Twenty-three students and three faculty members from Gonzaga’s theatre program are in Denver, this week to soak up the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and to make history by putting on one of just three invited plays.
The regional festival offers numerous opportunities for aspiring actors, including workshops taught by faculty, professional auditions, interviews for potential employment and chances for scholarship awards.
Along with these programs, three productions from the region are invited to be featured at the festival. GU’s region includes nine states (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming). Any play from any junior or senior college in this region can be submitted, and three productions are selected.
The GU theatre department submitted its fall production, “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” for adjudication by critics at the festival, who then responded with their critical evaluations and passed along their report and/or recommendation to the KCACTF.
In December, it was announced that “Mr. Burns” was one of the three productions selected, making this the first time in school history a production has traveled to a regional festival.
“It’s just so nice to be able to feel like all of our hard work [is getting] celebrated,” said Rachel Carlson, a member of the costume crew for the production. “So often we work for months and months on shows, no matter whether you’re an actor or behind the scenes, and then it’s over in like three nights.”
Annika Perez-Krikorian — an actress in “Mr. Burns”—agreed.
“We’re getting to give this to an audience who will appreciate all of it,” Perez-Krikorian said. “Not just the story, but the design and the craftsmanship that goes into the costumes and the sets … it’s getting to give it to an audience that, I feel, is the ultimate audience in terms of understanding how much work we put into this.”
The hard work, however, did not stop with the invitation to the festival. In fact, that’s when the biggest effort truly began.
The focus then shifted to perfecting the production and figuring out the logistics of how the show was going to get to Denver. Because along with an impressive play comes an extensive costume line and an intricate and very large set.
As the students and faculty members flew to Denver over the weekend, the set and costumes made their way by truck. After a few days of enjoying the festival, the cast and crew will begin a five-hour load-in process bright and early Thursday morning to re-create the set of “Mr. Burns” on the stage of the Curious Theater in Denver. When the set is complete, there might be time for a rapid rehearsal and a quick lunch. Then it’s show time. After two shows, the take-down process will last another five hours.
All of this will undoubtedly make for an exhausted yet accomplished cast and crew.
But Charles Pepiton, assistant professor and director for “Mr. Burns”, knows they can pull it off.
“This is the most talented, capable cast of students that I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “So I have full confidence in them.”
“Mr. Burns,” a play brought to GU theatre by department head Abbey Plankey, is a unique production that captivates its audiences, presenting them with difficult cultural questions. The three-act play spans 82 years, utilizes three theater styles, and includes many unexpected elements such as a sword-fight and numerous pop culture references.
Pepiton said the play poses the question, “What do we have anymore that unifies people? We’re all in our own little bubbles, everyone watches pop culture … we’re more and more fractured off into our little cubicles.”
Along with the honor of being selected as one of the top productions in the region, Pepiton is excited to perform at the festival.
“It is a good opportunity for us as a department to show our students’ work and to show the kind of theater we do at Gonzaga,” Pepiton said. “Our theater is very much involved in looking at culture. How can we speak into culture? It’s not just about entertainment. And that’s connected with the mission of the university.”
To the students, the chance to perform for a guaranteed sellout crowd is just one of the reasons they are so grateful to be invited to perform at KCACTF. Perez-Krikorian hopes their accomplishment will resonate with other students who may not know much about theatre, or how many talented young actors and actresses there are at GU.
“Trying to advocate for the arts is hard. And rarely do the arts, at this school and at any school … ever get a chance to be able to quantify to a civilian, how good we can be,” Perez-Krikorian said. “The fact that we can now quantify in the way that the basketball players can say ‘We’re going to the playoffs,’ we can say, ‘We’re going to ACTF.’ That’s the equivalent.”
The GU theatre students and faculty alike are overwhelmingly proud of their accomplishment and cannot wait to experience all of the opportunities at the American College Theatre Festival.
“We’ll work hard the day of the show, but other than that, it’s just a chance for us to get to know people, learn new skills and have fun with other theatre people,” Carlson said.
Kelsie Morgan is a contributor.