Emporia State Theatre recently competed in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Lawrence with their performance of “Rabbit Hole.” It was one of five productions invited to the festival out of about 400 productions in the region. ESU received many individual awards for their department’s accomplishments.
Susan Samuelson, senior fine arts major with an emphasis in theater, received a commendation for outstanding costume design. She also won the Regional Barbizon Award in Costume Design for her “Rabbit Hole” designs. Samuelson will now move on to the national competition on an all expense paid trip to winners from the other eight regions.
“You’re not only judged on your concept and how you represented the show, but also how well you draw – your artistic skill is also judged,” Samuelson said. “They look at those in comparison to other shows.”
Jim Bartruff, director of theatre, directed “Rabbit Hole” and praised Samuelson’s hard work and ability to juggle many different priorities.
“She’s really a terrific student,” Bartruff said. “She’s had to maintain almost a full-time job throughout her time at school. In addition to being a really fine young costume designer, she also coordinates the activities of the art education in the Theatre Company.”
Benjamin Howard, senior social sciences major, was awarded first place in Graphic Design at the festival. However, there is no national competition for graphic design. Howard designed the poster for the show and said he was glad to have been involved.
“It was very exciting,” Howard said. “I submitted two designs – this one and another one I did last year – more as a reason to go to the festival and have this experience. I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to the ACTF regional festival before, so this was kind of an excuse to go and see what it was like.
“But it was very exciting and certainly looks nice on my resume. I’m applying for graduate school right now, so that’s a nice little bonus.”
Bartruff received a commendation for outstanding direction of the performance. While Howard could not speak for the cast, he said he believed Bartruff did a fine job at giving the performance the vision it needed.
“Whether it be costumes or graphic designs or scenic design or whatever it is, there seems to be a really good cohesive effort to produce one concept and he seems to be very good at managing that process,” Howard said. “So he’s been good to work with.”
All five members of the “Rabbit Hole” cast were nominated to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Two members of the cast, Bob Hart, junior fine arts major, and Dylan Lewis, sophomore fine arts major, made it to the semi-finals of the audition. They were two of sixty-four, from an original pool of 400 nominees, to make it to the semi-finals.
“I think it’s noteworthy that all five of our cast members received that acknowledgment of the excellence in their work as performers,” Bartruff said.
Howard said he was not surprised that ESU did so well at the KACTF.
“ESU theatre has been a contributing member of ACTF for decades and the last time we took a show to festival was like three years ago,” Howard said. “So ESU regularly does pretty well at the region five festival, but it’s always exciting to get to take a show and have students do well and overall the department was pretty well represented this time.”
The entire production was judged thoroughly, even in areas that one might not necessarily expect.
“In addition to all the work that went into the original production, our students came back early in January to get ready to go Kansas (University),” Bartruff said. “So that first week of school, we rehearsed every night, and even that Tuesday we practiced loading and unloading the truck a couple of times because part of what is involved in the festival is being able to tour the show and being able to unload and load it safely. Even that aspect of the show is being monitored by respondents.”
Samuelson said she believed that the hard work paid off and was pleased with the representation ESU gave at the performance.
“I had a great experience working with everyone involved with the show,” Samuelson said. “I thought everyone worked to the best of our ability and that when we went to the regional festival we represented our university as well as our department well.”
ESU Theatre’s next production will be “The Glass Menagerie” at the Frederickson Theatre beginning Feb. 25.
Brett Mize/The Bulletin