Hope College Theatre has received two national awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) for its production of Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play.”

The Department of Theatre received a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award, and junior Lisbeth Franzon of Whitehall was honored for Special Achievement in Stage Management for her work on the play.  The two awards will be presented during a virtual ceremony on Saturday, May 22.

As described by the KCACTF, “The Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Awards recognize programs in higher education using theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through an artistic lens, to encourage empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world, and to advocate for justice on campus and throughout the world.”

The plays chosen for recognition were selected from among 90 productions viewed during the KCACTF’s eight regional festivals.  “The Thanksgiving Play” was previously one of only five productions that were selected for presentation during this year’s Region 3 festival, which was held on Wednesday-Saturday, Jan. 6-9.  This year’s regional festivals were also held virtually because of the pandemic, and Hope presented a recorded version of its production of the play, which normally would have been staged live at the regional event.

Productions and individuals are receiving national awards in about 20 categories, including not only stage management but areas ranging from costume design, to performance, to directing, to choreography, to original music composition.

“We are so proud of our student Lisbeth and the entire cast, crew, and creative team of ‘The Thanksgiving Play,’” said Michelle Bombe, who is a professor of theatre and department chair at Hope. “The Citizen Artist Award is very special to us as we are keenly aware of the theatre’s role to help us learn empathy, to ask big questions, and to tell all the stories and not just those of the white majority. Theatre can uniquely offer an experience that can speak to cultural issues that our students need to navigate.”

“The Thanksgiving Play” is a comedy about four white Americans trying to be as respectful and woke as possible on the matter of Native American history. Preparing a Thanksgiving play for elementary school children, with a grant specifically intended to highlight the American Indian experience, the characters demonstrate how inadequate their own education in and knowledge of the historical truth of the holiday and Native American culture actually are. The Department of Theatre had presented production at Hope on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30-31, and Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 5-7, via livestream due to the pandemic. 

The college’s production was directed by Richard Perez, assistant professor of theatre. In addition to Perez, the production team included Michelle Bombe as costume designer, and assistant professor Eric Van Tassell as scenery and lighting designer. Staff members Ken Chamberlain and Stephen Krebs served as sound designer and technical director, respectively. Several students also served on the production team: stage manager, junior Lisbeth Franzon of Whitehall; assistant stage managers, freshmen Lydia Konings of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Rachel Scott of Clarkston; properties director, freshman Erin Bodenbender of Holland; assistant sound designer, senior Madison Meeron of Oxford; assistant costume designer, freshman Cherokee Bauer of Tucson, Arizona; dramaturgical boards, junior Emma Clark of Dewitt and sophomore Annika Dekker of Grand Rapids; property technicians, freshman Carole Chee of Grand Rapids and senior Tim Embertson of Lake City; and sound board operators, senior Emily King of South Bend, Indiana, and junior Emma Walilko of Wake Forest, North Carolina.  The cast included freshman Cecilia Casper of Eden Prairie, Minnesota; sophomore Adam Chamness of Holland; freshman Grant McKenzie of Western Springs, Illinois; and sophomore Katy Smith of Plymouth, Indiana.

The KCACTF is a national program designed to encourage excellence in college and university theatre in the United States.  Started in 1969, the program involves 18,000 students from more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country.

In addition to having been selected for presentation during January’s Region 3 festival, the college’s presentation of “The Thanksgiving Play” co-received the regional festival’s Golden Keyboard Award given for outstanding safety and ingenuity of production during the pandemic, sharing the honor with the invited production from the University of Toledo. Also during the regional festival, senior Madison Meeron of Oxford was selected as a finalist for the Musical Theatre Intensive Program and presented “When I look at You” from “The Scarlet Pimpernel” in a virtual performance that was livestreamed for all of the conference attendees; and 2020 graduate Kathryn Joachim of Dearborn was selected as an Irene Ryan Scholarship Audition semi-finalist for her role in February 2020 as Sister Aloysius in the college’s production of “Doubt.”