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Every year on some unknown night during a run of a Weber State University theater production, adjudicators from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival come to watch and decide what productions to select for the festival. The WSU theater department has always been invested in trying to compete on this national stage and has consistently had shows selected to go to the Region 8 festival.
One of the first selections from WSU was an original work by WSU faculty Jim Christian called “Pirated.” In 2001, Tracy Callahan, a WSU faculty member for almost 12 years, took a work called “The Serpent.” One year, WSU had both its major shows selected for the festival, “which never happens,” according to set designer Van Tinkham.
“I’ve never worked in a department that was so invested in getting our name and our work out there outside Utah,” Callahan said.
Callahan said KCACTF is especially attracted to new works, so she and other faculty are on the lookout for such shows.
This year, “Charm,” directed by Callahan, was selected for the festival. There is a relaunch of the performance today and Saturday, Jan. 18-19 in the Eccles Theater.
The first two weeks of October 2012 was when WSU launched the first-ever university production of “Charm,” a play by Massachusetts-turned-local playwright Kathleen Cahill. Callahan had first seen it at the Salt Lake Acting Company. The play is a blend of fact and romance, magical speculation and storytelling skill that details the life and times of Margaret Fuller, a 19th-century woman ready to transcend even the transcendentalism made popular in her day by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who are featured in the play. Fuller worked with some of these men on “The Dial” as one of its first-ever female editors.
Cahill sets Fuller’s story in an era opposite Fuller’s — the ’60s, the era of sexual revolution, feminist ideas and freedoms for women that Fuller’s generation never saw.
KCACTF was started in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens and currently involves more than 18,000 students from colleges and universities across the nation, with a special acting audition/award opportunity from a scholarship established by Irene Ryan (Granny Clampett from “The Beverly Hillibillies”) for students deemed worthy to be sent directly to the Kennedy Center. Students can also be individually sent in categories like theater journalism, design and technology, devised performance, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting, scholarly papers, stage management and student leadership.
Last year’s Region 8 festival was held at WSU. This year’s Region 8 festival will be held in Los Angeles. Each production often has two actors nominated for the Irene Ryan Award. This year’s performance of “Charm” has three nominees: Trent Cox, Trevor Dean and Connor Padilla. Shawnee Johnston, who plays Fuller, was nominated last year.