Last week, students from FIU’s department of theatre participated in the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), where they were recognized for the excellence of their work in a year when it took large amounts of grit and creativity to make theatre happen.
FIU Theatre students Josh Gibson and Bianca Utset won top awards at the festival, with Kayla Almeida, Camila Klas and Gabriel Perez winning honorable mentions.
Last semester’s production of Pipeline was invited to the festival and streamed after the keynote address on Friday night. This is the fourth time in the past five years that an FIU Theatre production has been invited to perform at the festival – an impressive honor.
“We consider our ongoing relationship with KCACTF to be one of the great strengths of our program,” says Chair and Artistic Director of FIU Theatre Joel Murray. “Our students are able to share their work with theatre professionals, faculty and students from around the southeastern United States. It connects them to the theatre world outside of FIU and helps them view themselves as theatre creators, not just students.”
BFA Design junior Josh Gibson won 1st place for his poster design and 2nd place for his scenic design of Pipeline. He was also awarded a scholarship to attend the Stagecraft Insitute of Las Vegas this summer, where he will participate in workshops and masterclasses by some of the country’s leading technical theatre professionals.
“Sharing my work at the festival is always impactful,” Gibson says. “But in a season in which I never got a chance to witness the audience experiencing the production, this was my first opportunity to see a live reaction to my work. Receiving feedback from the adjudicators was very enlightening, and I am excited to do so again next year.”
KCACTF traditionally takes place on a college campus in the southeast, with students sharing their work, attending workshops, creating art and making important connections. With the global pandemic making an in-person festival impossible, organizers had to find a way to make those important opportunities for young, developing artists possible in the virtual world.
FIU Theatre associate professor Tony Galaska serves on the festival board as the chair of Design, Technology, and Management. For him, having a festival this year was vital.
“This past year has been challenging,” he says. “Without actors on stage and an audience in the theatre, it is possible to think ‘how can we create theatre?’ Every student at KCATCF asked themselves that question and rather than waiting for someone to tell them, they went out and found answers. It was inspiring to see students overcoming the challenges of the past year and showing all their art and creativity.”
BFA Performance junior Bianca Utset participated in the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy program and was named Student of Distinction for her work at the festival. Her award comes with a potential invitation to the national KCACTF after students from all eight regions present their work at their respective festivals.
Two other FIU Theatre students—Camila Klas and Gabriel Perez—were awarded honorable mentions in the same category. Throughout the festival, they wrote reviews for the invited productions, interviewed and profiled festival artists, and even created a new podcast, Talking Teatro. You can read and listen to their work on the festival website.
BA student Kayla Almeida was awarded honorable mention for her stage management of last semester’s Radium Girls. During the festival, she met with and learned from Broadway stage managers and they reviewed her stage manager’s book with all of the organizational paperwork she created for the show.
“I had a blast talking to the respondents about my work and their own personal processes,” Almeida says. “Also, just getting to joke around and chat during the Stage Management panels over the weekend was great.”
BFA Performance junior Daniella Valdivieso was named to the festival’s Student Advisory Board and is one of two students in the region who will attend the monthly KCACTF planning meetings in preparation for next year’s festival.
“I really love KCACTF and the people I meet there,” Valdivieso says. “I am happy that I can be part of the process of making KCACTF better than it already is and help strengthen our community of young artists as we move on into the ‘real world.’”
A group of FIU Theatre students also participated in the Devised Theatre Initiative. Before the festival, they were given the prompt: “This is the Country We Want.” The students then had to work together to create an original piece of theatre that responded to that idea.
FIU’s group, led by Nathalie Ordoñez and Pamela Cartwright, created a short film/theatre piece, Loud Thoughts. Their work was one of two entries singled out for excellence with the festival respondents noting: “This selection deserves a special mention for pushing the boundaries in the digital medium, as we look at the future of our work in a multidisciplinary way.”
This year’s KCACTF gave students an opportunity to learn and grow by rising to the challenge of the moment and envisioning themselves as the theatre-makers that will create its future.
“Theatre might be different than what we have seen in the past,” Galaska says. “But based on what we saw at the festival, I cannot wait to see what these young theatre artists create in the future.”