Whitman Students bring home awards from Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival


Contributed by Miranda LaFond

Senior Evan Marks, Associate Professor of Theatre Daniel Schindler, sophomore Rachael Goldsmith Zucker, senior Miranda LaFond, junior Jay Tyson, sophomore Alyx Kruger and senior Haley King pose with their theatre awards from the festival. Photo contributed by Miranda LaFond

Kaitlin Cho, A&E Reporter

Eight Whitman students departed to Colorado for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) and, a week later, brought thirteen awards back with them.

Half of the Whitman students who went received at least one national award during the Feb. 17-21 regional festival, held at Colorado State University. 

Senior history and theatre double major Miranda LaFond was among them.

LaFond was awarded two national awards: the George R Caldwell Undergraduate Scholarly Paper Award for her paper “‘To be or not to be, dat is him question,’— Portrayals of Race in Early American Theatre” and the National Award For Undergraduate Dramaturgy for her work on “Ripe Frenzy.” 

“I wasn’t expecting to win any awards for my work because the other students who talked about their projects seemed very knowledgeable, whereas I felt I was just kind of bumbling around, finding my way,” LaFond said. “But yes, the recognition made me feel proud and grateful for the production teams at Whitman who made it happen.”

Junior theatre major Jay Tyson won the National Award For Excellence in Scenic Design for her work on “Ripe Frenzy” and a Meritorious Achievement for a scholarly paper in addition to her costume design work in “James and the Giant Peach.”

“You have our little bubble of a college, and there are nine states in our region?” Tyson said. “And we just did so well!”

However, Whitman students didn’t only receive awards and internships from the festival. The festival’s schedule – jam-packed with workshops, presentations, shows and interviews – provided what senior theatre major Haley King described as “a broad and expansive event – an experience to benefit anyone who goes there from any walk of the theatre path.”

King won the National Award For Excellence in Allied Arts for Makeup Design for her work in “Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein)” and a Meritorious Achievement for her costume design in “Red”.

“There was so much building up each other’s work, asking really interesting questions, getting to learn people’s different approaches and reasons for their designs, and getting out of the Whitman bubble,” King said.

 “We’re a small school – which is wonderful because we get so much one-on-one with professors and mentorship and cool opportunities without huge competition for those necessarily – but that also means we can’t see a lot of student work,” she added. “So getting to see fifty, sixty [other design, tech and management students] in the region and their work and how and what they’re taught is great.”

Sophomore theatre major Rachael Goldsmith Zucker, whose play “The God Auditions” was selected to be a National Semi-Finalist for the 10 minute play contest, found KCACTF to be a great means of “getting that outside perspective of what’s up and coming in the theatre world, how the theatre is changing”, such as the ever-increasing awareness of the “aspect of privilege” in theatre. 

“Getting to learn from a lot of progressive people and learn what’s at the forefront of theatre was really nice for me,” Goldsmith Zucker said.

Senior theatre major Evan Marks, whose work for “Ripe Frenzy” won him the Regional Award for Sound Design, said that before attending this festival, he never really had the opportunity to talk to other sound designers and people in similar fields.

“What this festival offers is the ability to do that,” Marks said. 

“I was in a group with five or six other designers, and in my four years at Whitman, that was my first time being in a room with other sound designers where we could really talk about our work and college experience and share tips and learn from each other,” he added. 

For Tyson, KCACTF made her even more interested and conscious of process as a designer.

“I tried to be conscious about it before, but there’s something about the practice of explaining and communicating your thoughts to people who don’t know anything about your show,” Tyson said. “It’s such a collaborative field that getting to work with people who don’t know what you’re working on and don’t know Whitman is hugely helpful.”

LaFond found that bringing together collegiate level theater-makers and providing them with skills to take home to campus was some of the festival’s greatest gifts to Whitman students.

“At this regional festival, [Whitman students] get to see the work their peers are doing in Oregon or California or Hawaii. It allows us to see that in the midst of our different projects we all share a love for this strange, exhausting art form,” LaFond said. “I think that those of us, especially the folks who still have a few years in the department at Whitman, came out of the festival with a lot of hard skills for their specific areas that they can put back into the work they’re doing here.”

In this, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival was a place for Whitman’s theatre students to not only gain recognition for their excellence, but a space for them to become even better at what they do.