Michelle Bombe of the Hope College theatre faculty has received the National Kennedy Center Gold Medallion — the most prestigious national award presented by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival — for her career-long dedication to teaching and producing theatre.
Bombe is a professor of theatre, resident costume designer and department chair at Hope, where she has taught since 1991, and across the past 17 years has held a variety of leadership roles with KCACTF at the state, regional and national levels, including a four-year term as KCACTF’s national chair that concludes August 2. She received the medallion during the KCACTF National Festival held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on April 17-23.
“I was completely surprised and honored to receive the gold medallion at the National KCACTF awards ceremony and I am so touched by this recognition of my service, but it has always been a labor of love and tied to my work as an educator,” she said. “Students are the heart of KCACTF’s mission to celebrate college theatre and provide quality educational experiences to enhance young theatre artists, and these goals resonate deeply with me.”
As explained by the KCACTF, “The Medallion honors individuals or organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and producing of theatre and who have significantly dedicated their time, artistry and enthusiasm to the development of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Most importantly, recipients have demonstrated a strong commitment to the values and goals of KCACTF and to excellence in educational theatre. It is the most prestigious national award given by KCACTF and is considered one the great honors in theatre education.”
Brad Dell, who is KCACTF’s vice chair, affirmed Bombe’s selection, singling out both the quality and character of her service and leadership,
“Michelle Bombe led KCACTF through some its most challenging times — leadership crises, the global pandemic, the call for antiracist justice, budget shortfalls, and more — and she did it all with remarkable grace, integrity and most importantly empathy,” said Dell, who is an associate professor and chairs the Department of Music and Theatre at Iowa State University. “She has inspired this organization for many years with tremendous heart and care for the faculty across the nation and most importantly — the students — who she centered in every decision that she made.”
Starting as it did during the 2019-20 academic year, Bombe’s tenure as the KCACTF’s national chair practically began with the global COVID-19 pandemic, which in the early going shuttered in-person gatherings worldwide. It’s a familiar theatre adage, however, that the play must go on. Bombe is pleased that KCACTF’s shift to remote presentations in that spirit not only enabled it to serve students and the theatre community during the pandemic, but led to innovations in using technology that continue to enhance outreach and connection.
“My leadership of this organization came during a tumultuous period, but I am so proud of the way KCACTF was able to not only provide programming during the pandemic, but also make important structural changes to allow for greater access to the opportunities KCACTF offers,” she said.
In the same way, she has valued the opportunity to be part of the KCACTF leadership team as the organization has taken additional steps to build access and inclusion.
“I am most proud of the work of the National Committee for the adoption and implementation of the Representation, Equity, and Diversity (RED) Initiative,” she said. “The RED initiative has changed how we operate as an organization and will lead KCACTF into the future as we continue to enhance the training of the next generation of theatre artists where all students can be assured that they have a valued place in our organization.”
Bombe’s involvement with the KCACTF began in her undergraduate days at the University of Evansville, where she first experienced the opportunities provided by organization. While obtaining her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, she was recognized with a National Design Award honorable mention from KCACTF for her lighting design.
When she began her teaching career at Hope, she immediately signed up to be a responder to travel to colleges to view theatre productions and give a response to the students on their creative work. To date she has traveled and responded to almost 100 collegiate theatre productions.
She was invited to serve on the selection committee for Region III of KCACTF, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Western Ohio, in 2004. She was named Michigan’s state chair in 2006, serving until she stepped down in 2009 to accept the position of the region’s vice chair. She was the Region III chair from 2012 to 2014, and additionally served as the region’s financial director.
Her leadership for the national organization has included representing the eight regional chairs on the National Committee from 2014 to 2015. She was elected national vice chair in 2016, with her term as national chair beginning in 2019. She previously received major recognition for her service in January 2016, when she was presented the Gold Medallion by Region III.
Bombe has been very active in campus governance at Hope. She was elected a Faculty Trustee on the Hope College Board of Trustees for a term from 2008 to 2012, and during her time at the college has chaired or served on several campus boards and committees. Her involvement in the life of the institution also included presenting or co-presenting Winter Happening seminars in both 2006 and 2010 focused on costume design.
She has designed costumes for more than 120 productions in her career, which has included professional work with Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Theatre at Monmouth, and 17 seasons with Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. She was head of design at Kentucky Shakespeare Festival for 10 seasons, interviewing and hiring all of the technical staff, in addition to designing costumes for all the productions. In 2008, the Jasper Arts Center in Jasper, Indiana, held an exhibition titled “Michelle Bombe: Costume Designs for Kentucky Shakespeare Festival 1998-2008.”
Bombe’s design work for Hope College has been recognized with Design Excellence Awards by KCACTF and inclusion in the Region III Costume Parade. She has particularly enjoyed mentoring her costume design students, and it was a memorable highlight for one of her students to be awarded the Costume Design Excellence Award and travel to the National Festival in 2015. Her students have been placed in graduate programs around the country, with many now teaching at colleges and working professionally in the design field. Other highlights of her time at the college include Hope’s 2007 production of “Rose and The Rime,” which appeared at the Regional KCACTF Festival and at the National Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2008.
“Shakespeare Behind Bars,” the prison Shakespeare program founded by her husband, Curt Tofteland, has been an important component of her career as well. She served for 10 years as the costume designer for the original program at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. She appears in the 2005 award-winning documentary, “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” by Philomath Films and has toured film festivals, conferences and colleges across the United States and abroad with Tofteland to talk about her experience working in the prison. She continues to visit the program Tofteland runs in Michigan, and has taught several courses with field trips to the prison in both Michigan and Kentucky.
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.