La Sierra drama team nails first Kennedy Center awards
November 4, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) When Marilynn Loveless arrived at La Sierra University nearly five years ago to direct its drama program, she brought years of experience, a roster of awards and a desire to propel the program upward.
Over the past years, Loveless entered four La Sierra productions in the nationally acclaimed Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival without placement. These were the university’s first efforts at competing for Kennedy Center awards. But this year all the hard work and determination reaped different results. The drama team nabbed four meritorious awards for its avant garde spring production of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The Kennedy Center’s national theater education program, part of the Rubinstein Arts Access Program, is based at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. The festival recognizes quality university and college theater productions in eight geographic regions around the United States. The center’s Region 8 awarded La Sierra’s meritorious awards to Art Department Chair Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein for set design; guest artist Kimberly Kocal for costume design; Kelly Reed for language coaching; and to Loveless for direction.
In addition, La Sierra students Melissa Totton, a pre-nursing major, who played the roles of Honeybee and Starvling, and Jose Antil, an English major who played Oberon and Kind of the Faeries, were nominated to compete for performance scholarships at the KCACTF in Utah in February. If successful, Totton and Antil will be eligible to compete regionally, a step leading to the national championship at the Kennedy Center in April.
Loveless received the news of La Sierra’s awards in an August 19 email from John Binkley, chair of Region 8 for the KCACTF. “I immediately sent an email to each of the recipients of an award congratulating them. Then I called my mom!” Loveless said.
For Totton, the nomination award came as a big surprise. “I was shocked that I was chosen over other roles because my parts were so small, but I am very grateful that my hard work was noticed,” she said.
“I was elated to hear about the nomination, then, felt a little nervously excited that it would lead to a competitive audition,” said Antil.
The Irene Ryan Foundation is awarding 16, $500 scholarships for regional competitors and two, $3,000 scholarship awards for national winners.
Loveless entered the drama team’s production through an application process and an adjudicator from KCACTF attended one of La Sierra’s Midsummer plays in May. The production was not your typical Shakespearean work.
The story is set in 2411, a surreal, post-destruction environment that involves a biosphere with genetically engineered plant and animal life, an Avatar-like jungle that glows at night, robots programmed to keep order, and the evolution of language into King James Bible English. Key characters include a molecular geneticist, Duke Theseus and his soon-to-be-wife, endocrinologist Queen Hippolyta, Egeus, another molecular geneticist, Hermia, Demetrius, a scientist, Queen Hippolyta, Lysander, Titania and Bottom.
The tension in the story builds when Queen Hippolyta plays with human pheromones and a little purple flower she’s named Love-In-Idleness. A play summary describes the consequences of this experimental activity: “Madcap mayhem ensues as Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demetrius, Titania and Bottom each find themselves falling in and out of love with astonishing speed. Will the right boy get the right girl? Will the donkey get the faerie?”
Loveless conjured the script concept for the award-winning play from a treatment she wrote for a screenplay that was based on a futuristic version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called “Love-in-Idleness.”
“When I decided to direct Midsummer, I pulled out the old treatment and decided to try it on the stage,” she said. Additionally, her research into the authorship of the Shakespeare cannon resulted in a series of questions about the interpretation of the work, “and these questions themselves have provided new insights into the interpretation of these 400-year-old texts,” she said. “My goal in producing a Shakespeare show is to make the text accessible to the audience. I want them to walk away from my shows with the intention of going to see more Shakespeare plays.”
Designing sets for such a futuristic story derived from a very old play required research into the original work by William Shakespeare, in-depth conversations with Loveless and watching and discussing the feature film Avatar, Mejia-Krumbein said. She involved eight students from a winter quarter painting class in the project. “The students spent many hours making drawings, taking pictures, measurements and building models of the space on scale,” she said. “The last phase of the project was the actual painting on the walls of the Matheson Chapel. For that we chose one of the three proposed designs by the student teams. We painted the scene in two weeks, about 20 hours, using latex painting directly on the wall. Other props were designed in fabric after Marilynn and I visited the garment district in Los Angeles at the beginning of the winter quarter.”
“I was very happy to receive the news about the award,” Mejia-Krumbein said. “It encourages us to keep doing these collaborations with the drama program. It could open new directions as students think about applying for a Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design, as they are planning to continue graduate studies.”
The drama team’s technical director, Christopher Kaatz, a religious studies and pre-seminary major/drama minor said he became involved in theater to boost his public speaking skills. He was excited when Loveless approached him about filling the technical director position for the play, he said. Then he realized all that fell under his umbrella--lighting, sound, graphics and other elements. “I was incredibly stressed, but I had an excellent team to pull me through,” he said. “Everyone [on the drama team] was completely motivated and worked incredibly well together. We started out as a group of friends and left that production as a family.”
Loveless has directed and/or produced 46 shows over the past 13 years in her roles as artistic director of Walla Walla University’s theater program and of La Sierra’s drama program which she took on nearly five years ago. She came to La Sierra having earned three KCACTF directing awards from Region 7. Shows she directed in that region garnered 12 meritorious awards in various categories. Loveless’s interest in theater took root in the 5th grade at Sligo Elementary School in 1968. She wrote and directed a play titled “Death On Yonder Hill.” In 1977, while a student in a play directing class, she again donned the director’s hat leading Jean-Baptiste Poquelin’s one-act play, “The Silly Young Ladies.” That production featured another future La Sierra University employee, President Randal Wisbey.
In addition to her theatrical work, Loveless is an accomplished writer whose credits include co-writer for two, one-hour Hallmark Channel Christmas specials, “Love’s Pure Light” in 2007 and “All Things Bright” in 2006. She also wrote a screenplay that won a $10,000 writing grant from Film Queensland in Australia and was short-listed for inclusion in the 2001 Sundance Film Festival for her work, “Weighing In.”
For Loveless, the world of drama is an irresistible adventure that involves “creating a new world and characters from scratch,” she said. “[Drama] is watching shy students transform into self-assured performers, seeing friendships forged under a high pressure environment and knowing that these friendships will endure for a lifetime.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University