Hope College Theatre Department receives recognition at the Region III Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

The Hope College Theatre Department is proud of the hard work and effort of their students. Hope Theatre participates in the Region III Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The annual regional theatre festival is a gathering of more than 1,300 college theatre students and faculty who join together to showcase the best work of the five-state region of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. In addition to invited productions that are juried and selected to perform, theatre students also have the opportunity to display their work in dramaturgy, design, stage management, directing, playwriting, musical theatre, as well as acting.

This year, Hope College received incredible recognition. Senior Akia Nyrie Smith and her scene partner senior Sam Hill, received the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award, sophomore Emmie Sandstedt received the Stage Management Fellowship, and junior Rachel Dion was selected for the KCACTF/Lort Leadership Award for artistic administrators. These four students will represent Hope College and attend the National KCACTF festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in April.

Junior Rachel Dion
Sophomore Emmie Sandstedt

As Smith put it, “I just feel very grateful and honored. I am in a very mixed state of shock. I honestly didn’t think I would be here, but I was hoping and I was praying. And I couldn’t be happier with the turn out.”

Senior Akia Nyrie Smith and her Irene Ryan partner, Sam Hill.

Other special recognition at the festival included participants and their scene partners who advanced to the semi-final round of the Irene Ryan Acting scholarship: senior Kierney Johnson and her partner senior Elizabeth Schonfeld, junior Rachel Dion and her partner sophomore Maxwell Lam, and sophomore Gracen Barth and her partner junior Shanley Smith.

The Irene Ryan semi-finalists and their partners.

Senior Nathan Gingrich was a Stage Management finalist and sophomores Teresa Cameon and Katie Joachim were finalists for the Musical Theatre Intensive that included an opportunity to perform in the Musical Theatre Intensive showcase.

Sophomores Katie Joachim and Teresa Cameon.
Senior Nathan Gingrich alongside Theatre Office Manager Reagan Chesnut and sophomore Emmie Sandstedt.

Other accomplishments at the festival include the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship participants and their scene partners – junior Jose Angulo and his partner junior Brynne Fritjofson, junior Olivia Lehnertz and her partner senior Griffin Baer, and junior Katrina Dykstra and her partner sophomore Katie Joachim. Junior Olivia Lehnertz also participated in the Dramaturgy program.

Junior Olivia Lehnertz presenting her dramaturgy research.

Hope College Theatre Department was also selected to tour their production of “The Line Between” as a participating production to the festival. This regional recognition was a great honor for the entire cast and production team. “The Line Between” had two performances on during the festival.     

The cast and crew of “The Line Between” with Hope College President Dennis and Betty Voskuil.

As Lehnertz said, “It was a really great opportunity to tell this story for our peers in theatre. The audience was so engaged and supportive. It’s definitely a highlight of my college career.”

Congratulations to the Hope College Theatre Department for the honors received at the festival!

Theatre Alumni Emily Svendson (’15) and WAR PAINT

Hope College Theatre alumni Emily Svendson (‘15) has been backstage on Broadway as a wardrober for WAR PAINT.

Starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, WAR PAINT is a new musical about the women who dominated the beauty industry, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. With fierce competition, the two women sacrificed everything to become two of the country’s first major female entrepreneurs.

Svendson has been working with the production for the past year and a half, starting with the early stages in Chicago.

“WAR PAINT has been the most difficult and most rewarding journey I have been on. This show has been a huge part of my life for the last year and a half. I worked on the out of town last summer at the Goodman Theatre and even then in its early stages, it was a huge, challenging show. Once we started in New York, I knew most of the company from the summer but there were a million of new challenges and problems to face. From learning Union Rules, adjusting to little bitty living spaces, and many others, I have learned so so much about myself as a dresser, an artist, and as a human. It’s been the most surreal experience. If you told thirteen year old Emily (who sat in her room and cried to I Dreamed a Dream almost every day) that she would do a quick change with Patti LuPone, she would have thrown cheese in your face,” Svendson said.

As a wardrober, it is Svendson’s job to maintain costume quality during every performance. She assists with quick changes, attends to costume mishaps and makes sure that everything is ready to go. Some off-stage changes can be as quick as 30 seconds!

During performance, Svendson and her crew would start little backstage rituals to keep the buzz of backstage bustling – whether it be high fives to the beat of the music or spending time with Ms. LuPone when she was around.

WAR PAINT gave its final performance on Nov. 5 so LuPone can undergo immediate hip replacement surgery. For Svendson, closing week was crazy and strange.

“We were fortunate to know that it was coming (sometimes you don’t get much notice) but it’s still en ending of a huge chapter. During the week, we spent our down time getting ready for load out: cleaning out dressing rooms, sending every costume to dry cleaning, organize accessories. Our closing performance was one that was really special. The energy from the audience was positive and full of love, which made everything that we were doing worth it. Change is always hard but it brings bright new beginnings,” Svendson said.

Now that the production has closed, Svendson hopes to trust the process and continue to find  more work.

“That’s the best and worst part about Broadway; nothing is ever certain. It’s terrifying that you could spend years on a show only for it to last a few months. But that’s how this business goes. You just dust yourself off and keep going.”

Devising Workshop with Rich Perez

The DeWitt stage was the location for the first of a workshop series for the launch of  faculty member Rich Perez’s new devised project.

The Hope College Theatre Department has a strong commitment to creating new plays and specifically devised work. The department has partnered with  Nathan Allen for Rose and the Rime (2007) and with The Hinterlands for  Goodbye Beauty, Hello Dust (2015) and recreated  The House Theatre of Chicago’s,  The Sparrow (2015).

Last spring, students devised The Line Between with Hope Theatre alums Dan Kwiatkowski and Erik Saxvik. The opportunity sparked a flame for students to use their voices and tell their own stories.

Devised theatre is a collaborative process in which the script is developed with the entire company of actors and designers.  The method can vary, but in The Line Between, students created the work through workshops, writing prompts, movement exercises, imagery,  and structured improve, to create the original play.

This upcoming spring, that flame with spark again. Faculty member Rich Perez will direct the final production of the season, a devised piece completely created by students.

The production hopes to pull influence from the classic Western and martial arts. Perez hopes to take these dominantly male genres and flip them on their heads – creating opportunities to showcase powerful women.

The workshop began with the group of students participants split into three groups – poets, musicians, and  dancers. Each group took 20 minutes to come up with a creative presentation in their area with only the word ‘transformation’ as inspiration.

20 minutes later, each group gathered and shared their performances.  The musicians had each brought an ordinary object – a fork, a knife, a box of push pins – and together they created a groovy kind of orchestra.

The dancers began spread out across stage and each started slight movements in their own time. Together they clumped in the middle, reaching toward the sky. Continuing their performance, they formed into a single file line and followed each other and repeated the movements of the leader at the front.

The poets stood up and each person read a short five to eight line poem they had wrote. Each one offered a new take on the word ‘transformation’.

Perez couldn’t have been more thrilled about the workshop.

“I felt incredibly inspired by our first devising workshop! Those who participated were courageous, energetic and worked extremely well together,” Perez said. “I was able to gain insights into our actors’ strengths and challenges, which will give them a leg-up in ensuing workshops and the subsequent audition. It is my goal is to make sure everyone is on an equal playing field when they come to audition in November. Hopefully even more people will attend our next workshop, focusing on stage violence.”

The Hollows – Meet DK & Erik

The Hope College Theatre Department is excited to welcome back alumni Daniel Kwiatkowski (DK) and Erik Saxvik. DK and Erik are founding members of The Hollows, a folk/roots/rock band based in New York. The Hollows are working  with the Hope Theatre Department in order to devise a piece that will perform on the mainstage in the upcoming Spring semester.

This past weekend, theatre students could be found in the Studio Theatre with DK and Erik, participating in workshops to start the process for the devised piece. Twelve hours in the basement of DeWitt were filled with movement work, partner exercises, music, and the opportunity to create a short play.

Hope Theatre sophomores Rachel Dion and Olivia Lehnertz had the opportunity to sit down with DK and Erik and ask them what their time at Hope was like and how the idea to devise a piece came about.  

Why did you choose to attend Hope College?

DK: I had a family member that I was very close to who went to Hope, so she got me interested. And I knew I wanted to do theatre … I went to Hope, saw a production of a Sondheim review that I was really impressed with, and then when I did my DAA’s, I got a DAA [Distinguished Artist Award] Scholarship. That kinda sealed the deal. It made me feel like, ‘This is probably where I’m meant to be.’

Erik: For me, I had two friends who I graduated high school with who came here. And I took a gap year … So I came up and saw them both in two productions throughout the course of the year, and I was really impressed. It really got me excited. … I wasn’t even sure I was going to do theatre when I got here, but I knew that it could be a community or a home that I could have. Same thing, I auditioned for DAA and got it… So friends, and good productions.

Where did you live on campus?

DK: I lived on the second floor of Kollen my freshman year. To me it felt like the Wild Wild West.

Erik: I lived on Durfee third floor, and our junior year we lived in Belt cottage, and the whole house was theatre guys. The majority of my memories at Hope are from Belt cottage.

What was your favorite production at Hope?

Erik: Everything I worked on was awesome, I really enjoyed working with Daina [Robins] and John [Tammi]. But for me, the most meaningful was the 490 that DK and I did with three of our closest friends. It was our senior year here, and it was a play called Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, it’s about 3 prisoners in a Lebanese prison. Frank McGuinness is the playwright. It’s about three guys who are chained to a wall, an Irishman, an Englishman and an American.

DK: It kinda sounds like a joke set up.

Erik: It does sound like a joke set up. DK directed it and I acted in it and did lighting design.

DK: There are so many memorable productions. My freshman year I was really lucky, I got to work with Daina both semesters, on a really great musical and Shakespeare. My last show was with Eric, The Cherry Orchard, and we were blubbering like babies when we took our final curtain call as seniors. I did three or four 490’s, and this one [Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me] was the first one I didn’t perform in, and it was the first time I ever directed a full-length play. It was really eye-opening, and just a really powerful experience all the way through.

When you were a student here, what did you think you would be doing post-graduation?

DK: It’s interesting, we thought we were gonna move to Chicago together once we got out of Hope, ‘cause it’s a good stepping stone and a decent theatre town. We found a place, and the day before we were gonna leave…

Erik: I had the lease in my hand..

DK: I was still in Michigan, I was sleeping on a buddy’s floor, Erik was back in Illinois, and Erik was like, ‘I don’t think this is the right move for me. I think I gotta go to grad school.’ So Erik went to San Francisco. A couple weeks later a buddy of mine called me and said, ‘Do you wanna move to New York with me?’ And I said yes. Come to find out, the place we were supposed to move into [in Chicago] burned to the ground. So we clearly weren’t meant to be in Chicago. When I think about my experiences in New York, and the different jobs I’ve had to do, the places it’s taken me around the world…my three best friends from Hope live in New York and we’re in a band together, we went on a national tour over the summer, now Erik and I are here [in Holland] doing this. Some days you feel like, I have so many regrets, but then there are other days where you’re like, I can’t believe I live this incredible, crazy life. Hope really did prepare me for all those things, like I wouldn’t be a carpenter in New York if it wasn’t for Paul Anderson.

Erik: I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’ve never been the type of person to set a goal for myself ten years down the road, because I always think there’d be too many opportunities that I would miss. I always try to be present and open in the moment. I never in a million years thought I would be in a band. I didn’t learn how to play guitar until I was in the band, actually, and now it’s like 95% of what I do in the band.

How did your time at Hope prepare you for life after graduation?

DK: You can think about it retrospectively, like a decade after you’ve been here, and you can pinpoint specific moments, but it’s definitely hard to see what it prepared you for and what it didn’t. The fact that we still have a strong relationship with the professors that taught us over a year ago, and working with Daina… She definitely taught me how to be committed, which goes a lot further beyond the practice of theatre. Because of Hope Summer Rep Theatre, when Erik and I moved to New York, we knew dozens and dozens of people. We already had this community, so it was not a lonely place to be.

Erik: The big difference for me between high school and college theatre, was that in college I really felt like the faculty had my back. I felt like they really only wanted me to succeed, and instilled in me an incredible amount of confidence. They believed that i was capable, no matter how hard I failed… I have very vivid memories of immediate failures onstage, but they still never made me feel like anything less than totally capable. Daina really supported me in getting my masters degree, and encouraged me to apply to the top schools. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

When did you have the idea to come back to Hope and devise a piece?

Erik: It was all Daina [Robins]… A year and a half ago. She came to New York and saw the band play.

DK: She had read a couple of scripts that I had written, and she’d read a script that Erik and I wrote together. … About two years ago we started more seriously mentioning it in passing a lot more. … And then, yeah, she just came to New York and said “Let’s go to lunch.”

Erik: And I had told her years ago, after I got out of grad school, “Hey, I would love to come teach a Master Class sometime.” I just felt really compelled. There was no other relevant place for me to want to bring back, I spent three years in San Francisco … learning things and working on them. Right when I got out of school I felt immediately compelled to want to bring that back here. … The whole experience is really meaningful.