There’s no business like show business. And Kalamazoo College’s Department of Theatre Arts just showed the acting world it means business.
K theatre arts majors Grace Gilmore ’15 and Lindsay Worthington ’17 recently returned from competing at the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
The pair beat out thousands of other student artists from across the country to present their work at the week-long, all- expenses-paid festival in the nation’s capital. Only 125 students were invited to attend.
Gilmore, a theatre arts major and religion minor, was one of only eight students in the country competing for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Worthington, a theatre arts and music double major, traveled to Washington, D.C. to showcase her talents in Sound Design Excellence.
Both categories featured KCACTF students from much larger colleges and universities, several of whom were graduate students enrolled in Masters of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) theatre programs and other specialized acting classes.
“Grace and Lindsay are extraordinary,” says Professor of Theatre Arts Lanny Potts. “They are recognized as the best-of-the-best in the nation in their fields. It’s rare for students from any small program and liberal arts college to achieve this sort of recognition.”
Gilmore spent the week at the Festival immersed in classes that focused on everything from stage combat to situation comedy. She worked alongside professional actors, met with casting directors, and had the opportunity to network with peers from across the nation and in the Washington, D.C. theatre community.
In addition, she went behind the scenes and toured the Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and the world-famous Shakespeare Theatre Company.
“Just being there was so surreal,” says Gilmore. “It was an unbelievable experience.”
For the 21-year-old, whose first acting role was as a jester in a middle school play, performing on the Kennedy Center stage in front of peers, directors, New York-based casting agents (and even her parents!) was the high point of the week.
Her parents, K alums Sherry (Christy) and Jim Gilmore, class of 1983, were both theatre arts majors.
“You could say theatre is in my blood,” Grace says.
Worthington, meanwhile, experienced her own festival highlights. In her master class she worked alongside professional lighting designer (and six-time Tony award nominee) Beverly Emmon as well as award-winning composer, sound designer, and audio artist Obadiah Eaves.
Emmon and Eaves critiqued the students’ work, offering their feedback, suggestions, and ideas. And the students got the chance to share meals and free time with the two professionals.
“It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Worthington says. “We were able to ask them questions about their careers and really get to know them.”
The Road to Nationals
Started in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens, the Kennedy Center’s founding chairman, KCACTF is a national theatre program working to improve the quality of college theatre in the United States. Comprised of 18,000 students from more than 600 academic institutions in eight different regions, KCACTF gives theatre departments and student artists the opportunity to showcase their work and receive outside assessment.
Earlier this year, KCACTF officials visited K and critiqued the work of the students in the theatre department. Gilmore and Worthington, along with 13 others K students, were nominated to attend the KCACTF Region III in Milwaukee. Three additional K students attended as part of their senior class seminar, and two others participated for professional growth and networking. The group joined 2,000 other theatre students from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin for the weekend competition.
Gilmore, nominated for her performance in Romeo and Juliet, beat out 274 students for the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award. Of the 16 finalists who competed in the final round of the competition, 13 of the 16 were post-undergraduates working on their M.F.A.
“I was absolutely shocked. We went into it clearly as underdogs,” Gilmore says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win. No one from K has ever won. When they said my name, I couldn’t believe it.”
She received a scholarship and an invitation to attend the National Festival.
Worthington was the only student nominated to attend the regional competition for her work on TWO (!) different entries in sound design. Her submission for Peer Gynt ended up taking top honors in Milwaukee—giving her a ticket to the National Festival, which turned out to also be an unplanned, but very welcome, trip home for this Bethesda, Maryland, native.
Neither Grace nor Lindsay took top honors at the National Festival, but they returned to Kalamazoo with a playbill full of experiences, contacts, job and internship opportunities, and memories to last a lifetime.
“I didn’t go into it thinking I would win,” says Worthington, who was awarded the Williamstown Theatre Festival Internship for Sound Design. “I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I been stressed about the competition. Just being there, to me, felt like winning.”