Elmhurst Students Win Big at Theater Festivals

May 21, 2024 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

elmhurst university theater

Pictured is Blake Macias Martinez attending the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

Elmhurst University students took much of the spotlight at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) earlier this spring, with eight students earning some of the event’s highest accolades.

One of them, senior Blake Macias Martinez, came home with the competition’s top honor, the KCACTF/League of Regional Theaters ASPIRE Fellowship.

“It was mind-blowing,” said Janice Pohl, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and director of theatre. “It was so rewarding to see that what we experienced on campus was received so well in the competition because we value the fact that our program gives students opportunities to apply themselves as designers and technicians and actors within our production season. They did a really good job. I was so proud of all of them.”

Based on his application and participation in ASPIRE workshops, Martinez won the ASPIRE Fellowship for Region III, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. The fellowship is designed to cultivate a new generation of artistic and administrative leaders for the American theater, with a focus on engaging members of groups that have been historically underrepresented in the field.

In late April, Martinez, a theatre arts education major from Cicero, Ill., took part in the weeklong ASPIRE Fellowship, which was held during the national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. Martinez connected with theater artists and leaders from across the country, attended various workshops and discussions, and received yet another accolade there—an advocacy award called the Artist Impact Award.

The recognition for Elmhurst theatre students was a year in the making, Pohl said. “When we went (to the regional festival) last year, there were several students who said, ‘I know what I want to do next year’—and they did it,” she said. “Sure enough, coming back this year, faculty as well as students are already planning what they need to do next year.”

Besides Martinez, the students who earned KCACTF honors at the regional festival include:

  • Jessica Sanderson ’24, a theatre major from The Woodlands, Texas, who received an honorable mention (equivalent to earning second in costume design for Region 3) for presenting her costume designs in the costume parade and participating in the design expo.
  • Rebekah Seidman ’23 a digital media major from Inverness, Ill., who was named regional winner for animations and regional winner for collaboration.
  • Regan Bobich ’24, a musical theatre major from Upland, Calif., and her partner, Maddux Masopust ’25, a secondary mathematics education major from Beach Park, Ill., who were named regional finalists for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships.
  • Emma Selle ’24, a theatre major from Spokane, Wash., and Derek Liavas ’24, a theatre arts education major from Des Plaines, Ill., who were selected as directors for a 10-minute play at the festival.
  • Ella Leon ’25, a theatre arts education major from Chicago, who was the makeup designer on a team that did design work for a play at the festival. Leon’s team won the regional award.

Elmhurst University’s engaged faculty, who are active as both scholars and practitioners, provide a well-rounded curriculum that encourages students to embrace challenges with an open mind and develop a thirst for learning throughout their lives. “Faculty are always looking at ways to help students keep raising the bar for themselves,” Pohl said, “and students are looking at ways they want to keep raising the bar for themselves.”

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