Local Theater Arts Students Go to Semi-Finals of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Three students from Genesee Community College's Theatre Arts program were nominated to participate in the annual Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF), and for the first time in the College's history two students achieved semi-finalist status. The event took place on the campus of the State University of New York at New Paltz, January 17-20, 2006. The nationally renowned festival showcases talent from more than 600 colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Elizabeth Batt from Buffalo, Jaime Arena from Batavia, and Tiffany Widdrick of Cathridge competed in the festival based on their portrayals in the College's Forum Players' production of "Agnes of God" that was produced for local audiences in October 2005. Laurali McLean, stage manager for "Agnes" accompanied Ms. Arena as a scene partner. Arena and McLean were among just 32 participants to advance to the semi-final competition from a field of 268 who proceeded to the semi-finals.

Ms. Batt competed with scenes from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and Camille Simon's "God's Favorite." Arena and McLean portrayed characters from "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove" by Jane Chambers and "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" by Charles Bush. Participants are encouraged to juxtapose a serious dramatic piece with a more lighthearted selection to explore variations and range in acting.

According to Batt, a second year theatre arts major at Genesee, "it means the world to get compliments after a show. But to know that you're going to be competing against universities is a privilege." Arena said that they were "in shock" when they discovered they were nominated, especially since the judges mispronounced Arena's name. "Even as I was walking up to the stage, I was thinking, 'did they really say my name?' " Maryanne Arena, Director of Fine and Performing Arts at Genesee (and the mother of semi-finalist Jaime), began preparing for "Agnes of God" during the summer break. "I told the girls to go home, learn your lines. When we came back in September, that's when we really got into the characters." In fact, Arena explains, "When they weren't working with me, they were working together. They were working vocally, they were working physically, they were doing research." Once the students were nominated they prepared "almost continuously for two months to get ready for the festival," according to Jaime Arena.

Theatre professor David Shuler served as a judge in this year's festival and Maryanne Arena also was a respondent at this year's festivities.

"One of the things we look for at KC/ACTF is 'can you pick material that's suitable for you? How well do you work with a partner?' " Arena said. "I've only been here for 18 months so I'm really proud of this accomplishment. We're trying to build a reputation. We want to make this a program that kids want to come to…kids who have a choice." Batt agrees, "maybe we've opened to door, for future students."

McLean, who typically works backstage learned "there's a lot more dedication in theatre than I thought. To get on stage and react honestly to a comment has really made me grow as a person." While she continues to "enjoy the power" that a backstage role affords her, she "hopes that I get to go back to KC/ACTF with my own nomination."

Ultimately, KC/ACTF is a learning experience and the participants receive important feedback from judges. The young actresses learned that, with a 5-minute scene limit, they would "definitely cut a few more lines next time." Batt welcomed the critique saying, "The judges' comments on why we didn't go to the next level were so helpful. It was a blocking thing; there was too much physicality in the personal scenes. I've learned that if I'm angry with someone, I may get up and move away from them. Well, if you're really angry with someone, you may make them move away from you. Little things like that are crucial in acting."

As for Arena, the advice was much more practical. The judges told me, "don't wear black, all I can see is your head against a black curtain." She also added that "my mom always told me to never stop learning, and I have so much respect for Liz and Laurali and Tiffany. With the confidence we've gained at ACTF, there's no telling where we'll go."