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Middlebury Students Bring Home Honors at American College Theatre Festival

February 1, 2012

Awards in Dramaturgy, Design, and Acting Are Latest in a Long Line of Tributes


Middlebury, VT—Students and faculty from the Middlebury College Theatre Program have once again earned American College Theatre Festival Honors. The New England/New York regional competition was held January 24-29, 2012 at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Middlebury brought home awards in dramaturgy, costume design, acting, design, and ensemble work.

Six carloads of Middlebury College students and faculty set off for Fitchburg on January 24 for what has become something of a tradition. Middlebury’s Theatre Program has participated in the regional American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) each year since 1987. Very often, Middlebury students are selected to go on to the national Festival, held each April at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. This year was no exception. For the second year in a row, Stephen Mrowiec ’13 was the regional winner of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy Critic’s Intensive Award, entitling him to travel to Washington for the national competition. Mrowiec was honored for his dramaturgical work on the fall 2011 production of Big Love, directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Claudio Medeiros ’90. Mrowiec was also awarded the regional Association for Theatre in Higher Education Dramaturgy Award for Best Program Notes for the same production.

Costume Design Honors

Design students were also regional winners. Threeawards for excellence in costume design were awarded to Middlebury costume design students of artist in residence Jule Emerson. First place went to Annie Ulrich ’13; honorable mentions wetn to Cami Quinonez ’12 and Jordan Jones ’13. This Middlebury sweep has become a frequent occurrence.

Pictured: Costume designers Jordan Jones '13, Annie Ulrich '13, Emma Ermotti '12, Cami Quinonez '12.

Student Playwrights: 10-Minute Play Competition

Playwrights were represented by Naomi Shafer ’11.5 and Jake Swartzwald ’14, whose works were selected for the 10-minute play competition. Their scripts were two of six selected from over 50 entries, and received a rehearsed reading at the festival, with subsequent critique from three professional playwrights. Shafer’s senior thesis play, Pity Party, was read at Middlebury’s Seeler Studio Theatre in December 2011, and will be staged as part of PTP/NYC’s After Dark series in summer 2012, directed by Becca Wear ’10.5. Shafer and Swartzwald have studied playwriting with Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Dana Yeaton ’79.

Student Directors

Directors were also showcased at the Festival; Kelsey Ferguson ’11.5 and Charles Giardina ’12 each presented a scene from Nicky Silver’s black comedy, Pterodactyls, receiving responses from a group of professional directors.

Irene Ryan Acting Competition

The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition is always a feature of ACTF at all levels. This year 228 students and their partners presented scenes on the first day of the festival. Middlebury sent six candidate/partner groups this year: Gillian Durkee ’11.5 (with Christina Fox ’13.5), Christo Grabowski ’12 (also with Fox), Meghan Leathers ’11.5 (with Adam Milano ’15), Mari Vial-Golden ’14 (also with Milano), Molly O’Keefe ’12.5 (with Jake Connolly ’13) and Isabel Shill ’12.5 (also with Connolly). Grabowski, O’Keefe, Leathers, and Vial-Golden advanced to the semi-finals; the latter two went on to the final round, where Vial-Golden was named second alternate to the national festival, and Adam Milano was named best partner.

Middlebury’s Tradition of Excellence at ACTF

Since 1987, Middlebury has produced 22 regional finalists in the Irene Ryan competition; six of those students have continued on to the Kennedy Center. Six students have been named National Barbizon Design Winners. Three students have gone to the Kennedy Center for dramaturgy, and two for playwriting. In addition, Middlebury has sent nine full productions to the regional festivals. Four of these have been produced at the Kennedy Center: The Gamesman (by Shawn Ryan ’88); Scenes from an Execution; The Bewitched (all directed by Richard Romagnoli); and Last Supper Restoration (written and directed by Dan O’Brien ’96.)

victoryensemble2011-photostanbarouhMerit Awards

Finally, Middlebury received three merit awards presented before the start of this year’s festival: Resident Scenic and Lighting Designer Hallie Zieselman received an Inventive Design Award for her work on Big Love. The cast of Victory, directed by Isabel Riexinger Mettler Professor of Theatre Richard Romagnoli, was given a Best Ensemble Award. Romagnoli also received a Best Dramaturgical Award for the show.

Pictured: the ensemble from Victory. Photo Stan Barouh

kcactf_bannerFor this year’s festival, participating students were afforded the opportunity to enroll in an independent study to support their weeks of preparation and to allow for their six-day residency in Fitchburg. The experience was a positive one. Senior Christo Grabowski commented, “…taking this class gave me the opportunity to get a real sense of accomplishment from the work that I produced.” Student director Kelsey Ferguson concurred, “Had I been taking another class, I would likely have spent less time and energy on my scene. By putting in the work that I did, I was able to experience a fun and gratifying rehearsal period, and it made the subsequent feedback that I received more valuable.” Students received constant feedback on their work at Middlebury, along with master classes in their area of festival participation. Professor of Theatre and student advisor Cheryl Faraone and designer Jule Emerson noted, “We have been participating in ACTF for over two decades. It was very clear that the students in 2012’s festival were able to present stronger, more grounded, and prepared work than is sometimes the case. The additional research, reflection, and rehearsal strengthened the overall experience for everyone.”


For more information, contact the Middlebury College Theatre Program at (802) 443-5601 or go to


Top photo courtesy Mark Evancho; second photo courtesy Jule Emerson; third photo by Stan Barouh

Mahaney Center for the Arts
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