Theater students to receive recognition at national conference

Assistant Lifestyle Editor

Five students from the Texas State Department of Theatre and Dance will be recognized as national finalists April 14-18 at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) in Washington D.C.

John Fleming, interim dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, said each year in late February a regional festival takes place involving six states and nearly 60 different programs. Fleming said one winner is chosen from each of the eight regions across the country to advance to the Kennedy Center.

“All of our productions are viewed by other members of the KCACTF,” Fleming said. “From there these individuals will make recommendations as to who can advance to the regional level and, ultimately, as national finalists.”

Fleming said this is the 15th straight year students from the Texas State theater department have advanced to the Kennedy Center for a total of 35 national finalists and eight awards.

“We have been actively involved for a while, and we have the longest active streak of any school in the country,” Fleming said. “We have sent students in all 10 different categories.”

This year two graduate and three undergraduate students will be honored at the festival with a total of seven recognitions, Fleming said.

“Recognition like this helps validate that we have a very high-quality program at both the undergraduate and graduate level across a wide variety of disciplines within theater,” Fleming said. “Our participation in this is something that can really help boost the reputation of the program nationally.”


Kevin Talley

Kevin Talley, third-year playwriting graduate student, was awarded the Ken Ludwig Playwriting Scholarship Award for having the best body of work. He earned second place in the Harold and Mimi Steinberg National Student Playwriting category with his script for “Snake Oil.”

Talley said his award for the best body of work marks the fourth straight year a student from Texas State has earned the prize. Students must submit three plays for review in order to compete for the $1,500 scholarship.

“I submitted two of my full-length plays and one ten-minute play for my body of work, and they evaluated it against the other applicants, and luckily I won the scholarship,” Talley said. “Ken Ludwig is a really great playwright who has been immensely successful, and he set up this scholarship that the Kennedy Center awards.”

Talley will receive a $1,000 cash prize as the second place recipient of the National Student Playwriting Award. He will be admitted to the Dramatists Guild of America and the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis as well as have the opportunity to develop a play with a professional theater company.

“I get to go to the national festival, which is a huge honor,” Talley said. “I hope to learn from workshops with theater professionals working in the industry, and I am excited for the chance to have my work gain exposure on a larger scale.”

Tally said he developed an interest in playwriting during high school.

“I was in theater in high school, and that was the first place that I got to really attempt to write, and when I was a sophomore, I got to write a one-act play for my theater class,” Talley said. “What I love about playwriting is that it is really accessible to anybody because you can do theater almost anywhere, unlike television or film.”

Talley said he has advanced to the Region 6 festival for the past two years. This year marks his first time to win on a national level.

“This experience is validating in the sense that I have been here for three years and I have tried to work my hardest, and in my last year I am getting to go to nationals and I am getting some recognition,” Talley said. “It is really just encouraging, and I feel like it is telling me that I am on the right path and that I just need to keep working at this.”


Jordan Morille

Jordan Morille, third-year playwriting graduate student, advanced to the national festival for his original works: “Norma's Rest” and “Jars.”

Morille said “Norma’s Rest” earned him one of four spots as a finalist for The John Cauble Short Play Award, which recognizes one-act plays that are typically between 20 and 50 pages long.

“Norma’s Rest” focuses on the owner of a halfway house as she struggles to decide whom to leave the property to after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Morille said.

“In the play, ‘Norma’s Rest’ is a sober house where addicts and felons stay to sort of get acclimated to the outside world after doing time in prison or living on the streets,” Morille said. “A local pastor comes along and wants to buy the property, and she struggles with whether or not to sell it to him.”

Morille said the content of his plays usually comes from personal experiences, with minor changes made to fit each character.

“Growing up, I knew individuals who stayed in this type of place, and I really just wanted to write about them and about just the whole idea of redemption,” Morille said. “I also wanted to explore how many chances we are allowed in life and who decides that number.”

Morille will advance to the Kennedy Center for his ten-minute play “Jars,” with which he is competing for the Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award.

“Some regions don't advance to the national competition,” Morille said. “It starts with thousands of plays and gets narrowed down to four people for the national competition, so just being a part of the four is an award in itself.”

Morille said this is his third year to advance as a finalist. He hopes to develop new drafts for each of his plays.

“Just being able to hear other directors’ and actors’ input on my plays and also hearing them read aloud will be helpful,” Morille said. “In terms of my career, I just really hope to gain a better understanding of playwriting and the power that we have as playwrights.”

Morille said every playwright who advances as a finalist has the opportunity to have each nominated work critiqued by experts. Playwrights also have the chance to participate in staged readings in front of professionals from all over the world.


Shelby Acosta

Shelby Acosta, musical theater senior, will be recognized at the festival as part of the regional Musical Theater Initiative.

Acosta said she was selected based on her performance in “Rent” and will be one of eight students performing at the competition for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships.

“This is the first year that all the Musical Theater Initiative students have ever received a prize this big,” Acosta said. “Normally the prize is scholarship money for a camp you want to do over the summer.”

Two representatives are assigned to each of the eight regions across the country. Students are selected to advance in the acting and musical theater portions of the competition, Acosta said.

“All of us competed against the people in Region 6, and then all of the winners from each region go to the Kennedy Center,” Acosta said.

Acosta said she started acting by participating in local community theater as a child. She eventually attended a high school specifically designed for actors and actresses.

“Starting in high school, I attended a boarding school for the arts in Michigan, and while I was there I met Kaitlin Hopkins, who is the head of the Musical Theatre program here at Texas State,” Acosta said. “She is a genius and also the one who got me interested in the program here.”

Acosta hopes to gain knowledge and experience from each of the finalists during the five-day event through networking and master classes. Class topics include makeup application, dance and other theater-related themes, Acosta said.

“I hope to be able to network with people during my master classes, which are normally going nonstop all week,” Acosta said.