Visual and Performing Arts Department and students recognized for excellence by regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

February 14, 2022
By: Andrea Binnick

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region 1, a district spanning eastern New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, recognized Worcester State University’s Visual and Performing Arts Department for excellence in theatre production with a special invitation to stream its Spring 2021 presentation of “Dancing with Demons.”

The honors were given during the virtual Region 1 Festival #54 in January, which included more than 40 universities. Worcester State joined Wellesley College, State University of New York Potsdam, and Southern Connecticut State University as the four colleges and universities selected to showcase productions from Region 1. Nationwide, Kennedy Center’s theater festival program involves more than 18,000 college students.

As part of the regional event, “Dancing with Demons” screened on the final evening of the five-day festival. Immediately following the online presentation, a panel of festival judges presented a response to what they experienced during the viewing.

The students debuted “Dancing with Demons” on April 29, 2021 with a live performance on WSU’s Fuller Theater stage for an online audience through video projection.

Devised by faculty, staff, and students, the interdisciplinary production draws from Worcester State’s archive of COVID19-related materials to tell a tale of heroism, danger, and resurrection. “Dancing with Demons” is a CitySpeak production, an innovative collaboration between VPA and the Urban Studies departments that aims to provide Worcester’s diverse populations with a channel of expression through arts- and research-based urban planning and community development. Through use of real-life interviews and oral histories gathered by the Urban Studies Department, including students of Urban Studies Associate Professor Thomas Conroy, “Dancing with Demons” took – and continues to take – online viewers on a journey to the mythic, kaleidoscopic world of COVID19 demons to find an elixir to heal the fractured world.

“The KCACTF showcase is a testament to the exceptional work of the Worcester State students, faculty, and staff who devised the emotional, innovative play and provided some much-needed humor to online audiences,” said Theatre Professor and Production Director Adam Zahler. “KCACTF’s decision to showcase the production is a wonderful, unprecedented invitation for Worcester State and our department. In the words collected by students and faculty of the Urban Studies Department, we can see the fears and losses we all have experienced through the COVID19 pandemic, but also the grace, determination, and courage that makes this a time of everyday heroes.”

In addition to honoring the voices of community members and showcasing Worcester State’s student performance, “Dancing with Demons” features guitar improvisation by Music Professor Carlos Odria, dramaturgy by Visual and Performing Arts Chair Sam O’Connell, and artistic scenic design by Professors Nathan Lee and Stacey Parker, with initial concept and direction by Zahler.

The Festival also recognized the outstanding work of several students of Worcester State Theatre’s recent Fall 2021 production, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” the rollicking, absurdist comedy by Steve Martin that facilitated Worcester State students’ return to performing for live audiences at the university in November 2021.

“VPA at Worcester State extends heartfelt thanks to KCACTF for regularly delivering on its mission to support theatre students as they develop their skills and gain memorable experiences,” says O’Connell, who is also a Professor of Theatre and Interdisciplinary Arts. “At Worcester State, we’re committed to offering our students a variety of lab-based, experiential learning opportunities across our visual and performing arts programs. For our Theatre Program, the festival marked a meaningful and exciting time to recognize the important work of those both on and behind our Fuller Theater stage. Congratulations and thanks to all of the designers, cast and crew members of ‘Dancing with Demons’ and ‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile.'”

The awardees include:

  • Honorable Mention in Costume Design for ‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’ – Theatre and English major Bellalorraine Carey-Hicks ‘21:
  • Certificates of MeritBellalorraine Carey-Hicks ‘21; Communication major and Theatre Sound Designer Collin Turner ‘22; and Visual and Performing Arts major Brighid Campbell ‘22 for their work in costume design, sound design, and stage management, respectively.
  • VPA major Brent Leighton ’22, VPA/Education double major Julia Duggan ‘22 and VPA, Political Science, and Geography major Vincent Pellegrino ’22 were nominated as KCACTF Region 1 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship candidates with invitations to participate in the the festival’s acting competition. As part of the annual competition, KCACTF judges will ultimately award two of the region’s students with scholarships that provide “financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education,” according to KCACTF’s website.
  • Worcester State Geography major Autumn Thebodo ’22 and Communication major Liam Carmody ‘22 received nominations to serve as KCACTF Region 1 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship alternates for their own outstanding work in the production. Leighton, Pellegrino, Thebodo and Carmody played the roles of Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Freddy, and Gaston, respectively.

Photo: Theatre and English major Bellalorraine Carey-Hicks ‘21 (on computer screen), VPA/ED double major Julia Duggan ‘22, and Psychology and Sociology major Ziray DeJesus ’24 played the roles of Respirator Demon and Everyday Hero, Social Injustice Demon and Everyday Hero, and Respirator Demon and Everyday Hero, respectively, in “Dancing with Demons,” an interdisciplinary production that took – and continues to take –  online viewers on a journey to the mythic, kaleidoscopic world of COVID19 demons to find an elixir to heal the fractured world.    

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