By Hannah Courtney, Assistant Editor
While the majority of West Liberty University’s students were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, dusting off their backpacks and trying to slap themselves awake, 16 WLU students were competing among various other student actors in the region for a chance at the Irene Ryan Scholarship.
According to Kennedy-center.org, the Irene Ryan Foundation is an Encino, Calif. based scholarship opportunity for student performers at each of the regionalKennedy Center American College Theater Festivals (KCACTF). The scholarship descends from the late Irene Ryan, best remembered for her portrayal of gun toting, firecracker Granny Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
KCACTF is a national theater program that aims to improve the quality of college theater in the United States by running state, regional, and national festivals.
“It’s basically like this theater wonderland. There’s workshops to go to, shows to see and great contacts you can make. And you get to make a whole bunch of new friends. It’s just kind of like rejuvenating yourself in theater or learning stuff that you’ve never known about. And it’s not just for actors, but as well as scene designers and a whole bunch of technical theater people,” said Cassie Hackbart, WLU student actor.
The competition took place from Jan. 12 until Jan. 16 at Towson University in Maryland. For Hackbart in particular, it was a three-step process. In the preliminary round, she and acting partner Greg Gust performed a scene from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” In the semi-finals, this scene was performed again along with a scene from Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” Finally, for the final showcase, both scenes were performed along with a solo musical performance of “The Life of the Party” from Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party.”
Joining Hackbart were 15 more WLU students and four WLU faculty members. Of the 16 student attendees, Cassie Hackbart, Derek Park, David Dudzik, Kacie Craig, Alexandria Glotfelty and Mack Kale were Irene Ryan nominees and Spencer Thomas was a Design Technical nominee.
Acting as acting partners were Meghan Macey, Doug Gouldsberry, Greg Gust, Maura Reiff, Maggie Dillon, and Jed Shook. Finally, the faculty to schlep them all around consisted of Theater Director Michael Aulick, Assistant Professor of Theater Meta Lasch, and Theater Adjuncts Richard Deenis and Maggie Balsley.
Hackbart in particular earned herself quite a lot of bragging rights during the competition. Not only was she an Irene Ryan Award nominee (for her role of Elsa Von Grossenknueten in the Hilltop Player’s production of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” last spring) and not only a semi-finalist, but ultimately a finalist. This means that Hackbart survived a cut from 280 down to 32 and then another down to 16. There she stood among 15 contestants from all walks of the region including New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“I just thought it was such a feat to go through all these rounds. I thought it was awesome. When I heard my name called for the semi-finals round, I cried. They called my name and tears came out of my eyes because that was such a huge cut from 280 nominees to 32,” Hackbart said.
Standing up next to contestants from places such as New York was a surprisingly humbling experience for Hackbart.
“They’re my best friends that I met up there. They’re from New York and they’re awesome people. They’re just like any student you find in West Virginia or a little liberal arts school. They’re people. They know their stuff just like we do here. It’s cool to be on the same level and to know that.”
After gaining the opportunity to compare herself to students from places as seemingly prestigious as New York, Hackbart returns reassured that her West Virginia education stands just as high to the bar.
“I don’t know where I would be without Mr. Aulick and Meta Lasch’s help. They introduced me into this whole new spectrum of acting and pushed me to my limits because when I came here from high school I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing as much. I’ve learned so much here.”
Now that she’s home sweet home, Hackbart returns a changed person. “I do feel like I’ve come home a different person. I feel like I can do more than I think I can. I never thought that I’d pass on to the semi-finals round, and then I made it. Then I never thought I’d make it to the finals round. So, just really trusting myself as a performer and what I bring to the stage, people notice that and I think that’s pretty cool.”
It was a five-day trip that took Hackbart along with the 15 other West Liberty student attendees from WLU’s campus life, which can sometimes feel as though the real world is a figment of the imagination. In all actuality college isn’t just classes, projects and homework; it’s preparing you for real life. And now that she’s had a taste of it, Hackbart walks away with a realization of confidence.
Adding, “You can do anything you set your mind to do.”