The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) recently honored representatives from The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Theatre and Dance who participated in UTEP’s fall 2020 radio production of “ReUnión rEvolución.”
The series of radio programs based on four plays won The Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award given to programs in higher education that used theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through art, encouraged empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world, and advocated for justice on campus and throughout the world.
Festival respondents, who act as judges, also honored the production with Special Achievement awards in the categories of Virtual Community Engagement and Audience Development, Ensemble Collaboration – Performance and Production, Sound Design (Ian Gilliam), and Direction (Rebecca Rivas, “A Farm for Meme”).
Rivas, who earned her bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from UTEP in 2004 and was a former theatre faculty member, is an artistic associate and program director with TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Kim McKean, assistant professor of theatre and the lead organizer behind “ReUnión,” was pleased that the KCACTF recognized the series. The production’s initial concept was to be a live, three-day event in March 2020 to celebrate local and national Latinx talent. It was canceled due to COVID-19.
“Through our festival we were able to engage with the community, increase representation for Latinx stories and voices, and cultivate new production and performance skills for our students and faculty, so the recognition from the Kennedy Center along with all of the above, is extremely meaningful for our department,” McKean said.
Cristina Goletti, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, said that the KCACTF honors verify the program’s quality and innovative thinking, specifically its faculty and students. She said the experience pushed their knowledge and boundaries.
“I believe it’s particularly significant that we received this recognition for a project that was conceived before the pandemic and had to be completely re-thought for the digital/virtual/online delivery,” said Goletti, who praised McKean and Georgina Hernández Escobar, assistant professor of practice/playwriting, for their vision and leadership.
Escobar said the Citizen Artist Award is important because it is tied to one of the ideals of President John F. Kennedy, the center’s namesake, to utilize and activate art to have a positive impact on society. It showed the nation that the work done at UTEP nurtures the department’s connection to the community at its roots.
Gilliam, a senior theatre arts major who graduated in May 2021, said he considered the special achievement award in sound design as recognition of his hard work on “ReUnión rEvolución” and validation of what he learned technically and personally as an undergraduate.
He said his job had two sides. First, he needed to understand his director’s goals to design the right sounds for the audience such as spooky, dramatic or comedic. Second, he needed to find or compose the right music or sound effect to achieve the right mood.
“I’ve done a lot of design work and learned a little more with each project to include how to work with people,” said Gilliam, who will spend this summer with the audio/visual unit of the Santa Fe Opera. “I think this award means that I worked well with my team.”
The radio series was broadcast on Saturdays in September 2020 on the “State of the Arts” show on KTEP-FM (88.5). Each production had different playwrights and directors. The anthology featured stories about ghosts, a folk tale, religious satire and a monologue told in two voices. Each episode was about 20-minutes long.
KCACTF is a national organization that celebrates the creative and educational process of university and college theatre. The festival promotes professional standards and provides students and faculty with chances to connect academic and professional worlds. KCACTF honors achievements in diversity and excellence and encourages experiences in all areas of theatre.