Barry McNamara  |   Published January 13, 2015

Curtain raised, bar raised

Monmouth theatre students, faculty bring home three honors from regional festival
  • Liz Johnson is shown presenting her scene design for “Jeffrey” in the design competition. The junior received an honorable mention award in the dramaturgy competition.

For more than 20 years, Monmouth College students have attended the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. This year, competing against peers from large universities and graduate students, Monmouth students earned three honors at the event, which was held earlier this month in Milwaukee.
Starting with their first-ever opportunity to participate in the costume parade during opening night ceremonies at the Pabst Theatre before of crowd of more than 1,000, professor Doug Rankin’s costume designs from the recent production of “Frankenstein” were one of six selections from a pool of more than 75 productions vying for the prestigious honor. Cast members Johnny Williams of Kewanee, Anthony Occhipinti of Chicago, Sarah Schmitt of Marengo, Curtis Galloway of Benton and Bill Armonda of Hinsdale modeled their costumes from the production.
Monmouth’s production of “Twelfth Night” was also part of the acclaim, as Nick Sargis of Aurora won honorable mention in the National Design Excellence Lighting competition for his lighting design and Liz Johnson of Geneseo won honorable mention in the National Dramaturgy Award for her work on the production.
“We’ve raised the bar, and we feel the ball’s rolling in our favor now,” said Rankin, adding that all MC competitors must first present their material at the Alpha Psi Omega showcase at the close of the preceding semester, which played a role in the impressive results.
Co-chair of design technology and management for the Region 3, Rankin is part of a committee of about 20 organizing members for the festival. His primary role is to plan and oversee all design, technical and stage management events.
Region 3 comprises Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Approximately 1,200 students participate in the annual event, which is composed of many competitions and exhibitions in performance and stagecraft. Recognized professionals from around the country choose the winning entries in the national design competitions. Additionally, seven full-length plays are presented during the week and numerous workshops are available in all areas of theatre.
Assistant professor Emily Rollie was the other Monmouth faculty member at the festival. She responded to four costume designs and two rounds of “Irene Ryans” – the national acting competition – in addition to watching all of Monmouth’s students compete.
Four Monmouth students participated in the Ryans – Williams (with partner Cassie Burton of Taylorville), Ellen Johnson of Kewanee (with partner Adam Duffield of Fairview), Schmitt (with partner Chris Dilworth of Galesburg) and Occhipinti (with partner Amanda Bowman of Monmouth).
“This was full immersion to theatre,” said Rankin. “The festival exposes our students to all levels of work and to what people in grad school are doing.” 
In addition to acting in the Ryans, Williams was cast in a staged reading of a one-act play. Natalie Stortoni of Gurnee competed in the stage management competition and directed one of the 10-minute plays and Armonda submitted a 10-minute play for consideration.
“Now that I have seen the Irene Ryan finals, I know what it takes to create a good selection of pieces and what the judges are looking for,” noted Williams, who said he saw every show that was in the Pabst Theater every night. “I absolutely loved being in the costume parade and would love to find a way for Monmouth to be represented in the parade for another year. I loved the experience of getting a script and performing the show the next day. It was a stressful and rewarding process that I don’t believe I could experience anywhere else.”
Although next year’s festival is almost a full year away, Monmouth students are already preparing for it. Earlier this week, students enrolled in Rankin’s studio class began work on stage designs that will be judged at the 2016 festival.

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