Performers from 12 award winning companies will meet on the stage of the Majestic Theater in the American Association of Community Theatre’s (AACT) biennial national festival June 18-22.
For a few companies in ACCTFest’s line up, the 2019 festival is the first time they will perform at the national level.
Jeffrey Brown, executive director of Playhouse 2000, was both shocked and excited when he learned his company would have the opportunity to participate in AACT’s national festival.
“Honestly, the idea that we might travel to a national (festival) was never on the radar,” Brown said. “That wasn’t even something we thought was in the plans.”
Entrance into the festival is no small feat, as the 12 theater companies to be featured were selected from a pool of more than 300 starting at state levels, according to Brown. Festival participants are adjudicated by a panel of judges who evaluate the performances and provide critiques.
Brown’s experience in theater is extensive; he began leading companies and directing productions when he was 25.
“I appreciate the process,” Brown said. “I’m always really glad to be a part of watching the work that people bring.”
As a rule, companies in the festival have 10 minutes to set up any props or sets, 60 minutes to perform their piece, and 10 minutes to tear down before the next act.
Brown’s company will perform The Pretty Trap by Tennessee Williams, the playwright who also published The Glass Managerie. According to Brown, The Pretty Trap revisits the third act in The Glass Managerie, essentially revealing a different ending.
“It’s fascinating, for theater folk at least, to take a look at these characters that we have all studied so many times and to think about the fact that the playwright let them have a different ending at one point in his process,” Brown said.
Four experienced actors will accompany Brown to the competition on the over 20-hour drive to Gettysburg from Kerrville, Texas. According to Brown, he and the members of his company are looking forward to being in the same space as other people who make theater an important part of their lives.
“One of the things about the community theater movement is that we work really hard to make it possible for people to include theater in their life who aren’t able to make theater their entire life,” Brown said.
Many of AACTFest’s featured companies are traveling great distances to be a part of the festival this year, with performers making the trek to town not only from the East Coast, but also from the West Coast and Midwest, and internationally from Germany.
For Chris Serface, managing artistic director of Tacoma Little Theatre, the festival is not only a chance to showcase their talent but to also make a mark for their community.
Another theater company based in Tacoma, Wash., competed in the national festival in 2017, and the 2019 festival will give Tacoma Little Theatre an opportunity to celebrate the success of local theaters in the Tacoma community, according to Serface.
Serface, a current board member of AACT, first interacted with the organization at a national festival hosted in Tacoma in 2009. During the festival, he felt inspired by the administrators and community that gathered with a “love of keeping community theater alive in our country,” Serface said. Every festival, participants have the opportunity to attend workshops held in the mornings; Serface has managed the workshops for the past decade.
Tacoma Little Theater performed in regional festivals with AACT in the past but never made a national festival run. This year’s festival will feature a variety of genres, including one-man shows, Shakesperean shows, contemporary shows and historical shows, said Serface.
“I think this is the first time we’ve seen this varied of types of shows at the festival, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Serface said.
Serface’s company will perform the piece The Pillowman at the festival. According to Serface, the piece is a dark comedy that centers on the questioning of an author after a series of murders resembles his writings. The show will cause viewers to question their moral compass as they watch the story unfold, Serface said.
“(The show) makes you ask, ‘Am I a terrible person because I laughed at that,’” Serface said.
Serface and the four members of the cast are looking forward to engaging in the community of theater participants during the festival. An award show will recognize outstanding actor/actress, best lighting, best set design, best direction and best show, and each of the companies in attendance will receive awards for qualifying for the national festival. While the national festival involves competition, Serface said there is positive camaraderie among the companies.
“We are all artists at heart and we’re all here to support one another,” Serface said. “Theater is something that is often forgotten … so for us to be able to celebrate community theater and remind people that this is an important, viable part of our society, our history and our culture is wonderful.”
AACTFest 2019 will also feature six youth shows and a youth conference during the week of the festival. Youth shows will be adjudicated by a panel of experienced directors. According to Chad-Alan Carr, founding executive and artistic director of Gettysburg Community Theatre (GCT), the national board and committees within AACT work hard to bring the festival to successful fruition every two years.
“I am most looking forward to many of our GCT students and volunteers attending this conference,” Carr said. “The educational and networking opportunities available to them for this is simply incredible.
Tickets for this event can be purchased online at gettysburgmajestic.org.