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SBU’s Theatre Students Honored at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Southwest Baptist University theatre students were honored at the 55th annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, which celebrates work by colleges and universities in the eight-state region during 2022, on Jan. 22-27, 2023, in Des Moines, IA.

Roberts at festivalThe festival honored SBU theatre with several achievement awards, including four for “The Pirates of Penzance.” The ensemble received an award for a vocal performance, Dr. Sara house for musical direction, Jenna Roberts for costume design, and assistant professor of theatre Jonathan Wehmeyer for his direction. The production of “On the Verge” also received several awards, including Ryan Lee for his direction, Faith Gorrell for her costume design, and the cast for their performance.

“The festival is an amazing environment to be in as an artist. It is inspiring, exhilarating, ever-changing, and full of possibilities”. Explains Gorrell. “It is a privilege and honor to attend the festival, and I am so glad I was able to go.”

As part of the festival, SBU freshman Abigail Newborn participated in the Stage Crew Olympics. Newborn was put on a team of student technicians and competed in timed activities such as hanging theatre lights, tying knots and doing quick costume changes. Junior Caleb Smith had the opportunity to audition for the Musical Theater Intensive, where he advanced to the semifinal round.

Three SBU students, including Kylie Yeast, Faith Gorrell, and Caleb Smith, competed in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition. The competition consists of nominated students auditioning for a scholarship established by the late Irene Ryan, famous for playing Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” This year’s festival had 250 nominees from more than 80 colleges and universities in the region. Senior Kylie Yeast and her partner, junior Miriam Mattsfield, were one of 50 teams to advance to the semifinal round, one of 16 teams in the final round, and will represent region five at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC April 19-22, 2023, at the national festival.

Yeast and Mattsfield at festivalThe competition was “Truly a life-changing experience,” Yeast said. “The hard work does pay off. Theatre is my passion, love, and motivation. I cannot wait to do it every day.” Of Yeast and Mattsfield’s performance, assistant professor of theatre Jonathan Wehmeyer says, “This is like winning the championships and getting to play in the bowl game. We are very proud and excited for what this is means for Kylie and Miriam and SBU”.

In the design/tech expo, junior Jenna Roberts entered a costume design for “The Pirates of Penzance,” winning the Heart of the Art award, designating her design as possessing the expected high quality and passion of designs at the festival.

As Miriam Mattsfield ‘s first time attending the festival, she described it as “very insightful getting to learn about other people’s experiences in their colleges world of theater,” and that “it was great getting a chance to see so many other students from other schools perform, and then have the opportunity to talk with them before and afterward.”

SBU participates in the festival every year by entering their productions for review by a respondent from another institution in the region and by attending the annual festival. Next year the festival will be in Des Moines, Iowa.