Several SUNY Oswego students took home honors from the virtual version of the recent Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 2 Conference.

“Our students were competing with other student artists from across eight states, and SUNY Oswego was by far the most honored program in dramaturgical submissions,” said theatre faculty member Toby Malone.

Dramaturgy, which includes research and context in support of a theatre production, is a growing interest among students and represented the field where Oswego students won their awards.

Honorees included:

  • James Hough, Outstanding Dramaturgy on the National Playwriting Program One-Act play “Strategy” (view his work)
  • Kuvar Bhatnagar, Hough and Dominique Baker-Lanning, Outstanding Collaborative Dramaturgy for their work on SUNY Oswego’s production of “She Kills Monsters” (view their work)
  • Ryan Ricketts, Bhatnagar, Mallorie DeVisser and Anastasia West, Achievement in Dramaturgical Lobby Design for their work on the virtual lobby for SUNY Oswego’s production of “The Misanthrope” (view their work)
  • Chloë Hill, Bhatnagar, Hough and Rachel Monson, Certificate of Merit for dramaturgical work on the Collaborative Theatre Challenge concept for “Grenadine” (view their work)

Malone, who helps organize the conference’s dramaturgy programming, said that they were in the middle of planning the annual gathering -- which usually attracts more than 1,000 students -- when COVID-19 forced the change to a virtual platform for the first time. 

“We weren't really sure how it was going to go or if anyone was interested in coming but we ended up having more than 20 SUNY Oswego students attend as participants in workshops and events,” Malone said, with a total audience of around 700 students taking part. “In terms of dramaturgy programming, the largest cohort of applicants for the entire festival was from SUNY Oswego because I had been so encouraging to my students to apply to participate.”

“It was fun because you got to meet other people from other schools that were interested in the same things as you,” Monson said. “There's a giant Discord, so you can communicate with them on different things.” 

‘Excellent students’

Oswego’s dramaturgy track is starting to emerge as a key part of the theatre program, as these awards show, Malone said. 

“We have excellent students interested in this area of theatre, which is quite underserved and misunderstood,” Malone explained. “But the fact that we're having the students then go and present their work at the festival and are being rewarded regionally is really exciting. That means that there's real opportunities for SUNY Oswego to be seen as a place to come to learn how to be an effective dramaturg and that's all down to the way that the students have embraced the program.”

Malone said he was “very proud” of the students although “not in any way surprised because the work is excellent.”

Outside adjudicators selected winners of the categories, some of which involved existing work and others relied on collaborations at the festival itself, which ran Jan. 11 to 15.

The award for virtual lobby design involved student dramaturgs creating social media content for the fall 2020 production of “The Misanthrope,” as if the characters from the 17th-century Moliere play interacted with each other via Instagram accounts. 

While the pandemic prevented the college from staging “She Kills Monsters” in spring 2020, the student dramaturgs finished the web hub for it. “Their work was at such a high standard and they had completed so much research and there was a ton of it in that they wanted to submit their work for recognition,” Malone said.

The ability of the students to win awards through collaboration reflects how dramaturgy at Oswego is taught as a team effort.

“It's students coming together to work on a show to make the show better,” Malone said. The award for “She Kills Monsters” follows them winning for “Fun Home” the previous year.  

The National Playwriting Program stages 10 short plays that are cast and rehearsed at the conference. Hough was the dramaturg assigned to work with the playwright and director of “Strategy” to give context to notes to contextualize its world. 

“I wanted to focus on what the actors and the play needed, reasoning that if I made a hub bogged down with so much information for such a short piece, the readability of the hub would be impacted,” Hough said.

“That was a really prestigious honor and that's the first time we've won an award in that area,” Malone noted.

The Oswego students also enjoyed -- and did well in -- the Collaborative Theatre Challenge, where teams were asked to research and come up with designs, staging ideas and other material for assigned plays, which they then presented to the playwrights.

“Grenadine” focuses on friends who are released from prison and embark on a quest to find the lost love of one of the characters. The playwright wrote an ending where it was up to the audience to interpret the ending, which Monson thought made it an especially intriguing play. 

Monson recalled Hough noticed that the play seemed to have correlations to Greek mythology, so they used that as an interpretive theme. They also discussed color themes and assigned stage directions and notes for each character, writing related context.

The students enjoyed the festival in its virtual form, and look forward to whatever format it takes next year.

“This was my first experience with KCACTF and overall I had an amazing time,” Bhatnagar said. “I got to develop work and hubs for shows I never would have been able to experience. I was exposed to new ways to design lobby displays, ways to share information and just make my work more interesting. I am looking forward to attending next year, whether it be in person or online.”

“All of the people that were running the workshops were fantastic and it was all just a learning experience,” said Monson, who looks forward to putting what she has learned into play for “Dog Meets God,” this semester’s Blackfriars student production. “I think overall, it went really well, and it was fun for the entire week.”