By Elinor Keck, student news writer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Theatre and dance students Lauren Phillips and Gavin Johnson represented Campbellsville University well at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) last week, as both were semifinalists in both the Musical Theatre Initiative (MTI) and the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competitions.
Phillips, with Johnson as her partner, advanced to the final round of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition and received the Southeastern Theatre Conference Comedic Performance Award.
Phillips also received the Musical Theater Initiative Torch Song Award for her performance of “Some People” from “Gypsy.” In addition, for her work on “Eurydice,” Phillips was awarded Regional first place in sound design.
The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) is a national theater program involving 18,000 students annually from colleges and universities across the country. According to their website, the KCACTF has given more than 400,000 college theater students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills and receive national recognition for excellence.
This year was the first time Campbellsville University students advanced to the semifinals in the MTI. The MTI begins with 100 students in the competition, with 20 then selected as semifinalists.
The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships goes from 300 nominees to 36 semifinalists.
At the conference, students from large and small schools competed against each other.
To attend the festival, students are nominated by respondents who attend university theatre productions.
This was Johnson’s first time at the festival after being nominated for his work as Orpheus in a production of “Eurydice” on campus last year.
While Phillips has been nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship and participated in the festival for four consecutive years, for the past two years, the festival has been conducted virtually.
For the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, Phillips performed monologues from “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare and “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl.
For the semifinals, she and Johnson performed a scene from “Reasons to be Pretty” by Neil LaBute. For the MTI competition, Phillips performed “Some People” from Gypsy.
“This is my second time winning the SETC Comedic Performance award, and the first time I have ever moved on from the first round of MTI,” Phillips said. “Everyone at KCACTF was so very supportive of Gavin and me. It is an experience I will never forget.
“I have always struggled with having confidence in my singing voice, so receiving recognition from MTI for my ‘Torch Song’ was completely unexpected and meant a whole lot to me.”
Johnson, for the Irene Ryan scholarship, performed the monologues “Killer Joe” by Tracy Letts and “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani in the preliminary round. After advancing to the semifinals, Johnson and Phillips performed a scene from “The Owl and the Pussy Cat” by Edward Lear. In the MTI competition, Johnson sang “Moving Too Fast” from “The Last Five Years.”
For the Irene Ryan scholarship, Johnson said, “They forgot to announce my name at first. So I didn’t know I was in the semifinals until the next day when I got an email…It was crazy. That was definitely a great experience.”
Starr Garrett, director of the Russ Mobley Theatre and professor of theatre, is the KCACTF respondent coordinator for Kentucky and Tennessee. She is also deputy coordinator for the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy and the co-vice chair-elect for the region until April, when she becomes the vice chair.
Garrett said one of the Department of Theatre and Dance’s strengths is encouraging their students to be themselves and highlighting their individuality.
“I think [Gavin] is a talented performer, and he consistently works hard to be a better performer,” Garrett said. “Lauren is talented in multi-faceted ways, and what I appreciate about her is she’s always willing to try something new.”
“I will also say, I think Gavin and Lauren stood out this year because they were talented, they were onstage quite a bit, but they were also really kind when they were offstage.”
For the MTI semifinals, there is a room where performers can warm up, and when Phillips and Johnson arrived, many of the performers looked nervous, Garrett said.
Phillips sat down at the piano, and they invited everybody to warm up together, Garrett said.
“Rather than just taking care of themselves, they took the initiative to take care of everybody in the space,” Garrett said. “I think that’s sweet.”
Both Phillips and Johnson are from Campbellsville. Phillips is a senior majoring in theatre performance, and Johnson is a junior also majoring in theatre performance. They both plan to continue venturing into the world of theatre post-graduation.
“Performing full-time would be the absolute dream,” Johnson said.
Phillips said, “After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in stage management, directing, or performance…Definitely a career in theatre!”
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.