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'Much Ado' cast, crew prepare production for Kennedy Center festival competition
1/09/14

The cast and crew of the Alfred University (AU) Performing Arts Division’s production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” has returned to campus from holiday break a bit early to prepare the play for its competitive run at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s (KCACTF) Region II award program.

The group is meeting and working daily now through departure for the festival on Tuesday, Jan. 14, said Dr. Becky Prophet, the show’s director and professor of theater. Some 33 cast and crew members – a majority of the student, staff, and faculty from the original campus production - will travel to competition host West Chester University for the Jan. 14-18 event.

“We have to restage the play – moving it from a thrust (platform or open stage) configuration and the intimacy of the C.D. Smith Theatre (on the AU campus) to a proscenium (stage “framed” by an arch and the audience sits directly in front) theater that seats 500 people,” Prophet explained.

The KCACTF includes eight national regions. “Five to eight plays representing the best college theater in Region II (colleges from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and parts of Virginia and West Virginia) will be represented in the West Chester program. This year there were nearly 200 plays entered for festival consideration,” noted Prophet.

“In addition to restaging for a very different theater, we are all working together to make sure that the actors use excellent and safe vocal technique for the much larger space,” continued Prophet.  “We are also adjusting the actual ways the characters are performed to accommodate an audience that is much further away from the actors.

“All of the actors are also joining the crew to readjust costumes, scenery, props, and sound to fit the larger theater.  We are not increasing any of those things but we are refreshing some and making everything works just a bit better,” she noted.

Prophet described the intensity of the preparation and staging.

“Every member of the company will have at least three different jobs as we tour this play to KCACTF. Thus, we are rehearsing those new positions, just as much as we are rehearsing the play itself.  We must work as a strong and efficient, content and careful ensemble to rebuild and then move “Much Ado About Nothing” to the festival and then bring everything back to Alfred again.”

The preparation time in Alfred is also a bonding experience, said Prophet.

“The cast and crew are having dinner together every night (at the Prophet home). This is wonderful social time that carries over into the rehearsal hours. It is truly a good and engaging time for everyone. And, Craig Prophet (Becky’s spouse) is a marvelous help and support as we cook a meal a day for 32 people!”

Once the group arrives in West Chester everyone will work on the two performances of “Much Ado About Nothing” that AU is scheduled to perform, rehearsing once a day until the performance dates. In addition, all members of the group will have the opportunity to participate in other festival activity including viewing design/tech/management exhibits; joining the Directing Institute (which Prophet created and continues to coordinate); and attending workshops on such topics as dramaturgy, theater criticism, and  “Next Steps” for those about to graduate, said Prophet. Eight productions and some 100 workshops and numerous exhibits, readings, and small performances are scheduled for the festival, she added.  

Costumes for the show were designed by Allison Burrell, a senior art and design major from Corning. Rebecca Cooner, a sophomore early childhood/childhood education major from Gasport, is stage manager. Division of Performing Arts staff member Zachary Hamm, technical director, fills that role for the production. Professor of Theater Design Marketa Fantova, who served as lighting designer for the campus production will be unable to make the trip to West Chester.

Written between 1598 and 1599, “Much Ado About Nothing” is widely considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. Combining hilarity with more serious elements such as honor, shame, and court politics, it intersperses joy and happiness with darker concerns such as trickery and dishonesty. Keeping the original plot, the AU cast and crew “moved” the play from Sicily, Italy to a setting in Miami, FL, in 1930.

Begun in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens, the Kennedy Center's founding chairman, KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide which has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States. The KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theater departments and student artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF respondents.

In January and February of each year, regional festivals showcase the finest of each region's entered productions and offer a variety of activities, including workshops, symposia, and regional-level award programs.

Since its inception, 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. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended approximately 10,000 festival productions nationwide.

Through state, regional, and national festivals, KCACTF participants celebrate the creative process, see one another's work, and share experiences and insights within the community of theater artists. The KCACTF honors excellence of overall production and offers student artist’s individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design.         

Prophet is an alumna of Alfred University, holding a bachelor of arts degree in English. She received a master of arts degree and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Having spent nearly three decades working and teaching in theater, she has acted, directed, and taught in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Atlanta.

Prophet enjoys directing plays which challenge students and audiences and favors theater which presses for social and political change. She is highly active in KCACTF and Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and has created an intensive directing institute for students, presents numerous workshops and papers, and directs new plays at every conference.