In mid-January I was given the opportunity to attend the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Towson University in Maryland with several of my friends from Lycoming College.
The festival was designed to refine the quality of college theatre in the U.S. and cultivate an interest for the arts in young adults.
More than 600 academic institutions throughout the country have become involved. Thousands of theatre students are given the chance to increase their knowledge, have their work assessed, and receive recognition for theatrical excellence.
Front row, from left, are Lycoming College students Molly Collier, Anna Pysher and Taylor Granger; back row, Jesse Shade, Victoria Goodwin, Nathan Bahn. Lycoming College students attended the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Towson University in Maryland with several of my friends from Lycoming College.
It was thrilling to observe the diversity and energy of the students attending the festival, and from the moment we arrived, it was clear that we were going to walk away from the experience with wonderful memories, new friends, and a wealth of new ideas and skills.
At the festival, students and college theatre departments are able to perform a wide array of theatrical work and receive constructive feedback from respondents.
We were able to attend many full-length college performances such as Albright College's sultry "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams and West Chester's suspenseful "The Mousetrap" by Agatha Christie.
One of the most unique productions was an original, collaborative piece by Montclair State University titled "Insula."
The overlapping motifs were centered on the theme of islands, whether natural, fictional, or psychological.
The staggering physical, vocal, and emotive ability of the young performers was mesmerizing, and the innovative lighting and sound design elevated the piece to dreamlike splendor.
I was shocked and impressed to learn that the play had been written and devised in only 22 rehearsals.
It was wonderful to be exposed to such a distinctive production, and I left the theatre feeling enlightened and inspired.
On the second day of the festival, we were treated to a lecture and Q&A session with the keynote speaker, the one and only John Glover.
Glover has graced the stage and screen as many fascinating characters, including Uncle Ben in Mike Nichols' production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and Lionel Luthor in the television show "Smallville."
Glover was an extremely candid and personable speaker who did not deny the difficulties of a professional acting career.
He shared that he was taken in by the allure of fame when he was young and found himself becoming dissatisfied and unhappy.
After re-examining his life and the decisions he was making, he realized that humility and hard work were the keys to personal satisfaction and success as an actor.
Glover's dedication to his craft and lack of pride set a positive example for the young actors in the room, including myself.
Over the course of the week we were encouraged to attend as many workshops as possible.
While all were extremely interesting, I was particularly moved by the workshop titled "Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy."
During this session, Joe Krienke, an instructor from the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Northern California, guided us to examine our bone structure and musculature, as well as the way we move.
The workshop was based on the assumption that by truly understanding our anatomy, we can employ our physicality to greater effect on stage.
By relying on impulse rather than deliberation, we were able build a sense of trust with one another and gain confidence in our own physical and emotional abilities.
All of us agreed that the entire process was extremely useful and moving.
At the closing ceremonies, several awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design were awarded to individual students or productions to honor exceptional work.
One of the moving moments of the festival occurred when Matthew Jeffers was chosen as a winner of the Irene Ryan Scholarship. Jeffers, an upperclassman at Towson University, is a short-statured young man who only stands at 4 feet 2 inches.
Though he was diagnosed with skeletal dysplasia and endured more than 20 surgeries, Jefferies believes that "the only disability in life is a bad attitude."
His stunning performance in the final round of scholarship auditions, including a touchingly expressive monologue from "Death of a Salesman," earned him the chance to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this April.
His achievement verified that talent and hard work can help you reach your dreams, no matter how ambitious they are.
Attending the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival was an enlightening and inspirational experience, one that I would recommend to any student who loves theatre and wants to gain more knowledge and experience.