National festival to include four Utah theater productions at WSU regional event

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 3 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

OGDEN — More than 1,000 students will converge at Weber State as the university hosts the 44th regional competition of the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

“For university theater students, this is like basketball’s March Madness,” said Christopher Clark, a KCACTF circuit coordinator and distinguished professor in Utah Valley University’s Theatrical Arts Department. “It brings out the best in each of the students who participate, and it’s a great opportunity for them to learn more about their craft.”

“Hosting the festival is a great way for Weber State to give back to the national organization,” said Dr. Tom Priest, chair of WSU’s Department of Performing Arts. “I’ve been very impressed with the way that our students have been looking forward to attending the festival and hosting all the students who will be traveling to Weber.”

For the second consecutive year, a record-setting four productions from Utah universities have been selected to be staged at the annual festival on Feb. 7-11, along with seven shows from five western states.

More than 150 post-secondary theater departments — from Central and Southern California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, Hawaii and Utah — are eligible to participate in region 9 competitions of the Washington D.C.-based national organization. Universities invite KCACTF judges to their campuses to judge productions in order to be considered for the 11 entrants in this year’s regional festival.

The four productions in competition are “The Elephant Man,” Brigham Young University; “Eurydice,” UVU; “Xanadu,” WSU; and by special invitation, “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey,” an original co-production of BYU and SCERA Center for the Arts. This is the first year SCERA has participated in the festival.

The shows are eligible to participate at the national festival April 16-21 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance, directed by BYU's David Morgan

The life story of Joseph Merrick, who was born with severe deformities, is told in “The Elephant Man,” which won a 1979 Tony for best play. Merrick is liberated from the torturous treatment he receives in a 19th-century London freak show only to be exploited once again by his rescuers.

With the exception the actor playing Merrick, each of the actors wears a grotesque mask that disfigures all but the mouths of their faces in this production. The director devised the masks as a method to reveal the strength of character necessary to see beauty in unexpected places.

“Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, directed by UVU's Lisa Hagen

This ancient Greek myth of a Orpheus’ trek into the Underworld to bring his love Eurydice back from the dead is traditionally told from Orpheus’ point of view, but this tender-hearted comedy is from the viewpoint of its leading lady. Eurydice must decide to either stay in the Underworld with her father or return to earth with her husband. In “Eurydice,” the contemporary playwright reviews love, loss and the pleasures and pains of memory. The play had its New York premiere off-Broadway in 2007.

“The students who have designed this play have included incredible elements that aren’t seen in many live plays, including a body of water onstage,” said Katie Sullivan, the play’s stage manager. “We hope that all of the elements of the production help the audience see something personal in the mythic story.”

“Xanadu,” book by Douglas Carter Beane with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, directed by WSU's Jim Christian

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