Hope College sophomore Danai Mandebvu of Harare, Zimbabwe, is one of only eight students, from colleges and universities across the United States, to have been named a National Aspire Arts Leadership Fellow for 2023 by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).

Mandebvu will participate in a week-long program occurring as part of the annual national American College Theater Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., during the week of April 17. She was selected from among students from across the country who participated in online ASPIRE programming in the latter part of February and early March.

“Danai is a promising theatre artist who embraces the concept of becoming a citizen artist,” said Michelle Bombe, a professor of theatre and chair of the department at Hope who is national chair of KCACTF. “Danai cares deeply about her community and how theatre can make an impact. The ASPIRE program is a perfect place for her to continue to manifest her ideas and grow her theatrical sensibilities.”

As described by KCACTF, the ASPIRE program “is designed to cultivate a new generation of artistic and administrative leaders for the American theatre with a focus of engaging Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and members of other groups that are consistently underrepresented in the field.” The eight fellows will engage in topics concerning, equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism, as well as leadership-skills building, investigation of institutional challenges and professional networking opportunities. The curriculum is designed and led by professionals from League of Resident Theatres (LORT) institutions in partnership with staff from the Kennedy Center and the American College Theater Festival regional chairs.

One fellow was chosen from each of the KCACTF’s eight regions. Hope is in Region III, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Western Ohio.

Mandebvu was previously honored during the Region III festival in January. She was the runner-up for the highly competitive Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Audition Award, receiving a $500 cash prize and becoming the alternate to attend the festival in Washington, D.C., for the national competition along with her acting partner, freshman Sofia Wake of Washington, Illinois. She was nominated for her performance in Hope College Theatre’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” in the fall of 2022. She was 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 in January 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.”

Mandebvu is double-majoring in theatre and global studies, with a concentration in global cultures and societies. She has been involved in multiple productions by the Department of Theatre. Her activities as a student have also included the Phelps Scholars Program, which is a residential, academic program through which students study topics related to diversity; the Asian Student Union; the Chapel Choir; and serving as a residence life assistant.