Kennedy Center Theatre Festival Gives Students Career Building Opportunity

West Liberty University’s theatre program took part in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival recently. Professor Michael Aulick, director of theater on the Hilltop, took 16 enthusiastic students to the renowned theater festival along with four faculty members.

Cassandra Hackbart with Janice Goldberg, NYU Theatre professor who coached Cassie on auditioning.

“This is just our second year attending the regional competition and we were pleased that we increased our participation by taking three times as many students as last year. Participating in this festival gives our theater students a chance to perform with other college students in a different professional venue and receive valuable feedback, which is such an important thing,” said Aulick.

The regional festival took place January 12-16 at Towson University, Md., and is one of eight regional festivals held throughout the country. The national competition follows in April in Washington, D.C.

During the competition, teams act out scenes and are judged on their performances.

“All of the students who went did well and were involved in different parts of the festival. We had students demonstrate their work as part of the Design, Management, and Technology exhibit, act in the Irene Ryan Scholarship awards, participate in the National Playwrights Project and the Fringe Festival.  The scope of our participation demonstrates the strength of our program,” said Aulick.

One student, Cassandra Hackbart competed along with 280 other teams for the region’s nomination for the Irene Ryan Scholarship.  She made it to the final round, one of only 16 actors from the region to do so.

“That means she was considered one of the best 16 performers out of 280. Keep in mind that the 280 are the top college actors in the region that includes Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. So it’s a big deal,” he said. Hackbart was an Irene Ryan Award nominee for her role in the Hilltop player’s production, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”

“Even though she was cut in the final round, she received some of the highest praise I have ever heard. One judge actually knew the playwright who wrote the scene she did and told her how he would have been proud of her ability in that role. Another judge said it was the best he had ever seen that role performed.”

Final cut for the team of Hackbart and Greg Gust (standing behind her in black shirt).

Hackbart is thrilled with the opportunity. Standing up next to contestants from places such as New York was a humbling experience for Hackbart and one for which she is grateful.

“I don’t know where I would be without Mr. Aulick and Ms. Lasch’s help. They introduced me into this whole new spectrum of acting and pushed me to my limits. I’ve learned so much here at West Liberty.”

Joining Hackbart were 15 other talented students including: Derek Park, David Dudzik, Kacie Craig, Alexandria Glotfelty and Mack Kale were Irene Ryan nominees and Spencer Thomas was a Design Technical nominee. Performing as acting partners were Meghan Macey, Doug Gouldsberry, Greg Gust, Maura Reiff, Maggie Dillon, and Jed Shook.

Theater department students were happy to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Faculty included Aulick, Associate Professor of Theater Meta Lasch, Associate Professor of Theatre/Design, Adjunct Professor Richard Deenis and Theater Adjunct Maggie Balsley.

The students also saw productions from other universities and represented West Liberty University in workshops, meetings, and rehearsal halls.

According to the Kennedy Center website, the festivals offer students a chance to practice their skills, network and compete for scholarship money. Theater departments and student artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF respondents. The Irene Ryan Foundation, an Encino, Calif. based foundation, offers the scholarship opportunity for student performers at each of the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festivals (KCACTF). The foundation is in commemoration of the late Irene Ryan, best remembered for her portrayal Granny Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”