by Shannon Gleba & Colleen McNamara, Senior Writer & Asst. Sports Editor
After a year that brought many challenges to the world of theatre and arts, the Manhattan College Players were nominated for and won many awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Led by their director James Ryan Caldwell, several MC students attended last week’s virtual festival, auditioned for a number of different honors, and attended workshops hosted by KCACTF.
One of the awards several Jaspers were nominated for was the Irene Ryan Award, which is named after the esteemed American actress and comedienne. Among the students nominated for this acting scholarship were: sophomore Sophie Ryan, juniors Samantha Rini, Isabelle Campbell and Maren Kain as well as seniors Camryn Kidney, Ryan Danahy, Jennifer Bueti and Nick Chiofalo.
Among the nominees, two outstanding performers were chosen to move past the preliminary round of auditions and into the semi-final round. Ryan, who was nominated for her performance as Grandma Addams in the Players’ production of The Addams Family, was very excited to have received such recognition.
“I was really just so honored,” said Ryan. “I am only a sophomore and really just got into theatre here last year. It’s just such an awesome community. I never really thought about getting recognized so early on, but it’s so humbling and such an amazing opportunity.”
In addition, Samantha Rini, who is the president of Players, also moved past the preliminary round and into the semi-finals for her role as Vera in the 2020 student-run production of She Kills Monsters. She shared similar sentiments as Ryan about being notified that she had been nominated for the Irene Ryan Award.
“It was really exciting,” said Rini. “You hope for it, but it’s obviously not your priority going into the show, you care more about the group and the show itself. It was almost a relief, I am glad that I did that part well, I am glad that somebody thought I did it justice.”
In January of 2020, before Players had to go fully remote due to the college’s closing, the troupe was able to attend the in-person KCACTF in Cape Cod, MA where two additional students achieved the same success as Ryan and Rini. Bueti and Kidney went through a similar process for the Irene Ryan award, although in person, and were able to move past the preliminary round after being nominated for their roles in Urinetown.
“That was crazy, that was so much fun, it never happened in Manhattan College history,” Bueti said of her promotion to the semi-final audition for the scholarship. “It was all that more special to celebrate with everyone, in Cape Cod, where the festival took place.”
Players is founded on a strong bond between all of its members, and Bueti was even more thrilled for Rini and Ryan who have brought continued success for the program at the Festival.
“It means a lot to me that we are continuing to compete at that semi-final level, and shows that Manhattan College can compete with these major theatre schools,” Bueti said. “Confidence we did not have before [James Ryan] Caldwell encouraged us the motivation to perform well. We already set the bar and I see the program doing even better in the future.”
Camryn Kidney, the Development Director on the board of Players, serves as the liaison between Players and other clubs, plus between Players and KCACTF this theatre festival. Kidney has been with Players all four years of college, noting that MC Players have been participating in the festival for years, but only recently had such success.
“I think a lot of that can be attributed to our amazing director, JR, who has been pushing for all members of Players to participate. Before JR was our director, probably between 0-5 students would attend the festival and participate in the Irene Ryans (as well as other programs within the festival) each year. Last year, for the first time, we took about 15 students to the festival, and this year, we probably had around 25 students attend the virtual festival! Hopefully, more and more students continue to branch out and participate in these exciting opportunities,” Kidney wrote in an email.
Another name that attracted much attention at this year’s Festival was junior Joseph Bonaventura, who is the production manager for Players. When the performances had to take place in a virtual setting, Bonaventura had to rethink what it meant to be in this position and make decisions that allowed the shows to go on. Bonaventura was rewarded for this ingenuity with the following awards: Outstanding Stage Management of an NPP Play, USITT NE Design and Technologies Meritorious Award and Achievement in Allied Designs and Technologies. This transition took a look of work, but it was exciting for Bonaventura.
“It was a lot of research and watching webinars, 30 plus hours of webinars I was watching to teach myself how to make this conversion, make this switch,” said Bonaventura. “To be able to put on a show that’s still to the quality that Manhattan College has always done but in this different format.”
Kain recognized how much of a help Bonaventura was, and knows that Players’ performances could not have reached the same level of success without him.
“A massive shoutout to Joseph Bonaventura, I really mean that” said Kain.”He was a massive part of being able to even do The Laramie Project in the first place at Manhattan, and then being able to carry it over to the Festival.”
While multiple members of Players were honored for their individual successes, the entire cast of The Laramie Project was chosen to perform at the Festival because its organizers recognized how incredible it was when the Players originally performed it at the end of the fall semester. Kain was part of this production and recounted how thrilled the group was to learn of their nomination to perform and subsequent selection in mid-December.
“We were about two and a half weeks out of performing the show at that point, and then basically by the end of December, we were basically all back in rehearsals again,” said Kain. “We rehearsed all throughout the break, through the entirety of January. Then on Saturday, we performed it just as we did when we did it for the school. We were one of two live productions at KCACTF. Ten were invited but only two were live, and we were one of them.”
As this spring semester and a new year begin, the Manhattan College Players are starting to prepare their shows, and master their roles in hopes of more honors at the next Festival. In the coming months, they will be rehearsing the play Marcus is Walking, which will follow the same virtual format they embraced in recent months.