So, I wasn’t supposed to even be at KCACTF this year. But I got a call from a friend who needed a favor, and I went to help out for a few days.
I’m so glad that I did.
I love the festival—all the students fluttering with nervous excitement in line for Irene Ryans at 7:30 in the morning, faculty seeing old friends and showing off their students, kids sharing their design portfolios with professional guest artists, Festival leadership sweating every detail. I also love the festival because it’s where I finally figured out the best way for me to do a conference, which is to find a way to help it happen. I had attended KCACTF a few other times with one of the schools I worked with, but never felt connected with it. I was frequently mistaken for a student, I didn’t fit in with the faculty because I wasn’t faculty anywhere, I didn’t know anybody. I enjoyed seeing the invited productions and sitting in on workshops to pick up some new ideas, but I found the experience generally challenging.
Then Heidi invited me to join the leadership team to organize workshops. It’s a big job—the festival has over 100 workshops. Each one needs an appropriate space, it has to fit into constantly shifting schedule requirements, people have to be able to find it. Sometimes the tech doesn’t work or the person needs copies made in a hurry or they just don’t show up. Having that role was a lot of stress, but it also was the key to the conference for me. Before the conference even started, I had emailed every single presenter. Some of them several times. When I saw them at the faculty lounge later, I could ask them how their workshop went. It was a great opener. I took care of workshops for four years. Particularly on leadership, I made some good friends.
Due to other professional commitments, I didn’t think I was going to be available for festival this year, so I stepped out of that role. They tapped two people to replace me, but one of them (good for him!) got a job right before Festival that made him unavailable. So I went for a bit. And it was wonderful.
The spaces where we had performances made slipping in and out a bit trickier than in previous years, so I didn’t get to see as many of the invited productions as I usually do (I typically sit in a balcony where I can duck out if I need to help someone with a workshop problem). The ones that I saw, though, were truly wonderful. Binghamton brought Ordinary Days, and while I don’t love the script, I thought the production was brilliant. The actors had great technical skill and also built a lot of depth in roles that are underwritten. Tommy Iafrete directed it, and he did some brilliant staging, creating an intimacy and connection with the audience. He also did some clever work about placing the action geographically in New York City—the stage had a layout of the city painted on it, and he had specifics about where each piece of the action took place. I don’t know the city well enough to catch every bit of that, but the clarity of it came through. I had been wanting to see Tommy’s work for a long time, and I’m glad I saw this.
My other favorite show from Festival was Emma Goidel’s Local Girls, from West Chester University. This show was tremendous fun. It’s a story about a high school scream rock band that loses its lead singer, with Battle of the Bands right around the corner—so they recruit a nerdy kid who tutors chemistry. The plot feels a little pat and cliched when I write it like that, but it was actually a compelling show. The music was fun, of course, and the lighting design played up that rock concert feeling. The actors were grounded and connected with each other, and all of them had brilliant focus and commitment. The audience was lively in a way that disrupted the action at times. The actors spent a lot of time waiting for the audience to stop cheering so they could move on, and it messed up the rhythm of the show. But I think my favorite thing about this play was the script—It’s about the love we have for our collaborators. That’s a kind of love that isn’t often shown onstage, which makes so little sense to me. Theater is a collaborative art, so why aren’t we making art about collaboration? I’ve been longing for a show like this one, and I was so thrilled to get to see it.
A lot of fantastic and surprising things happened at festival, but one that I will remember forever is that I finally got to (briefly) meet Maria Manuela Goynes, the artistic director at Wooly Mammoth. She gave a key note speech at the National Women in Theater Conference last year that I’m still thinking about. I wasn’t there, but three different people sent me the video, with notes like, “This sounds like your kind of leader.” They were not wrong. She was also the keynote speaker at this year’s festival, and gave a workshop that I managed to sit in on.
I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t meet our heroes, because they are people, and people can be disappointing. I only had five minutes to meet Maria, but she was absolutely not at all disappointing. She was lovely and friendly and funny, and very much exactly the kind of person I hoped she would be. I am so grateful for her generosity in sharing her time with our students and in taking a moment to let me fangirl at her.
My friends keep asking me if I’m coming back for Festival 53. I’m not currently planning to. I have too many other things going on already. But I will continue to respond to shows, to offer my support and encouragement, and to keep up my friendships with so many wonderful folks who are doing good work there. And like…maybe I’ll end up at Festival anyway. It’s a hard habit to break.