The Department of Theatre and students at Hope College received multiple honors during this year’s Region III Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), including the runner-up for the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Audition award.

The annual theatre festival is a gathering of more than 1,000 college theatre students and faculty who join together to showcase the best work of the five-state region of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. This year’s festival was held on Tuesday-Sunday, Jan. 10-15, at the University of Michigan-Flint.

In addition to invited productions that are juried and selected to perform, theatre students have the opportunity to display their work in dramaturgy, design, stage management, directing, playwriting and musical theatre, as well as acting.

Sophomore Danai Mandebvu of Harare, Zimbabwe, was the runner-up for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Audition award with a $500 cash prize. As runner-up, she is also the alternate to attend the National KCACTF Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in April along with her acting partner, freshman Sofia Wake of Washington, Illinois.

Junior Kelsey Sivertson of Holland received the top award in the Institute of Theatre Journalism and Advocacy; junior Lydia Konings of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a finalist for the Stage Management Fellowship and received the Off-Headset Book award; and senior Katy Smith of Plymouth, Indiana, was a semi-finalist and finalist for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship along with her acting partner, Annika Dekker, who is a December 2022 graduate from Grand Rapids.

Mandebvu and Smith were nominated for the highly competitive Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Audition award based on their performances during the 2022 festival year. Mandebvu was nominated for her performance in “The Winter’s Tale,” and Smith for her performance in “Silent Sky,” both produced by Hope College Theatre in the fall of 2022. They were selected from among 171 students and their acting partners from throughout the region, who across succeeding rounds were first trimmed to 48 semi-finalists and then 16 finalists.

Reflecting on her experience with Hope College Theatre, Mandebvu said, “Being a member of Hope's theatre department has taught me about more than just theatre, it has taught me about life, community and myself. The department has given me a supportive and safe space to explore, dream, fail and rise.”

Several Hope students had been honored with nominations for this year’s Region III scholarship and participated in the scholarship audition. The others were senior Cameron Baron of Oak Park, Illinois; 2022 graduate Sofia Muñoz of Elmwood Park, Illinois; 2022 graduate Blade Gates of Manistee; junior Brianna Tomczak of Dexter; junior Abigail Doonan of Kalamazoo; and sophomore Reneé Marting of Dundee.

Also during the festival, December 2022 graduate Annika Dekker participated in the Stage Management Intensive; junior Emily Dykhouse of Holland participated in the Dramaturgy Intensive, and junior Abigail Doonan participated in the Institute for Theatrical Journalism and Advocacy. Freshman Ingrid Baker of Grand Rapids participated in the Devised Intensive, which included a performance on the final day of the festival. Freshman Sofia Wake was selected to participate in the KCACTF student council for 2023. 

In addition, the Department of Theatre was honored with several certificates of Merit for the 2022 productions. “Bright Star,” directed by Daina Robins, professor of theatre, was honored for excellence in acting ensemble; in lighting designed by Eric Van Tassell, assistant professor of lighting and sound design; and in stage management by junior Lydia Konings. “The Winter’s Tale,” also directed by Daina Robins, was honored for excellence in dramaturg by senior Emily Dykhouse. “Silent Sky” was honored for excellence in direction by Rhett Luedtke, visiting assistant professor of theatre; in lighting designed by Eric Van Tassell; in sound designed by Ken Chamberlain, assistant director of production, who is dance and theatre lighting and sound technician; and in scenic and properties designed by Keith Pitts, adjunct professor of art and art history.

Michelle Bombe, who is a professor of theatre and department chair, and is national chair of KCACTF, spoke at the opening ceremonies of the festival, which had returned to being held in-person after a two-year hiatus due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

KCACTF is a national program designed to encourage excellence in college and university theatre in the United States.  Started in 1969, the program involves 20,000 students from more than 700 academic institutions throughout the country.  The program is divided into eight regions.