December 19, 2011

Student’s play selected for prestigious festival

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Department of Theater at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will present a student-written play at the Kennedy Center American College Theater (KCACTF) Festival Region III in January.

The regional festival, an annual event as prelude to the national festival in April, is part celebration of collegiate theater, part competition.  To have a full-length play on the regional festival slate of events is, in itself, an honor and recognition of both the playwright and the University’s theater program.

This year, SIU Carbondale offers “Risata, Sciocco… Risata!” by doctoral student Thomas Campbell (Arvada, Colo.). The play is set for three performances: 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Jan. 6, and 9 a.m. on Jan. 7.  The festival this year is Jan. 3-7 and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign hosts.

Campbell entered his play as a “Participating Production” which means that, when it ran at SIU Carbondale as a “one-nighter” in October, representatives from KCACTF may have been present as reviewers.  Campbell’s play was one of hundreds reviewed by KCACTF representatives, and inclusion in the regional festival slate was by no means assured. The play is one of only eight full-length plays offered at the festival.

Campbell has written quite a few plays -- he’s lost count of the exact number -- since 1998.  He holds a bachelor of fine arts in playwriting and directing, and a master of fine arts in playwriting from SIU Carbondale earned in 2007.  He said the most difficult part, for him at least, is stepping away from the play once it is written.  And yet, he said, that stepping away is also key to the collaborative aspect of theater.

“I think, for me, the challenge to writing plays is that the playwright is ultimately going to have to abdicate control of the work,” he said.  “I feel -- and this is really is something that I can only speak about in light of my own experiences -- that this is a necessary step in the collaborative process that is theater.”

Campbell noted, too, that writing plays is “art literally mixing with entertainment” in that the playwright wants to create something meaningful and artistic, and yet also something that will appeal to a varied audience and keep them entertained.

With this particular play, Campbell said, he was “more involved in the process (of putting the play on the stage in front of an audience)) than … in other productions.”

“I did not direct the play, but I was able to lend my voice to the process and offer my suggestions to Tom Kidd (chair of the Department of Theater at SIU Carbondale and director of Campbell’s play) and very much felt a part of the production.”

Kidd described having a full-length play invited to the regional festival as “recognition that the play was one of the highlights of the theater season.”

What makes the invitation even more notable, he said, is that SIU Carbondale has a reputation for supporting new works, and for promoting student playwrights.  The other plays invited to the regionals are not necessarily student-written plays.

This is not Campbell’s first trip to the KCACTF regional.  He has also participated in the annual national festival, held in April in Washington, D.C.

In addition to bringing a full cast for “Risata, Sciocco… Risata!” SIU Carbondale will also send students to participate in other areas of the festival, including acting and stage management. 

Five students will attend the KCACTF Region III as nominated actors competing for the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships.  Ryan, known best today for her role as Grannie on the “Beverly Hillbillies,” was a vaudeville actress and a stage actress with a starring role in the smash hit “Pippin.” 

The SIU Carbondale students attending the KCACTF Region III to compete for an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship are:

Sabreena Candreva (Manteno)

Mitch Connolly (Morton)

Carl Herzog (Wilmore, Ky.)

Bianca Jaconetty (Chicago)

Robert Price (Glen Carbon)

In addition, Tori Richardson (Yuma, Ariz.) attends as stage manager.