MU students honored at Kennedy Center theater competition

At least one student will advance to a national competition.

MU students took home multiple awards in playwriting, design, acting and theater criticism last week at the 44th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. provided travel grants for participants to come to the regional festival, which took place from Jan. 15 to 21 at Iowa State University. Select awardees are invited to a national festival in April that includes master classes, workshops and professional development seminars.

“It’s not only just to give them awards and recognitions but also to start the introduction process to the professional theater, to make connections,” said Gregg Henry, co-manager and artistic director of KCACTF.

Attendance for Region 5, which includes MU, is about 1,500 people, Henry said. The festival includes six to 10 productions, 80 workshops and galleries for design expos.

Ph.D. candidate Matt Fotis returned to the festival this year after winning multiple awards last year.

“Matt is the only playwright in the history of our organization who had three plays represented at the national festival last year,” Henry said. “That’s never happened.”

Fotis had two plays included in this year’s festival, “The Book of Adam” and “Nights on the Couch.” “The Book of Adam,” which won the Mark Twain Prize For Comic Playwriting last year, explores the idea of why we believe what we believe.

“Nights on the Couch,” which was a finalist for the John Cauble Outstanding Short Play Award last year, is about the journey from being a kid to having a kid," Fotis said. He said it was inspired by becoming a father himself.

Senior Hannah Baxter is the only MU student officially going to the national festival in April. She was the winner of the National Critics Institute Award for theater criticism.

“The experience was chaotic, but informative,” she said in an email. “I learned that almost every show has positive and negative attributes, and that no review should focus on just one.”

Ph.D. candidate Kevin McFillen and senior Amanda Newman are still in competition to find out if they will attend the national competition. Newman and McFillen are the regional winner and runner-up for a one-act play, respectively.

McFillen’s play “Subtraction” is about a man who is visited by a woman from the Office of Subtraction. Her job is balancing the universal equation, which is a complex equation that explains the nature of the universe. McFillen said it is revealed that she has been visiting him periodically to erase the memories of his previous wife who was subtracted from him.

McFillen has attended the festival four times.

“I think the best thing about KCACTF is just the opportunity to share your work and to see other people’s works,” he said. “I think that’s what’s exciting is having people from so many different programs from the region come and share their work and be able to see what everyone else is doing.”

Fotis also said the best thing about the festival is working with other people in theater.

“I think the biggest thing is just a camaraderie that other people are doing the same thing as you and that they can be successful and you can be successful,” Fotis said. "It’s nice to share because a lot of time writing you work away on your own and in this setting you get to share work with other people.”

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