Barry McNamara  |  Published January 25, 2023

‘A Flagship Experience’

Led again by Gabriela Madu ’23, Monmouth students find success at regional Kennedy Center festival.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Whether or not honors were received at this year’s Region 3 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, it was a rewarding experience for the 14 Monmouth College students who made the trip earlier this month to Flint, Michigan.

“I got invited to a roundtable talk and got to hear a lot of great advice and tips from other stage managers,” said Samantha Zigmant ’24 of Plainfield, Illinois, who presented her stage management binder from the College’s fall production of Romeo and Juliet. “I’m hoping to present even more design work at next year’s festival.”

Attending the annual event is a “flagship experience” for the College’s theatre students.

“Participating in the annual KCACTF regional festival is a flagship experience for our theatre and theatre education students,” said Monmouth professor Todd Quick. “This program is how our students first connect to the larger theatre industry, working with and learning from theatre professionals from across our four-state region.”

SHE CAN DESIGN, TOO: Gabriela Madu '23 was impressive playing the lead in the fall production... SHE CAN DESIGN, TOO: Gabriela Madu '23 was impressive playing the lead in the fall production of "Romeo and Juliet," but it was her sound design for the show that led to some of the honors she received at the theater festival.A year ago, Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, made Monmouth history with the honors she received at the festival, and she was at it again this year, reaching the semifinals of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship auditions and making the Musical Theater Intensive (MTI) dance final.

She even went beyond her success from a year ago by receiving three awards, including the prestigious “RED in DTM” honor. RED stands for Representation, Equity and Diversity and DTM stands for Dance, Theater and Music.

She was one of two recipients of the honor, which is awarded to “an individual whose work demonstrates either representation of lived experience as a person of the global majority or demonstrates excellence in inclusive practice celebrating diversity or amplifying conversations focusing on underrepresented voices as a core value of the work and collaborative process.”

Madu was also a regional finalist for the theatrical sound design excellence award, receiving honorable mention, and earned a Marvin Sims Design Fellowship Nomination for design excellence. For the latter honor, she remains in competition against the nominees across the theater festival’s other seven regions. Both awards are for her sound design for Romeo and Juliet, a production that also saw her play the lead role.

“We are a program dedicated to training students holistically as theatre artists – not just actors,” said Quick. “So, while I am thrilled that Gabriela made it to the Irene Ryan semifinal rounds for the second consecutive year, I am even more delighted that she did that while also earning top awards as a designer. That’s what Monmouth College theatre is all about – letting our students grow and thrive in all aspects of the art form.”

Next up for Madu is participation in The Next Step Auditions. She has received interest from Big Mouth Talent Agency in Chicago, and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has corresponded with her about an apprentice program this summer. She also received a callback from Case Western Reserve University’s Case/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program

Reese Hill ’24 of Kansas City, Mo., joined Madu as an MTI dance finalist. By reaching the dance final, the two Monmouth students were able to work with Broadway choreographer Dee Tomasetta and Ain’t Too Proud cast member Correy West on two dance numbers that were performed at the closing cabaret performance.

Drew Cliffel ’23 of Lakewood, Ohio, was also part of the cabaret thanks to placing as a finalist in the MTI voice competition. Cliffel also competed in the Irene Ryan acting competition, as did Hill.

“Perhaps even more important than the awards and accolades our students earn is the confidence that they gain from presenting their work in front of their peers from other colleges, and realizing that they can indeed hold their own,” said Quick. “We are a small, liberal arts theatre program, but our students discover that the quality of their training and education equips them to engage with their work at the same level as students from any program in the region. They come back to Monmouth energized and inspired, ready to get back to work.”

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