College play earns invitation to Kennedy Center festival

Grove City College’s production of the Arthur Miller classic “All My Sons” is headed to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), an annual celebration of excellence and achievement in college theater.

The play, which was first performed on campus in the spring of 2018, is one of six shows that will be staged at KCACTF’s Region Two festival Jan. 15 to 19 on the campus of Montclair (N.J.) State University.

Grove City College was invited to participate in the festival after representatives selected “All My Sons” from a pool of 56 eligible productions. The invitation is based on the input of faculty and professional respondents, a group that includes Betsy (Boak ’77) Craig, director of the College’s Theatre Program and professor of English. Craig didn’t evaluate her own show, but she said that her work assessing plays around the region has made it clear that the bar for inclusion is high.

The College usually only asks respondents to provide feedback on its productions and has only sought an invitation for four plays since 2009.

“Every time our plays have been ‘held for consideration,’ which is a big honor in and of itself. It isn’t typical. So we were very honored just to be considered for ‘All My Sons,’” she said. “Three times our play has been an ‘invited production.’ And this is a big deal for any theatre program.”

The other invited Grove City College productions were “Red” in 2015 and “La Bête” in 2009.

Benj Eicher '19 works to get the set ready for "All My Sons," which the College's Theatre Program will stage next week at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival​.

A lot of hard work comes along with the honor. The Theatre Program has to recreate a play staged months ago and move it to a different space. The theater at Montclair State University has a much larger, proscenium stage, which requires the crew to rebuild parts of the set and re-block much of the play, which was originally staged the Little Theater of the Pew Fine Arts Center on campus, Craig said.

Getting “the band” back together after several actors graduated or moved on also presented a challenge. Two members of the original production couldn’t make it, and their parts were recast.

Returning alums Sam Kenney ’18, Courtney (Moletz ’18) McClelland, Luke Leone ’18 and Ginny (Flanders ’18) Espenshade will join current students in the festival entry. Espenshade lives in Virginia, which “makes for some tricky rehearsals,” Craig said. “We will be Skyping in Ginny and we have an understudy in case something happens, but the others are traveling up to Grove City from Pittsburgh for evening rehearsals after they get done with work.” 

A number of students are also competing in an acting competition at the festival. When they aren’t competing or in workshops, they’ll serve as “All My Sons” technical crew.

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival encourages and celebrates the finest and most diverse theatrical productions from colleges and universities and marks the achievement of theater programs, individual students and faculty. In addition to the invited productions, festival attendees attend workshops, master classes, juried design expositions, seminars, summer stock and graduate school auditions and other professional development opportunities. The festival is supported and funded by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

Grove City College has long been a theater school, known for ambitious and entertaining shows each fall and spring and a thriving thespian community that also stages one-act showcases, a guerilla 24-hour-theater project and a family friendly children’s theater show.

The lack of a theater major hasn’t hampered the Theatre Program’s ability to attract talent or present high-quality plays and musicals that are entertaining, challenging and inspiring.

“I love the fact that our students come from all over the campus and have such a diversity of backgrounds. We have English majors and Communication Studies majors, but we also have Computer Science and Math majors, and we have Biology and engineering majors, and we have History and Psychology, and Exercise Science, and Philosophy, and Physics, and Sociology, and, well, you get the idea,” Craig said.

Hard work and unlimited expectations are keys to the College’s success on the stage, she said.

“I don’t say ‘Well because we are just a small liberal arts college without a theater major we really shouldn’t try too hard.’ Instead, I go into any production knowing that our students are capable of so much more than they ever imagined,” Craig said. “Perhaps I set unrealistic expectations but what I find out is that our students seem to thrive on that. Once they catch the spirit, they push themselves to achieve.”

Grove City College’s Theatre Program doesn’t exist just to put on a show, but to “to tell the human story with both truth and humility,” according to its mission statement. It continues, “By allowing our audiences to engage these dramatic narratives through the lens of our Christian faith, we seek to aid our audiences in developing insight into individuals, cultures and situations different than our own.  In so doing, we invite the stranger among us. It is through the telling of these stories we can often see our own frailties and shortcomings, and we can then begin to see more clearly what we yearn for most. Good theatre should engender good conversation. And in it we should wrestle with ideas, confront the uncomfortable, and thrill at the mystery of it all.”

Grove City College offers minors in Theatre and Music Theater through the departments of English and Music.

College play earns invitation to Kennedy Center festival

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