The pandemic has certainly challenged normalcy for everyone, but theater has taken an especially big hit. With Broadway closed, and productions either canceled (including Chicago, what was to be my final high school show last spring) or reworked to be performed virtually (Clark’s Fall production of Beauty and the Beast), I was looking for any opportunity to take part in what I loved most — the theater.
That’s when the “theater fairy” came in the form of an email from Professor Gino Dilorio, director of Clark’s Theatre Arts program, who reached out to see if Clark theater students wanted to attend the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), a national festival where thousands of college students from across the country can have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills, and learn from theater professionals. The festival is held annually, but this year it was all-virtual. I immediately signed up to attend some workshops and performances. Several of my peers did the same, and we created a group chat where we could send notes from webinars, create memes, and chat about recurring themes from the meetings.
The festival began with a welcome celebration featuring Paula Vogel, an incredible playwright, and a party where all of the theater kids were able to “bust a move” virtually. Events and workshops continued throughout the week; one I particularly enjoyed focused on the role of the director. I’ve been performing my entire life, but now I’ve found a new love of offstage roles. I aspire to work on Broadway as a producer, director, casting agent, marketer, manager — or in whatever way I can to support the arts. This Zoom meeting offered us new insights; hearing experts discuss their experiences directing was rewarding and helpful.
During the festival, college and university students had the opportunity to present their work. Brett Iarrobino ’21 staged a reading of his play, “Talking (Air)Heads,” which had been nominated as a finalist for the John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Play. It was wonderful to see a fellow Clarkie’s work celebrated!
Other webinars at the festival included “A Theater Career on Your Terms,” “Crafting the Ten-Minute Play,” “History + Culture + Application of history of Pop/Rock/RnB,” along with a Zoom event to discuss the success of the musical Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical (ironically, I had purchased a ticket to this event in January to support The Actors Fund). The arts are struggling to survive the pandemic, but this musical and this festival had one thing in common — they brought the arts back to life in a new way.
The festival allowed students to become absorbed in the theater again (and sing about a cooking rat). It was as if theater had found its “ghost light,” just when we’d almost lost hope. Although we were distant, it felt like a new normal — one I never expected, but could finally appreciate and understand. And while I imagine it would have been amazing to have been able to attend the theater festival in person, I still felt I was part of something incredible.
Other Clark students who took part in the virtual festival are: Maya Krantz ’21, Graham Pelligra ’23, Doménica Dillon ’22, Nick Sturman ’22, Amanda L. Flicop ’21, Emily Bonnici ’21, Sarah Drapeau ’21, and Luke Pound ’22.