Hope College was one of only five colleges or universities to have a production selected for presentation and received an additional award during this year’s Region 3 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), which was held on Wednesday-Saturday, Jan. 6-9.

The college received the recognition for “The Thanksgiving Play,” which the department had staged on Friday-Sunday, Oct. 30-Nov. 1; and Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 5-7.  Hope’s production was invited to present its production out of about 30 applicants.

“We are delighted that Hope Theatre was selected to share our production of Larissa FastHorse’s ‘The Thanksgiving Play’ with the Region 3 Festival,” said Michelle Bombe, who chairs the college’s Department of Theatre and is a professor of theatre at Hope in addition to serving as national chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  “We are committed to creating art that makes a difference and I am proud of the work of the students and faculty that collaborated on the production.”

The annual regional festival is a gathering of more than 1,300 theatre students and faculty from 70-plus colleges and universities, who join together to showcase and celebrate the best artistic work in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and western Ohio. The festival provides theatre students with the opportunity to display their work in dramaturgy, acting, stage management, musical theatre, playwriting and design.

This year’s festival was held virtually instead of in-person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hope presented a recorded version of its production of “The Thanksgiving Play,” which normally would have been staged live at the event.  The presentation co-received the festival’s Golden Keyboard Award, sharing the honor with the invited production from the University of Toledo.  As described by the regional festival’s organizers, “The Golden Keyboard is being awarded to the invited production team who exhibited exemplary technical leadership, safety, professionalism and problem-solving to bring theatre to our communities during these difficult global events. The team has overcome challenges in social distancing, communication, and technology while maintaining the spirit of collaboration and community inherently provided by live theatre.”  The award was presented in place of the Golden Handtruck Award that honors the technical proficiency process of the productions as they load-in and load-out of the performance venue when the festival is held in-person.  

An individual student and recent graduate were also honored during this year’s festival.

Senior Madison Meeron, a senior from Oxford, was selected as a finalist for the Musical Theatre Intensive Program and was featured with the other finalists of the program with a solo.  She performed “When I look at You” from “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” composer Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Nan Knighton.

Kathryn Joachim, a 2020 graduate from Dearborn, was selected as an Irene Ryan Scholarship Audition semi-finalist.  She was nominated for her role last February as Sister Alousius in the college’s production of “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley.

Meeron and Joachim submitted recorded auditions, and Meeron submitted a recording of her solo after having worked with professional coaches during the intensive.

“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 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.  The program is divided into eight regions, all of which are holding their festivals virtually this year due to the pandemic.

“We had to make the difficult decision in the summer for all eight of our regional KCACTF festivals to be offered virtually,” Bombe said.  “We knew that the theatre artists in our college programs would creatively find ways to make their art and we wanted to celebrate the work of these artists.  The leadership from the Kennedy Center, the national officers, and all of the regional teams have worked to make this an important year of accessibility.  The regions offered the programming to the participants at minimal or no cost to insure that as many students as possible could participate.  Keynote addresses, workshops, and programming are being offered across the eight regions in Anti-Racist Theatre Training, Theatrical Intimacy Education, and We See You White American Theatre panels, along with unique regional programming.”