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Theatre Students Win National Awards

Southern theatre students have gone way “out of bounds” with a recent production that has received national recognition.

Out of Bounds — a new play written and performed by Southern students this year — was one of only four showcased at the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), which represents Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northeastern New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. From there, it was invited to the national KCACTF, held in April.

When the KCACTF announced its awards for productions showcased at the national level, Southern was one of only four Region 1 institutions recognized, receiving six awards for Out of Bounds. The production earned a Kennedy Center Citizen Award, along with special achievement distinctions in production design and scenic design. Gracy Keirstead, ’98, and Sarah Bowles, both adjunct faculty members in the Department of Theatre, were recognized for special achievement in direction by faculty artists, and the awards for scenic design and projection design both went to Douglas J. Macur. 

All of the national awards were presented during a virtual ceremony on May 21.

Written by students enrolled in Theatre 298 and performed in collaboration with the Crescent Players, Out of Bounds addresses the spoken and unspoken expectations of society. The play was presented to enthusiastic audiences in Southern’s Kendall Drama Lab in November. The course instructors and play directors — Keirstead and Bowles — assisted students in figuring out what stories they wanted to tell in the play.

Theatre Department Chair Mike Skinner explained, “It is often more challenging for directors and designers to create a new piece of performance art that has never been done before than to reimagine a story that audiences are familiar with. Typically, with a pre-existing play, you have a script in advance and a production history (or sometimes films) to research for ideas and planning out cue sequences, scenery, props, costumes, projections, and any other storytelling devices utilized by the creative design and management team. When starting all fresh, it takes a bit of a different approach than a standardized production process.”

The Region 1 festival – one of eight regional festivals held in January and February — was held virtually due to COVID19; Southern presented a recording of the performance, and on the night of the festival screening, the Out of Bounds cast gathered for a watch party in Lyman Center.

Following the regional festivals, each April the Kennedy Center welcomes about 125 outstanding theater students to the KCACTF National Festival. Student awardees in design, performance, directing, playwriting, stage management, dramaturgy, arts leadership, and theatre criticism, are invited from all eight Regions, and Out of Bounds was one of those productions chosen to attend from Region 1. At the festival, students participate in workshops with theater professionals, see productions in D.C., and connect with their peers from across the country.

Bowles is thrilled about the recognition her students and their production have received. “The play was devised and performed by our company of 16 student actors,” she said. “It truly gives audiences a glimpse into what the actor-creators were thinking about, dreaming about, worried about, furious about. Out of Bounds consists of stories of loss, frustration, injustice, exploration, taking risks, triumph, and unbounded joy. These were stories that they NEEDED to tell. Professor Keirstead and I could not be prouder of the acting ensemble, design team, and crew for their astonishing achievement, and we are so thrilled that their work was recognized by the Kennedy Center. It meant that audiences beyond SCSU got to see their creation, and hopefully walk away with some new thoughts, discoveries, and forward momentum in the pursuit of social justice.” 

Keirstead agreed, adding “I am over the moon at all the accolades that Out of Bounds has received. It was out of a very clear necessity to be seen and heard, that this work was created. The NEED to step out of those lines and question the boundaries that we as a society create that end up becoming oppressive to some of us. The NEED to be limitless, out of pocket, and boundless. The NEED for representation! The fact that we then got to share it at KCACTF for a national audience of our peers was just the icing on the cake. I could not have asked for a better partner than Sarah. Separate we are great, but together we are a force to be reckoned with. I’m looking forward to continuing to more adventures in devising with her.” 

Skinner added, “This play has changed the way I think about theatre. It has inspired new perspectives on process, inclusion, and collaboration. Our department humbly accepts the national recognitions for this piece of performance art as a continued call to action.

“Theatre can be cultivated as a force for change, and this play did just that.”

Read “Yale and SCSU students, faculty receive Kennedy Center college awards,” by Nicole Funaro, New Haven Register, May 20, 2022

Read “Kennedy Center Hosts American College Theater Festival National Awards,” by Chloe Rabinowitz, Broadway World, May 19, 2022


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