The Awakeners (A Profile of Aaron Scully)
By Rachel Bland
Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” This is exactly what a good mentor is for their students: an awakener of passion.
Aaron, or Mr. Scully to his students, has become an awakener in his new position as a faculty member in theatre and dance department at the University of Central Missouri. On top of his responsibilities in this new role, he is also serving at the KCACTF region 5 festival as an Irene Ryans mentor and vice chair elect for the playwriting program. But for the past five years, Aaron attended the festival as a masters and doctorate student competing as an Irene Ryan partner and playwright.
When Aaron first attended KCACTF in 2013 as a graduate student, he came as an Irene Ryans partner, not fully understanding what the festival was. He recalls that first day as being one of fascination, finding himself surrounded by over 1500 theatre artists there to hone their craft for the pure love of the art. The exposure to this was life changing for Aaron.
Seeing the play readings of original works that first year specifically intrigued Aaron and in turn spurred him to enter his own work the following year. Falling in love with the art of playwriting, he continued to submit plays every year with a building success. Many of those plays have sense gone on to be produced by theatres outside of the festival. The plays include The Disappointments, a full length play featuring an alcoholic's journey in a treatment center, which is being produced at the Mizzou new play series next month. These moments of triumph are certainly not taken lightly by Aaron, but are seen as a privilege and opportunity to pass on his passion.
Every time I have spoken with Aaron about his work, he is quick to humility. When speaking about it, he hangs his head a little lower and speaks softly to the honor of having his works selected and performed. Scully feels that there is a responsibility when you are lucky enough to get that kind of recognition and mentorship to follow up and digest those ideas. The work does not stop at the festival, but should be shaped further with every instance of feedback. His advice to students is “to listen. Listen with both ears open. Listen with everything that you have; take in what the mentors and respondents have to say about your work. It is an honor and a responsibility to take these experiences to heart.”
The most rewarding thing for Aaron at the festivals was the various faculty members that offered advice and guidance. Having the chance to be mentored throughout the week was an invaluable learning opportunity that would not have occurred otherwise and helped guide his art. So when it was his turn to step into a faculty position, Aaron was ready and willing to become a mentor at KCACTF
Going from student to faculty member has been a rewarding journey for Aaron. Although he is no longer the one competing, Aaron has been able to mentor several UCM students as they have prepared work to submit. He especially sees this fruition in becoming a mentor in the playwriting program.
This where I come in. I met Aaron one year ago at this very location during KCACTF 49, my first festival at region 5. Like Aaron, I saw readings of many original works; I actually saw three of his plays as stage readings. Something inside of me was awakened and begged to be addressed. It was right then and there that I was inspired to write a play of my own.
When I found out that Aaron would be leading the Central Missouri writer’s workshop at UCM, I jumped at the chance to learn from him. With his guidance and feedback, I wrote my first play. And then rewrote it. And then rewrote it again. But that’s what good mentors like Aaron do-- they challenge you to rework and rewrite, not stopping until the best in a piece is found. They awaken the potential.
I am now finding myself in a place similar to where my mentor Mr. Scully found himself years ago. My original work is being read at KCACTF this year for the first time. As my nerves build at the thought of seeing my words on the stage, I remember what Aaron has divulged to me: this is a learning experience and one that I will not receive anywhere else
So as I go through my last few days at festival and look forward to seeing my own words jump to life on the stage later this week, I choose to soak up the words and examples of faculty member that are now mentoring me. I choose to not see KCACTF so much as a competition, but as an invaluable learning experience. And I hope that when I find myself making the journey to faculty member in the future, I too will jump at the chance to mentor and awaken the passion in my own students.
“Let’s play.” Director Kasey Cox Discusses Caucasian Chalk Circle
By Matthew Briggs
Kasey Cox plays many roles including those of a director, actress, and musician to name a few. However, she will be quick to admit that she is an educator at heart. “My students inspire me,” she says. Along with teaching History of Theatre, Drama Ministry, and Oral Interpretation courses, the 30-year-old instructor of Theatre and Communications at Missouri Baptist University works to tell not only stories about other people, but also those of her students. “Their own stories are varied, dynamic, hard and traumatic, and yet [my students] show up every day desperate to learn and excel in their craft. In spite of any baggage that they carry, they still have hearts that grow to include each other.” Altogether, experiences in the classroom and in rehearsals for productions such as Caucasian Chalk Circle have taught them how to “feel empathy for these characters.”
Like her students, Cox has an immense passion for stories. Shortly after receiving a Music degree from MBU, she became a student at Fontbonne University seeking her Master of Arts degree in Theatre. During her sophomore year, she caught the directing bug and fell in love with “finding the story and collaborating with others.” To this day, the biggest challenge she faces when telling the narrative, especially that of Caucasian Chalk Circle, is maintaining “clarity.”
Bertolt Brecht’s play is a politically charged interpretation of the story of King Solomon and the settlement between two women battling for the same child. When analyzing the play, Cox found that the best way for the actors to connect to the piece was by being involved in blocking decisions. “I would come in[to] every rehearsal and say, ‘Let’s play.’” Cox also mentioned how her “blocking notes are detailed and exact, so it was a struggle to balance the collaboration with healthy direction.” Altogether each aspect of the Biblical tale with intersecting sub-plots, whether it be the blocking, the set drawn on chalkboards, or the actors who play multiple characters, needed to remain lucid, comprehensible, and hopefully memorable.
By the end of the play, Cox hopes audiences walk away asking questions such as: “Did the story have to end that way? What if the characters had made different choices?” She emphasizes that “Brecht wanted audience members to think critically about what they were watching.” With that being said, she encourages audience members to “consider alternate endings and explore the possibilities." “[Caucasian Chalk Circle] is a play about deserving,” Cox said. “Who deserves land? Those that inherited it or those who can do the most with it? Who deserves a child? The one who bores it or who loves it? We all know that the answer to these questions tends to be ‘those with power,’ but through Brecht’s charging play, she hopes audiences question conventional ideas of ownership, and discover their capacity to love and seek justice.
Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht presented by Missouri Baptist University for the KCACTF Region V Festival and plays at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown Hotel Ballroom (700 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309) on January 23rd at 7:00 PM, 10:00 PM, January 24 at 10:00 PM and January 25 at 10:00 PM. Cast: Tyler Gruen, Rachel S. Yarbrough, Matthew Riordan, Jett Wallace, Sarah Ratcliff, Nick Cook, Lindsey Peters, Daniel Dilworth, Cameron Tyler, Nathanael Pezzo. Directed by Kasey Cox and Art Direction by Emily Rice.
Chelsea Smet an Untold Story
By Jo Jabben
Chelsea Smet is one of the playwriters at the KCACTF festival I chose to interview her because I have read a few of her plays and I can relate to them in a sense I cannot relate to most things. (Been lightly edited for readers.)
Q-Where did you grow up?
A-"I was born in Poway, California but raised in Maize, Kansas."
Q-Where did you go to college and what for?
A-"I went to Newman University in Wichita, Kansas for my undergrad degrees. I have a BA in Theatre Performance and a BS in Theology. I am currently at MidAmerica Nazarene University getting education certified."
Q-what influences around you impacted your choice to become a playwriter?
A-"I was reading a lot of modern plays and I wasn't finding anything about people my age (early to mid 20's) or with normal, everyday experiences. I wanted to write a play wrestling with themes I was not seeing explored."
Q-What inspires you?
A-"My cat, Anakin. But to be serious, my mentors Heather Tinker and Mark Mannette as well as the incredible students that help produce readings of my play so that I can continue to improve my work."
Q-What was your original dream? And how did it change over to what you're doing now?
A-"My original dream was to be a director, and it is still something I want to work on pursuing. However, I have found that my strength is in writing. I was originally working on journalism before I found myself drawn to writing plays."
Q-What are you currently working on that led you to KCACTF?
A-"My full-length play The Other People was the NAPAT nominee for Region 5 and I will be working on editing it and resubmitting for nationals.
Q-What all are you involved in at KCACTF?
A-"I am somewhat of an Irene Ryan nominee coach, as well as involved in many of the playwriting competitions."
Q-Does being a part of KCACTF do to help you with your future dream?
A-"Yes! There are so many opportunities here and chance to share your work and collaborate with others. Additionally, it is a great networking opportunity."
Q-What will you have coming up in the future?
A-"University of Central Missouri and MidAmerica Nazarene University are each producing one of my one acts this semester. Newman University, my alma mater, is producing my full-length play “The Other People”. Also, I am about to play Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” at MNU! I am so excited!"
Today and Tomorrow: The Future of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival
By Allie Kantack
In spirit of the festival’s 50th Anniversary, Brad Dell (Region Chair) encouraged us to celebrate not by looking back, but by moving theatre forward. Here is a look at what the future may hold for KCACTF.
What is your favorite part about KCACTF?
“The variety of different things that are available to us. I feel like there’s always something new that I could be doing. I went to a workshop and they talked about how theatre can help with the #MeToo Movement and how we can, as a community, further that discussion. I really appreciate the wealth of knowledge that’s here. Everybody I’ve talked to that have led workshops are so knowledgeable. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount a time.” - Ellie Larson, St. Ambrose University
How does it feel to be a part of something that’s now 50 years old?
“Oh my gosh. That’s crazy! This is my third year and each year I’ve been doing something else. I always see the same types of workshopping done, but it’s always something different. Being able to take a festival like this and adapt it each year is something that’s really spectacular. And also just the type of plays that they decide to showcase here. That’s probably my favorite part. Going to the shows every year where you’re all seeing the same new thing but you’re all interpreting it in different ways.” - Breana Burggraff College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University
Is there anything new you would like to see in future festivals?
“I would love to see the people who don’t go through the Musical Theatre Intensive event get a chance to workshop their performances. If not all of them, at least a decent group of them. I would also love for there to be an annual opening night performance like we had this year with Brian Quijada. That should definitely not be a one-time thing!” - Doni Marinos, Mankato State University
How do you predict future festivals may change in upcoming years?
“In the opening ceremony, they talked a lot about diversity and inclusion, and I think that’s amazing. I really want to see growth of that in the future. Theatre is all about connecting with each other, and I know that we learn a lot when we talk to people and hear what their stories are. I’ve seen a lot of different backgrounds in KCACTF this year and hopefully it just grows to be more colorful.” - Melvin Thampy, Wichita State University
How do you predict theatre will change in the future?
“The way in which we tell stories is changing. There are new structures that speak to broader audiences. As we examine the human condition, which exists in the way we communicate with each other, I think the artist will lead the way to make the world great again by reminding us that we are united, not divided, by our diversity. Our strengths are in that union. In theatre, we’ll create the community that will change the world. I have great hope.” - Julie Mollenkamp, National Playwriting Program Chair for Region V
Playwright Amy Taylor takes full advantage of KCACTF’s offerings
By Rachel Phillips
It’s only been a few years since Amy Taylor wrote her first play. She started at the University of Missouri as a pre-med major and ended up hating it. A friend suggested she take a playwriting class to relax, and that simple recommendation changed the course of Taylor’s life. Biochemistry was out; playwriting stuck.
Now a senior, Taylor returns to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for a second time. Last year, her full-length play “Reincarnation” was recognized. This year, her play “Glass People” will be performed in the 10-minute play festival.
I sat down with Taylor to talk about her KCACTF experience. Her responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to write “Glass People”?
I was reading a book called “The History of Love,” and it was about the evolution of people. It said that at one point, people were made out of glass, and I thought that was a really interesting concept to run with. So, I wrote the story about a man who thinks he’s made out of glass and thinks he’s going to shatter at any time.
What made you want to bring this play to the festival?
I got to come last year, and I had a really good time. I was proud of this play that I wrote, so I was like I might as well just submit something. It’s my last year that I can go. I’m a senior, so I was like, I might as well do it. I was excited because it was so fun last year. And it’s held up; it’s fun this year, too.
What has your experience working on the 10-minute play festival been like so far?
It’s been really fun. I got lucky. My director is Alex Hollmann, and he’s awesome. We, from day one, were on the same page with our vision. We just cast it a couple days ago, and my cast is really sweet. There are only three of them, but it’s been fun. Everyone’s really open to ideas.
What are you hoping to gain from the experience of putting the show on at the festival?
There’s going to be a talkback afterwards with the respondents, so I’m excited to hear that. I signed up for the NPP [National Playwriting Program] mentorship, so I’ve talked to Jessica Wang about it already. There’s going to be three other respondents who’ll give us feedback on it, which I think will be really helpful. I’ve put it through workshops at Mizzou, and I got some stuff out of that. But, I already have a bunch of ideas for edits for my play when I get back home. I’ve thought things in the last few days that I never really thought about.
What else are you involved in this week at the festival?
I’ve just been doing workshops really with the rest of my time and seeing plays. I have a lot of friends here that wrote plays, so I’ve been going to all their stuff, trying to support the Mizzou family as best I can.
The 10-minute play festival will be performed at 1 p.m. on Jan. 26 at Temple Theater. Alex Hollmann directs the cast of “Glass People,” which includes Tyler Hughes, Jack Warring and Brooklyn Schiesow.