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Thursday, January 17, 2013 - OU Theatre Students Successful at Festival
by Gillian Ellis

The brilliance of our theatre program was clearly showcased this year in our two fall semester productions, Police Deaf Near Far and Spring Awakening. These plays were bold choices and our students rose to the challenges they posed, as performers, and as technicians and designers. Both productions played to near capacity houses throughout their runs, and audiences made their appreciation clear.

If any further demonstration of our theatre program’s excellence was needed, it was found recently at January’s Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region III conference at Saginaw Valley State University, when, as Associate Professor Kerro Knox says, “OU was a major presence.” Professor Knox is the Immediate Past Chair of Region III and he coordinated the region’s Irene Ryan Auditions. To read more about KCACTF visit their website.

Altogether 53 OU theatre majors participated. To make that possible, the Actor ‘n’ Techies student organization fundraised throughout the year under the leadership of their president Christopher Neville. Chris says that some colleges only send their Irene Ryan Audition students to the festival but the OU theatre faculty encourages students to attend so they can grow from the experience. He also believes these festival trips are bonding experiences that encourage creative teamwork on productions back at OU.

Actors 'n' Techies is an official GrizzOrg, so participants were also supported by funding from OU’s Center for Student Activities and students kicked in part of the cost themselves, based on a sliding scale according to whether or not they were presenting their work for adjudication. And Chris credits treasurer Rachel Hull, vice-president Kelsey Gilbert, and board member Colleen Miner for their hard work. Together they managed to raise the most funds ever to support this year's trip to KCACTF. The board members also helped with logistics for the festival -- carpools, registration. "Think of me as the mama bear," says Christopher.

With their faculty the students saw shows, participated in workshops and presented their work for adjudication. Among those in competition were 10 theatre design and technology majors who presented 12 projects in the Design, Technology and Management exhibition. In this category Christopher says anyone can present but in reality what happens is that individual students are encouraged by a faculty member to submit their designs. Costume specialist Leslie Littell encouraged him to submit his work on the costumes for Captain Louie.  "You make a poster presentation to three judges who are theatre professionals," Chris says. "You get a minute to speak and they can question you for four minutes." 

Kerro Knox reports results to be very proud of. “Rachel Buechele advanced to the final round for her scenic design for Much Ado About Nothing. Laura Gist and Sarah Gugel received the Props Dressing Award in the Allied Crafts division for their work on Grey Gardens, which included massive overflowing piles of trash that transformed the set easily and quickly from elegance to squalor. Also in Allied Crafts, Gina Smothers received an Honorable Mention for her mask design and construction for Much Ado. Other TDT students had success: Josh Williams received an Honorable Mention as the sound designer as part of his Design Storm team, in which students from different schools are put together to design a show in the four days of the festival. Adam Mitchell and Daniel Robinson were honored for having the fastest time in the Prop category of the Tech Olympics.” 

Christopher Neville has a different but equally important take home thought. He says looking around at the work of students from other colleges was very instructive. "We push past what some people achieve in much more professional facilities. It was humbling, but it's also empowering."

Our actors were also busy and successful. There were 253 pairs from the Five State Region participating in the Irene Ryan Scholarship Auditions, including eight teams from OU. Beating the odds, four of the OU teams made it into the semifinal round of 44 -- an amazing feat! They were Anna Wyatt (partnered with Wes Miles), Rachel Hull (partnered with Colby Orton), Sam Rohloff (partnered with Emily Callahan), and David Roy (partnered with Emily Stys). 

Sam Rohloff and partner Emily Callahan made it all the way to the final round of 16. Sam says they felt very "solid" in each round but felt especially good in the final. Sam’s package had three components, a comedic duet with Emily from the show Reefer Madness, a dramatic scene from Sight Unseen, and a comic solo from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The top two performers in the final are awarded scholarships and while Sam did not win one of those, his feedback from the adjudicators was very positive. And, of course, Sam recognizes the value of the experience as a whole. “It was pretty cool,” he says. “I met a lot of friendly people and it’s a great place to network. There are lots of faculty there and people in the business.”

Sam will graduate this spring and he plans to audition for summer jobs and hopes to attract the attention of an agent at the Senior Showcase in New York. He is saving all he can for his big move to the big city. Sam says he is grateful to all the OU theatre faculty who have worked with him along the way, particularly those who helped him prepare for KCACTF -- Fred Love, Tony Guest, Lynnae Lehfeldt, and especially Alissa Hetzner, who accompanied him on the piano though all of the rounds. Each one gave up long hours to work with him, even during the winter break. Sam has also studied with voice teachers Kelly Holst and Drake Dantzler.

In addition to the main competition, several students also received Certificates of Merit for their work on OU productions: Abby Alexander and Lauren Wainwright for Outstanding Costume Design of Grey Gardens; Gillian Cooper and Anna Wyatt for Outstanding Proficiency in American Sign Language in Police Deaf Near Far; Laura Gist and Sarah Gugel for Outstanding Property Design of Grey Gardens; Amy Brooks for Outstanding Scenic Design of Spring Awakening; and Laura Camposeo for Outstanding Lighting Design of Spring Awakening.

It’s a very real pleasure to see the creativity and hard work of our students recognized and rewarded. Congratulations also to the faculty who have worked with them, several of whom presented workshops at the conference, sharing their knowledge and experience with a wider audience of apprentices.

Photo: Upper: Design students at KCACTF, wearing masks designed and made by Gina Smothers for Much Ado About Nothing.

Photo: Lower: Sam Rohloff photo courtesy of Andrew Fang.