Stage productions from Utah universities invited to prestigious festival

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 9 2011 6:00 p.m. MST

The cast of WSUs Under Construction in a scene called Bad Stuff. The play contrasts illustrator Norman Rockwells idealist view of America with installation artist Jason Rhoades chaotic, absurdist view.

Kara Jensen/WSU Department of Performing Arts

A 1937 black-and-white film brought to life on stage, in black and white.

An avant-garde playwright’s meditation on American life and art.

A Restoration-era comedy with characters writing blogs and text messages received in the audience.

An original play exploring attitudes toward Mexican migrants using golf as a metaphor.

These theater productions — all from Utah universities — are being staged this week at the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Los Angeles. With the innovations and quality of these shows, it's a record-breaking year for the state in theater. The four productions in the 2011 regional competition are the largest number from the state in a single year.

The festival is Feb. 8-12 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and Brigham Young University, Utah State University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University are all represented.

“On a national level, we have an enormous amount of respect for the theater programs in Utah. The Utah productions have always been a tent pole at the festival,” said Gregg Henry, national artistic director of the festival. “In fact, we’re not surprised to see so many great productions come out of Utah; we have come to expect it.”

Considering that all universities and colleges in Region 8 — schools located in central and southern California, Arizona, southern Nevada, Hawaii and Utah — are able to submit productions to be considered for the festival, the honor becomes resoundingly clear.

According to John H. Binkley, a regional festival chair, two Utah universities have consistently been able to achieve success.

“UVU and Weber State are the only two schools in our region that have such a strong record of successful productions,” said Binkley, an associate professor at California State University Northridge.

“Being selected to participate is similar to when your basketball team is invited to the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament,” said Thomas Priest, chair of WSU’s department of performing arts. “(The festival) is an exciting and educational experience for our students.”

James Arrington, UVU’s theatrical arts department chair, explained there is a benefit for students when they compete with the “mega” theater departments from other states in the region.

“When the students see themselves excelling against stiff competition, it’s a great feeling, a lift,” he said. “Students go head-to-head with other students in their chosen field and many are already graduate students. We also see what other universities are doing, and our students audition for prestigious summer programs and scholarships.”

The four Utah shows are competing in Los Angeles for a chance to be selected at the national festival, held from April 18-23 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing.

The following is a look at each production.

"Do Not Hit Golf Balls Into Mexico," Utah State; Shawn Fisher and Adrianne Moore, directors.

With fictional characters created after company members conducted interviews around the Arizona and Mexico borderlands, “Golf Balls” was written by Fisher.

"As Americans, we often look down on Mexican migrants because we think they’re lazy, but we fail to see these people have walked hundreds of miles through scorching desert to go to work so they can feed their families,” Fisher said.

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