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UNL to host regional Kennedy Center theater festival

(L-R) Billy Jones, Jessie Tidball, David Michael Fox, Lucy Myrtue and Jenny Holm star in Theatrix's Melancholy Play, which will be performed at the Region V KCACTF in January.
(L-R) Billy Jones, Jessie Tidball, David Michael Fox, Lucy Myrtue and Jenny Holm star in Theatrix's Melancholy Play, which will be performed at the Region V KCACTF in January.

The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film will be hosting more than 1,500 students and faculty from more than 70 colleges and universities from around the region at the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Jan. 20-26, 2013, in Lincoln. It’s their first time hosting the festival in about 10 years.

Region V covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa. UNL will be hosting the Region V festival in both 2013 and 2014.

“Region V is the largest geographical region and because Lincoln is in the center of our region, attendance will be great,” said Brad Buffum, production manager for the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and festival coordinator.

Filling nearly four hotels downtown, participants will provide an economic boost to Lincoln.

“It’s like when the Thespian Festival is here in the summer, only they won’t be eating in the dorms. They’ll be supporting downtown establishments,” Buffum said. “I can’t imagine it won’t be a huge boon for downtown Lincoln for a week in January.”

The KCACTF is a gathering of students and faculty from universities who are interested in theatre to share ideas and view one another’s work. In addition to performances and competitions, there is a wide range of activities that include workshops and seminars on topics such as playwriting, auditioning, set design and more. More than 18,000 students participate nationwide, including eight regional festivals and a network of more than 600 academic institutions.

“It’s important for our students to see the work of their peers at institutions that surround us and to meet and interact with other people who are pursuing the same thing they are pursuing,” said Paul Steger, director of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. “I remember meeting people at the festival I attended in graduate school and seeing their work continually over the course of the years. There’s a core group of people that you end up meeting, working with and remaining in contact with. It’s a great way for students to build continuous job placement opportunities.”

One of the events at the festival is the Irene Ryan Scholarship auditions for actors. Last year there were around 400 nominees, which eventually get whittled down to 16 finalists by the end of the week. Two from each region then get invited to the Kennedy Center in April for the national festival.

“I love to watch the Irene Ryan Scholarship audition finals,” Buffum said. “I have been deeply moved by some of the acting I’ve seen. It’s also really interesting to see what the respondents think. It’s like, ‘Oh, they thought that was the best one?’ And that starts a discussion of why. That is really exciting.”

Likewise, costume, scenic, lighting, props, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting and stage management all have events.

“Really every concentration has national opportunities that arise from being promoted from the regional festival,” Buffum said.

Last year, Nikki Kelly (B.F.A. 2012) was the regional recipient of the National Stage Management Fellowship in Region V. In 2010, Shannon Cameron (M.F.A. 2011) was selected as the recipient of the Directors and Choreographers Society Directing Fellowship.

“We’ve had actors, directors, designers and stage managers all receive recognition at the regional or national level,” Steger said. “That’s really important, not because of the particular award, but also to be recognized by your peers and by individuals who have been in the industry who then know your name is important. It showcases the work they do and the passion they have, and it builds their confidence that they have the craft, they have the abilities and they’ve learned the things they need to learn in order to succeed in a very, very difficult business.”

Those winning moments are some of Buffum’s favorite moments from the festival.

“You develop a relationship with these students,” Buffum said, “And if I know that one of them has won, and they don’t know yet, I love to watch them when they find out.”

Around 4-5 full productions from the region will be performed during the festival, including Theatrix’s “Melancholy Play,” which is also valuable for those institutions.

“The invited productions are responded to by nationally recognized theatre professionals, who can give the students honest, unbiased feedback,” Buffum said. “It’s also an opportunity for the students in our region to see the work of their peers.”

Other activities include a Design, Technology and Management Expo, which will take place in the Lied Commons.

“The Lied Commons will be full during the Design and Technologies Expo, where designers from all over the region, who have been invited to participate, will show their designs,” Buffum said. “And some of them will be magnificent.”

Lincoln provides nearly an ideal location for the festival.

“The host hotel is across the street from all the venues. Across the street the other way is downtown,” Buffum said. “We have five theatres we are using within a block.”

It’s also a chance for the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film to show off their renovated facilities in the Temple Building, made possible by the donations from UNL alum Johnny Carson in 2004-2005.

“That’s another thing that’s important for our students to see,” Steger said. “You grow up living in a house, and you’re never quite sure how it compares to everyone else’s house. I think it will be very enlightening for our students to see how other students, their peers, respond to the facilities we have and to showcase those facilities, which include the best, cutting-edge technology in the Midwest.”

Buffum is confident that participants will have a good experience at UNL.

“I coordinated it 10 years ago, and I’ve been to many, many regional festivals, not only in this region, but many regions,” Buffum said. “I feel like I have some grasp of what works and what doesn’t work.”

The festival showcases the very best of theatre in the region.

“I’ve seen some amazing theatre, just absolutely astounding work by students,” Buffum said. “And it’s pretty easy to get re-inspired by seeing what college students can do.”

Attendance at all events is by registration to the conference only. For more information, visit: http://go.unl.edu/lincolnkcactf.