Students give huge props to Kennedy Center trip

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Networking, scholarships and recognition were just a few things students part of Grand Canyon University’s Theater Department took away from this year’s Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) in Los Angeles.

Students were nominated in multiple categories to compete in the Kennedy Center competition. Tu "J" Nguyen (left) and Keeli Rodriguez (Right) celebrated Nguyen's  second in the region victory for her property design.

The KCACTF is a competition in which universities from all over the nation have their pieces selected by judges and are able to compete with other students from around their regions. GCU has not been in the KCACTF game long, but that hasn't impeded their progress.

“We have participated in this four years, so we’re kind of new at it, but we’ve sent people to the regionals every year since we’ve started,” said William Symington, Assistant Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production. “We’re doing so well, even for a small program. We had teachers as well as students from all kinds of other schools stop us a number of times and tell us how impressed they were with our students and how well they did, but also their demeanor and attitude and that sort of thing.”

Three of GCU’s nominated students advanced to the semifinals of their respective competitions, and two finished second. 

Tu "J" Nguyen, who earned second place in the region for her property design for “Peter and the Starcatcher,” is no stranger to the festival. She placed first while attending another college last year.

“Last year was actually my first year actually participating in the competition and it was my first time ever designing anything, so to actually win first place was really overwhelming and it makes me want to do better this time,” Nguyen said.

She wasn’t too upset placing second this year. “I did my best,” she said.

“Being an undergrad student and actually having a prize is actually really good considering you’re competing against grad students too,” Nguyen said. “I never really expect much from what I do. I just do it because I love it and I do my best, so I have no regrets.”

Rachel Schumacher, who placed second in the region for her lighting design for “Peter and the Starcatcher,” was a first-time designer for this year’s festival. That also earned her a one-week scholarship (later upgraded to two weeks) to the Stagecraft Institute in Las Vegas.

“It was not expected at all,” Schumacher said. “I was just happy to be nominated to go in the first place.”

Mandy Tompkins made it into the semifinals in the stage management category.

She said the experience was enough to “fuel” her until next year, when she hopes she’s able to compete again.

After advancing to the semifinals for her stage management of “Ring Round the Moon,” Mandy Tompkins was shocked to find out how impressive her work was to the judges.

“I was kind of going as more of experience to be like, ‘Oh, I want to take all these ideas back to the classroom and inspire more students,’ ” said Tompkins, an aspiring theater teacher. “It ended up being, ‘Oh, I’m actually good at stage management.’ I felt like I did a good job, but I didn’t know until I went, and that was something really cool to find out.”

The trip gave Tompkins a new realization of her love for stage managing but was just one of the things she brought back with her. She gained more from the experience than she expected and urges other students pursue their interest.

The DTM (design, technology and management) students weren’t the only one’s making waves in their areas of the competition. Actors from GCU were sent to compete in the Irene Ryan portion of the competition and for the first time made it to the semifinals.

Brandon Brown, who made it to the second round, said that although it was a competition against hundreds of actors from all over the region, everyone helped each other rehearse.

“It was nice to help each other, time each other and give each other feedback,” Brown said. “It was super supportive, and we felt really close to each other during the week.”

Brown and his partner, Christian Bradford, were one of the 60 groups out of about 300 to be selected to move forward.

Christian Bradford (left) and Brandon Brown were nominated to compete in the Irene Ryan acting competition and dedicated hours to practicing.

Aside from the competition, students got to partake in theater workshops, audition for different projects and enjoy a free day exploring Universal Studios, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, before it closes its doors permanently this month, the Samuel French Bookstore.

Stage manager Kaitlyn Johnson, nominated for her work on “Peter and the Starcatcher,” took advantage of other opportunities the Kennedy Center offered.

“There was a lot more to do than just the competition,” Johnson said. “Other companies were there holding auditions and holding interviews that were totally separate from the competition, so I actually left with a few callbacks and I was able to turn it into job applications just by going and getting involved and doing more.”

Students were grateful to the Theater Department for making the trip possible.

“We’re not able to learn about any of this without our teachers,” Schumacher said. “They care about us, they want us to do good, so that inspires us to be the best we can be and make them proud.”

Said Brown, "It’s nice to go to a school that the faculty supports what you want to do for your career and sort of helps you get there and guides you along the way.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


Related content:

GCU Today: Symington keeps designing ways to help students

GCU Today: COFAP crew to represent GCU at prestigious Kennedy Center festival


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