National theater festival provides opportunity for competition, community, and confidence

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Andrea Hammack 

Staff Writer

Lilly Barnett

Contributor

Selected Troy University students traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, last week to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) that was held from Feb. 6 -9. 

Troy has been participating in the festival since the 1980s. Each year, students from numerous universities all over the United States are chosen to compete and show off their abilities. 

The KCACTF also offers workshops, presentations and theatrical performances from the 10-state southeastern region. 

Quinton Cockrell, associate professor of theater and dance, said the number of students chosen varies from year to year, but Troy usually takes an average of 20 students.  

“Actors are chosen for the KCACTF Festival by adjudicators who see our registered productions,” Cockrell said. “So, every time Troy produces a show, someone from KCACTF sees the show and nominates student actors, designers and technicians.” 

For this year’s Irene Ryan Acting competition, there were five pairs of students to make it into the semi-finals and one who made it to the finals.  

“The student in the finals, Christian Carlson, won the comedic performance award for a scene he did with his partner, Sam Hankins,” Cockrell said.  

Christian Carlson, a senior theater major from Brewton, said that making it into the finals of the Irene Ryan competition at KCACTF was almost surreal. He also described winning Best Comedic Performance as being “wild” and “probably one of the wackiest things in my life.”

“I’ll be honest, all of this stuff just made me look at myself and realize that yeah, I absolutely belong on stage,” Carlson said. “That was my home. And I never want to leave it.”

Other students who participated in separate competitions also excelled and came home with awards. 

“One stage management candidate, Suzanne Shugart, made it to finals in her competition, one designer, Veshonte Brown, won the poster design category and one student journalist, Melissa Dillon, was selected as regional runner up for the Institute for Theater Journalism and Advocacy award,” Cockrell explained.  

Caitlin Hicks, a senior hospitality, sport and tourism management major from Troy, was one of the nominees chosen to compete.  

Hicks was nominated for the first time for her role of Katherina in “The Taming of the Shrew.”  

“I was so beyond excited,” Hicks said. “Every year people would be nominated and get to go to the competition, but I had never been in a large enough role to be considered for the nomination, so this was extra special. 

“When I found out, it really felt like all the hard work I had put into my role was recognized.” 

After each nominee picks a partner, they are then assigned to a professor who directs their scenes and mentors them.  

“My partner, Madeline Hill, and I worked with professor Quinton Cockrell during our rehearsals,” Hicks said. “We read different scenes and finally landed on the two we wanted to work on for the competition. 

“I was also solidifying my song with my voice teacher.” 

The competition is composed of three main parts. The first round consists of a scene between the nominee and a partner and a solo piece (either a song or monologue).  

If the nominee is passed on to the semi-finals (which includes the top 40 nominees out of the original 180), the nominee and partner perform two scenes.  

Then, if passed on to finals (top 16), the nominee performs all their prepared material (both scenes and solo piece). 

Hicks made it into the semi-finals and said her favorite part was getting to meet so many students from all over the Southeast. 

She also wishes she could be in that environment more often.  

“I was, yet again, reminded how important the arts are for our world,” Hicks said. “They connect us to one another unlike anything else.” 

Cockrell said he gets joy from watching the students when they succeed. 

“They leave the competition with new confidence in their abilities,” he said. “It is also good for students to get an idea of how their work stacks up against others in the region.” 

Students who would like to go to the KCACTF regional festival have to participate in Troy theater productions.  

The department has auditions and interviews at the beginning of every semester. 

Hicks encourages everyone to participate if they get the chance, though she stresses that you shouldn’t pressure yourself to get a nomination.  

“As wonderful as it is, it does not define you as an artist,” Hicks said. “You are not any more, or any less, talented because of it. 

“Keep crafting, creating and doing what you love. That’s all that matters.” 

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