Stephen Schwartz musical with book by John-Michael Tebelak, presented by Rhode Island College, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, in the MainStage Theatre; “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” by William Shakespeare, presented by Le Moyne College, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, in the MainStage Theatre; “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, presented by Southern Connecticut State University, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, in the Studio Theatre; and the KCACTF Musical Theatre Showcase, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, in the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall. All shows presented at the Region 1 festival will be viewed by a representative of the KCACTF national committee, which will select top student performers at regional festivals to be considered for recognition at the national KCACTF festival in April in Washington, D.C.
Admission to all performances will be free and open to festival participants on a first-come, first-served basis. A limited number of free admissions may be available at the door for the general public in the larger MainStage and concert hall venues if space permits; those interested are asked to contact the WCSU Box Office during the week of the festival at (203) 837-TIXX to check about seating availability.
McDaniel observed that the experience of recent cities that have hosted the annual Region 1 KCACTF festival, including Hyannis and Fitchburg in Massachusetts, suggests that the greater Danbury area will draw significant economic benefit from the event as well. “The estimate is that an event of this nature and scale of attendance will bring economic benefits to the host community of about $1.5 million” in expenditures on lodging, meals and other visitor needs, she said. “Our hope is that we will not only see benefits from the festival at Western, but also that this influx of artists will benefit the entire community.”
“We want our students to learn how to be good hosts,” she added, “which is part of the experience of theatre as a collaborative art form. We’re hoping people will leave realizing that Western is a great school with a great theatre program that is worth another look.”
For more information, access the KCACTF Region 1 website at www.kcactf1.org or contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.