KCACTF: an immersion in theater

Written by Matthew Clark, sophomore


On Jan. 19, I joined six other students and our theater director on a trip to the snow-covered land of South Dakota for an acting competition and surrounding events.

The competition is known as the Irene Ryan Scholarship Auditions, and its host festival is the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).

Two actors and two actresses from Newman were chosen to attend and compete in this year’s festival. We each selected an acting partner and prepared two scenes and a monologue to perform in front of two responders, two adjudicators and many fellow performers.

Allison Williams and I wait to perform at the KCACTF competition.

The experience was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating, as I had never done anything quite like it.

Eighty percent of the performers are cut in the first round. Though I didn’t go on, the experience transcended my expectations.

My acting partner, sophomore Allison Williams, said, “I felt like our performance was stellar and well-rehearsed.”

We both walked away from our performance with a better understanding of competitive theater. Beyond that, we met many other aspiring actors and actresses and it gave us a sense of possibility within the field of arts and entertainment.

Junior Rooslana Rusk said she thoroughly enjoyed herself in spite of being too sick to compete. She was astonished by the weather, but even more amazed by the guest productions.

One play in particular truly struck a chord with her.

“‘Colossal,’ written by Andrew Hinderaker, was different than anything I’d ever seen. It felt like I was at a real football game, which is hard to pull off.”

Rusk had a certain admiration for the festival, expressing that it showed what a little creative spirit is capable of accomplishing.

“Theater is where I’m most in my element, so that creative expression is important to me.”

I myself was especially moved by a theatrical adaptation of the children’s book “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Lucas Farney, Rooslana Rusk, Allison Williams and I sit in the main theater.

The play tells the story of an overworked, busy adult who meets a young prince from a distant world, after crash-landing in a desert. The prince encourages the man to not overwork himself and to stop and enjoy the sunset with him. Eventually, he listens to the little prince, stopping to rest. This gives him the strength to find water and to finish repairing his plane.

Such a play reminds us to stop and enjoy life on occasion because we only get to watch the sunset so many times. A tender telling of this moral brought the audience to tears on multiple occasions and proved to be an inspiring experience.

The seven of us going shopping.
The seven of us enjoy a shopping trip while in South Dakota.

Senior Lucas Farney was also inspired by the events of KCACTF, viewing the experience less like a stressful competition and more like a tranquil get-away.

“It felt like a vacation for me. Since it’s my senior year, it feels like I’ve been going 100% this whole year so far. So to be able to get out of Wichita and be in a purely theatrical atmosphere was relaxing and exactly what I needed.”

Even in the midst of the festival, inspiration struck, and Farney set out to complete a full-length play he was working on previously.

“I felt it building all week, this itch to want to write it, but Wednesday night we had just watched ‘Be More Chill’ (a musical adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel by the same name), and the rest of the group was rushing to another performance while I decided to go back to the Airbnb because I couldn’t hold it in any longer.”

Staying up until two in the morning the following day, Farney completed almost all of his play and finished it upon returning. He will be directing it as his senior capstone.

I will not soon forget the week that I spent surrounded by fellow developing artists, all living the lives of countless characters.

KCACTF was absolutely enlightening. If I was not confident in my pursuit of theater before, I am on fire for the arts now more than ever.



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