Dallas College was well-represented at the 55th annual region 6 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) in Abilene last week.
Three faculty members and 16 theater students from the Dallas College Richland Campus joined hundreds of fellow college thespians from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana for a week of theater performances, workshops, competitions, and industry meet-and-greets at the Abilene Convention Center.
Last fall, the Dallas College students received permission to present the first-ever college production of Self-Injurious Behavior by playwright Jessica Cavanagh. The play, which was previously workshopped in Dallas in 2018, had an off-Broadway run in 2019 and was then picked up by producer Joe Mantegna and director Ronnie Marmo for a run in Los Angeles later that year.
After a successful run at the Richland Campus during the 2022 fall semester, the students were invited by KCACTF region 6 organizers to present the play at the festival. The Dallas College Richland Campus was one of only five college theater programs invited to perform at this year’s festival.
The play is a semi-autobiographical work about a young mother coming to terms with the decision to place her son — who is severely autistic and becoming a danger to himself — in a special needs facility while at the same time navigating a divorce and grieving the death of her mother. The play centered on how the support from her sisters helped her to cope with this tumultuous time in her life.
The play was an emotional roller coaster, eliciting both tears and laughter from the audience, bringing them to their feet for a standing ovation at its conclusion. For the Dallas College students, this was their first performance on a grand-opera-sized stage.
Other plays presented at the festival included Airness, a production of Sam Houston State University; Gruesome Playground Injuries, performed by Lone Star College-Montgomery; Keely and Du, performed by Southeastern Oklahoma State University; and Rooster, a production of the University of Central Oklahoma.
In addition to enjoying the theatrical productions, attendees at the festival participated in various workshops, depending on their interests. Some of the offerings included Dramaturgy, Tech Olympics, Collaborative Improv, The History of Costume, Delighted Listening, Millinery in theater, Broadway Dance, Stage Combat Workshop, and more.
Students also met and interacted with industry VIPs attending the event, including professional directors, singers, actors, set designers, playwrights, choreographers, costume designers, makeup artists, and others.
Another highlight of the festival was the Irene Ryan Scholarship auditions. Students competed for the opportunity to perform at the national-level KCACTF event at the Kennedy Center in April and a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship.
The scholarship program was established in 1972 by actress Irene Ryan, who began her 60-year career in vaudeville. She went on to perform on radio, on Broadway, in movies, and eventually on television — where many came to know her as “Granny” on the 1960s show The Beverly Hillbillies.
More than 100 students participated in the scholarship auditions. The field was narrowed to 32 semifinalists, then 16 finalists, before one winner and one runner-up were chosen to represent region 6 at the national competition.
At each step in the audition process, participating students were given feedback on their performances by “respondents,” who are faculty members from various colleges in the region.
Both the winner, Kiya Green, and the runner-up, Kai Crumley, are students at Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theater and Dance, and they each received a $500 regional scholarship.
Green will join the winners of the other seven regional KCAC theater festivals that have taken place across the U.S. over the last two months to perform in Washington, D.C., and compete for the national scholarship award.
During the national KCACTF event in April, awards and special recognition for outstanding achievement will be announced for students who participated in theatrical productions at one of the eight regional festivals.
According to Kevin Crouch, region 6 KCACTF co-chair, the purpose of the annual regional festival is to “encourage, recognize, celebrate, and improve” the work of the college theater students, providing learning opportunities and exposure to industry professionals who can give them a “leg-up” in their future theatrical careers.
The yearly festival is organized by the not-for-profit entity American College Theater Festival in association with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event is entirely funded by the registration fees of the participants, which means that the festival operates on a tight budget.
All the event organizers and respondents are volunteers, spending many unpaid hours arranging the venue, organizing hotel blocks and food vendors, coordinating logistics, inviting VIP guests, and many other tasks.
Crouch, who is a professional actor as well as an assistant professor of theater at Sam Houston State University, explained why he and other college faculty members from across the U.S. give so freely of their time to organize the yearly event.
“We do this out of the goodness of our hearts, and because we love our students,” Crouch said. “Many of us have been to these festivals when we were an undergrad and saw the educational benefit of it, and we love being able to give back to the next generation of artists that are going to define our industry going forward.”
For the Dallas College Richland Campus theater students and faculty, the event entailed a lot of work, some long days, and some late nights. The group rented a truck to haul their set pieces, costumes, and props for the play, which they had to set up and then tear down again and repack following their performance.
Heading home on Friday, the students were tired, but all agreed the festival had been a worthwhile experience. One Dallas College student stated that the event was “the most exhausting but also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and I’m so honored to have been a part of it.”