The Department of Theatre at Hope College has received top national honors through this year’s Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) for the play “The Line Between,” which was created at the college by a team of Hope theatre students and guest-artist alumni.

“The Line Between” is the 2018 national honoree as the “Outstanding Production of a Devised or Company-Generated Work.”  The production was also among the national runners-up in two other categories, “Distinguished Performance and Production Ensemble,” and “Distinguished Director of a New Work.”

“The theatre department is honored to receive these awards for the work on ‘The Line Between,’” said Michelle Bombe, who is a professor of theatre and director of theatre at Hope.

“It is especially significant to receive national recognition for devised work, as the department has intentionally made this type of theatre-making a hallmark our program.  We believe that creating devised works offers the students the skill sets to become entrepreneurial artists and encourages them to create their own work after they graduate from Hope,” she said.  “The award for Distinguished Production and Ensemble is also meaningful because these honors are selected from all of the productions in the festival season, not just the devised category.”

A panel of KCACTF representatives chooses the recipients of the national awards from among the select number of productions previously invited to one of the eight regional KCACTF festivals, which run between January and March.  The department was invited to perform “The Line Between” during the Region III festival in January.

“The Line Between” was developed collaboratively during the 2016-17 school year by Hope students and two of the department’s graduates, Daniel Kwiatkowski and Erik Saxvik, members of the Class of 2004 who are theatre professionals in New York City.  The play premiered at the college in April 2017.  Kwiatkowski and Saxvik co-directed the production and share the national directing recognition.

“The theatre department is also delighted that Daniel and Erik were recognized by the national awards from KCACTF for their contribution of directing ‘The Line Between,’” Bombe said.  “We are always proud of the work of our alums and love to find a way to connect them to our current students.”

“The Line Between” follows the hero’s journey through two worlds:  a clean and crisp community, and a band of wild, expressive nomads.  With a clear boundary between them, the play discovers what it means to see the world from someone else’s point of view.  With a bond of sisters, family and friendship, “The Line Between” explores the hope of humanity and the power of forgiveness.

In addition to the recognition that the play has received, four Hope students are among only 125 students nationwide invited to attend the national festival in Washington, D.C., on Monday-Saturday, April 9-14, chosen through competition during the regional festival in January.  Senior Akia Nyrie Smith of Grand Rapids received the region’s Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award for her acting audition with her scene partner, senior Sam Hill of Grandville. Sophomore Emmie Sandstedt of Lake Zurich, Illinois, received the region’s Stage Management Fellowship; and junior Rachel Dion of Clinton Township was selected for the region’s Aspire KCACTF/Lort Leadership Award for artistic administrators.  While in D.C., the students will attend masterclasses and workshops, and have the opportunity to present their work and be eligible for additional awards.

“I’m so excited for our students to have the opportunity to attend the national festival at the Kennedy Center and the opportunity to showcase their work,” Bombe said.  “Hope Theatre will be well represented on the national scene by these four talented students.”

The department’s tradition of engaging students in devised work began with the nationally recognized production of “Rose and the Rime,” which was invited to the January 2008 regional festival and then to be presented as a full production at the national festival at the Kennedy Center in April 2008.  The play had premiered at Hope in April 2007 after being created during the 2006-07 school year by guest artist Nathan Allen of The House Theatre of Chicago in a collaborative effort with the cast and design team.

New York City-based Donnie Mather directed “bobrauschenbergamerica” in 2012, and though it was not a devised piece and had a script by Charles Mee, the staging and creation of the work used similar techniques.  Allen returned in 2015 to stage his devised work “The Sparrow” with students.  Also in 2015, the Department of Theatre worked with Richard Neuman, artistic director of The Hinterlands, to devise a new work titled “Goodbye Beauty, Hello Dust,” based on the Antigone story.

The KCACTF is a national program designed to encourage excellence in college and university theater in the United States.  Started in 1969, the program involves 20,000 students from more than 700 academic institutions throughout the country.  Region III includes colleges and universities from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Hope has been invited to present productions at the regional festival eight times, and the college’s production of “Tea and Sympathy” was invited to the national festival in 1983, in addition to the 2008 invitation of “Rose and the Rime.”  The national festival adopted its current method of recognizing productions, instead of inviting them to be performed in Washington, D.C., in 2012.