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FusionFest eases students into campus theatre scene

Barry McNamara
09/04/2018
MONMOUTH, Ill. – For the fifth consecutive year, Monmouth College will open its theatre season with a 24-hour play festival that also serves as an icebreaker for a new group of theatre students.

FusionFest V opens at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Fusion Theatre, 230 S. Main St., the College’s downtown theatre. The culminating live performances will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8.

“It is low-stakes theatre,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre Vanessa Campagna. “That is a really great way to start off a theatre season because we have brand new students coming in who might have some nervousness and trepidation about getting involved in theatre at a brand new campus. This is a 12-hour commitment for brand new actors. We’re not asking for five weeks of their time.”

In 2015, Amanda Grissom ’19 was one of those brand new students. Now, she’s preparing for her fourth FusionFest and will assist Campagna, serving as associate producing director. The theatre major from Eldridge, Iowa, will also direct one of the 10-minute plays.

“I know that as an incoming freshman myself, I was terrified,” said Grissom. “I was coming into this brand new department with all these amazing theatre artists, and I wanted to get involved, but I was afraid of failing. ... Having FusionFest be our right-off-the-bat first thing gave me an opportunity to just try.”

How it works

Blind drawings are held to match directors and actors. Student playwrights – and one faculty member, Associate Professor of English David Wright – will have until 6 a.m. Sept. 8 to write their plays. Plays are then handed to the directors and actors, who have until 7 p.m. to rehearse, memorize and stage them.

“Everybody knows these plays we were written in 12 hours, so we’re not expecting Shakespeare or Chekhov, though maybe we’ll get one – I’m always optimistic,” said Campagna. “And no one’s expecting the actors to have crafted these really complex, nuanced characters. We all know these were done in 12 hours of rehearsal.”

Getting acquainted

“It’s most exciting to have those 12 hours with some new students because you really get to know them and you get to know how they are going to be as a theatre artist – where their concerns are – and you get to make some new friends,” said Grissom.

Campagna appreciates the opportunity to see what the new theatre students are all about.

“For me, FusionFest is a fantastic opportunity to see two things that for me are requirements of a good artist – and really for a good liberal arts student,” said Campagna. “One of them is vulnerability. I love getting to nurture our students through accepting vulnerability and seeing how it can benefit them as artists and people.

“The other thing is creativity. Some of us languish in creativity, but real life has deadlines. For our students, they have deadlines in classes, and for our artists, they have production deadlines every single time.

“To be up against a really tight deadline – I think it’s good. It forces them to reach into that proverbial tool belt and see ‘What creative choices can I make?’ and see, ‘OK, this one’s going to work, and I’m going to run with it,’ and just let their imagination take over.”

Rehearsals – which begin at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 8 – are free and open to the public. The theatre will be cleared by the evening and will re-open at 7 p.m. A half-hour later, the audience can watch the controlled chaos come alive on the stage.

Tickets, which are $5, are not part of the season-ticket package to College productions, are available online.