A Rogers State University student and two faculty members received honors, including one of the most prestigious awards for theatre educators, during the recent Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival regional event.
This marks the first time in RSU’s history that it has earned honors at the theatre festival.
Jordan Wong, a fine arts junior from Claremore, earned three awards for her scenery design for this fall’s RSU production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Her scene design was honored with the National Partners American Theatre Design Excellence Award, the regional Meritorious Achievement in Scenic Design and the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award for Excellence in Technology and Design, which also includes a scholarship for one-week tuition to study stage design in Las Vegas.
Bryce Brimer, associate professor of fine arts, was recognized for mentoring Wong through the design and creation process.
David Blakely, who serves as director of the RSU Theatre program, was awarded the Kennedy Center Medallion, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to teaching and producing theatre. The most prestigious regional award given by KCACTF and considered one of the great honors in theatre education, the Kennedy Center Medallion recognizes those who have demonstrated a strong commitment to advancing theatre and to promoting excellence in educational theatre.
“Teaching for me is more than a vocation, it’s a passion for seeing students discover for themselves the power of live theatre,” said Blakely, who also serves as an associate professor of communications. “Receiving the Kennedy Center Medallion is a tremendous professional honor for me, but it also will increase the regional and national exposure of RSU and our theatre program.”
Held Feb. 26 through March 2 in Shreveport, La., the festival honored excellence of overall production and offered student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing and design.
KCACTF Region 6 includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Wong’s intricate designs for “Sleepy Hollow” helped capture the essence of rural upstate New York and the play’s more fantastic elements. Based on her initial watercolor renderings, her designs were created from plywood cutouts constructed at Fab Lab Tulsa, a community workspace providing access to computer-controlled fabrication technology.
Wong also designed the headless horseman, which was a full-sized prop carried through the theatre’s main house during a crucial scene to close the first act.
Brimer worked closely with Wong and Hannah Hanley, a visual arts senior from Claremore, to help turn the designs into reality.
“There was lots of buzz at the conference about Jordan’s designs and the horse prop,” Brimer said. “When most of the props on display were items you could easily hold in your hand and we brought a life-sized horse, it’s hard not to build some excitement around the students’ work.”
The feedback from the reviewers were widely impressed that Wong’s designs were developed from artistic watercolors, rather than through a more traditional theatre scenery design process, Brimer said. This somewhat unusual approach is where his role as a mentor paid off by helping Wong and Hanley actualize the designs from two-dimensional pictures and turning them into three-dimensional works with real visual impact.
The process for building the sets and props required elaborate jigsaw work on plywood, as well as fiberglass construction for the horse. As a sculptor, Brimer is intricately familiar with techniques to work with both.
A scene from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was an original adaptation written by RSU seniors Josh Gammon of Broken Arrow and David Prock of Collinsville, was performed by RSU student actors at the historic Strand Theatre in Shreveport, La., during the festival.
Gammon and Prock said they were thrilled by the enthusiastic reception given to the RSU Theatre performance. The pair credits the strong mentoring they received from Blakely for being key to RSU’s successful turn at the regional festival.
“David Blakely has been a mentor and a friend. I feel confident in my abilities as a student and as a person because he has always believed in me and pushed me to strive for more,” Prock said.
Gammon said Blakely has created an environment where excellence is expected while creating a learning environment where students thrive and excel.
“He has made it possible for me to accomplish things that would likely be impossible at any another school,” he said.
One of the Sleepy Hollow actresses, Hannah Westlund, said Blakely has encouraged her throughout her acting career.
“Not only has he made opportunities for those involved in theatre at RSU, but he is a fountain of knowledge, guidance, and inspiration when I find myself lacking focus while working on a show, or when I simply need help with something,” said Westlund, who is a visual arts senior from Owasso.