Students attend American College Theatre Festival

Allison Mueller

Heather Williams-Williams and Jim Williams congratulate seniors Cody Anderson and Amy Kennedy for their scholarship nominations. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)
Heather Williams-Williams and Jim Williams congratulate seniors Cody Anderson and Amy Kennedy for their scholarship nominations. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)

Gina Scott / Winonan

The theatre and dance program competed against hundreds of other college students the week of Jan. 16 at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival (ACTF). Two Winona State University student actors, seniors Cody Anderson and Amy Kennedy, were nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship for their performances in the past two productions.

The Irene Ryan scholarship has student actors competing with two scenes, one with a partner of their choosing, and a monologue. It is up to the actors to choose the perfect scenes to compete.

“You need to find a strong scene,” Jim Williams, chairperson of Winona State’s THAD program said. “One that speaks to the actor’s skills.”

Anderson received his nomination from Winona State’s production of “Elephant’s Graveyard.” He and his partner, Kennedy, made it to the semi-finals out of 350 nominees.

Anderson knew the ropes of the competition, having participated in ACTF three times—twice as a nominee and once as a partner.

“You get to know what the judges are looking for,” Anderson said. “The biggest thing is not overworking [the scene] and keeping it fresh,”

By moving on to the semi-final rounds, Anderson had the opportunity to perform his prepared monologue, which was taken from a 10-minute play, titled “Stubble.” Written by a past Irene Ryan nominee, Erin Mallon, Anderson emailed her for permission to compete with the monologue. Mallon approved and wished him good luck.

The actors agree that the feedback they receive is greatly beneficial.

Judges of the competition include actors from Broadway shows, play writers and many theatrical professionals.

“Getting information from people like that is invaluable,” Anderson said.

Heather Williams-Williams uses what she sees at ACTF to apply to her teachings to students at Winona State. By seeing the different strategies and types of pieces performed at ACTF, she can keep Winona State current and thriving.

“I can keep up with the trends so our students are knowledgeable and competitive,” Williams-Williams said.

Kayla Williams-Schwarze, a sophomore at Winona State, submitted a musical theatre intensive by performing the song “Kindergarten Boyfriend”  from the musical “Heathers.”

This was Williams-Schwarze’s first time submitting something into ACTF.

“The judges thought the song could’ve been more simple than I performed it, so it was good lesson on perspective,” Williams-Schwarze said.

Senior Adam Calcagno submitted his poster design for last semester’s production of “A Tuna Christmas” and received a honorable mention.

“It was cool that I got to represent Winona State in an aspect other than acting,” Calcagno said.

Winona State also competed in a Tech Showdown at ACTF. This team of four students competed in multiple challenges to earn points.

“One of the things they have to do is hang and focus a light,” Williams-Williams said. “Each team member has to do one element of that so they take turns with each step.”

Other examples of challenges include setting a table and hanging a border as fast, efficiently and safely as they can.

Winona State came back with six awards received from the past three shows produced.

“We want to set ourselves up for next year as more competitive,” Williams said.

The THAD department already has plans to up their game for next year, using what they have learned and gained from past ACTF competitions.