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January 16, 2004

To Be or Not to Be

From: The Daily Vidette, IL - Jan 16, 2004

Kennedy Center Theatre Festival sweeps through campus

By Rachel Labriola All the world truly is a stage for the theatre students participating in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival this week.

The festival, which continues through Sunday, brings more than 1,500 participants from colleges around the Midwest to ISU.

According to John Stark, co-host of the festival and professor of scenic design, students from five different states make up one of the eight regions in which the United States is split.

"The Great Lakes region is made up of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. We have everyone from Upper Peninsula Michigan to southern Indiana at this festival.

"The judges go to a festival a week for eight weeks, deciding the winners that get to go to the national festival that takes place in Washington D.C. in April," he said.

Stark co-hosts the festival with two of his colleagues, ISU's Sandy Zielinski and Eureka College's Brian Sajko.

Illinois is hosting ten productions this year. These include new, recent scripts being produced, along with many established plays, such as Shakespeare's "The Tempest."

"It is a stripped down version of 'The Tempest' performed in the Allen Theatre that features 3-D imagery along with actors," Stark explained.

"Metamorphoses" will be featured in Braden Auditorium Friday night.

The show was recently performed on Broadway, and features a 20 foot wide, 12 foot deep swimming pool in which the actors will perform.

"The team of judges look for innovation in productions and celebrated new scripts, especially those done by young and talented playwrights," Stark commented.

One of those new, innovative scripts belongs to Garrett Zuercher, a recent graduate of Marquette University.

According to Joe Cockrell, a Marquette University spokesperson, Garrett wrote the play as a part of his senior thesis.

"He had written and performed in many things but had not tried a drama," Cockrell said.

"As part of the degree, the student is asked to have some major role in a production, while writing about your experience with a faculty member," he explained, " and that's where the idea for this play came from."

Deaf since birth, Zuercher wanted to combine his talents as an actor, writer and director with his experiences of being deaf.

"He's enthusiastic and always so upbeat, he doesn't like that perception of being handicapped. It's great for Marquette University and for him as a professional," Cockrell explained.

The result is "Quid Pro Quo," a play that follows the complicated relationship of a couple struggling to find a happy medium between the deaf and hearing worlds.

"There are two actors onstage who use sign language, and there are two other actors offstage that speak their lines," Cockrell explained.

"It gives the audience an understanding of how you can communicate your feelings through body language, it's very powerful."

"Garrett is a very interesting, incredible young man. He has this passion for storytelling and being onstage," he added.

"He has a unique command of language, never having heard language being spoken."

Upon being chosen to participate in the festival, Zuercher was more than ready to accept the invitation, Cockrell said.

"The judges came to evaluate the show, and afterwards they invited the play to go on to regionals."

In addition to playwriting, the festival also treats the participants to various competitions and workshops run by teachers and professionals in every aspect of theater.

These include scenic design, costume design, directing, technology, choreography and acting.

"Irene Ryan, who many know as 'Granny' in the sitcom the Beverly Hillbillies, established a scholarship which has funded the acting competition," Stark said.

"There are also competitions in design, playwriting and directing. It's just like how any other sports competition is done," he continued.

Prizes for the winners of the competitions include certificates, medals and small monetary rewards, which are funded by scholarship monies and grants

Stark believes that the festival is yet another way for students to learn through experiencing the art of theatre.

"It allows students to come together to celebrate successes and to also get feedback," he said.

"The point is really to increase the level of professionalism in theatre and give the students a chance to compare themselves to other people and have an outreach experience."

For more information on show times and places, visit

©2004 Daily Vidette, Illinois State Universityz