Long Island City, NY—February 21, 2013—At the Kennedy Center’s American Collegiate Theater Festival, a theater showcase where over 200 theater students from colleges and graduate schools throughout the northeast were competing, the same question was being asked by amazed students and faculty: “Who are those guys who did so well and where did they come from?”
These guys who received high-fives from their peers and wows from the judges were 11 LaGuardia Community College students who entered the five-day competition as underdogs and came out winners. Although the students did not secure the top prize, three out of the five acting pairs reached the semi-finals, making LaGuardia one of only two colleges with more than two students in the semis. And in the Design, Technology and Management Competition, a LaGuardia student was a runner-up.
“We were the talk of the competition,” said John Cosentino, one of the students to make it to the semi-finals. “Everyone would see us in the hall and say, ‘you guys are amazing. What school do you go to and who is your professor?’ It made me proud to represent LaGuardia.”
The talented troupe was invited to the national theater festival this past February after an involved nomination process that brought judges on campus to attend their performances in the “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Anna in the Tropics.” Praising their commitment and talent, the judges invited the students to participate in a whirlwind competition at Cape Cod Community College. There they would be competing against students, many of whom had years of theatrical experience, in three categories—the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, the Musical Theater Initiative and the Design, Technology and Management Award.
In the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, where 220 student actors were competing for a chance to make it to the regionals, three LaGuardia students and their scene partners were among 36 semi-finalists. Reaching the semis was Daniel Feliz and his scene partner Julio Trinidad; John and his scene partner Nicole Heath; and Tiffany Scott and her scene partner Francisco Carrillo. The other acting teams were Javon Minter and his scene partner Jasmine Holloway; and Barney Villalona and his scene partner Isabel Maradiegue.
Patrick Surillo was a runner-up in the Design and Technical Management Award. Jasmine and Daniel also auditioned in a Musical Theater Initiative.
Stefanie Sertich, the students’ theater professor and training coach, has a theory on why her students did so well. “They have the passion, the heart, the soul, of an actor,” the proud instructor said. “I gave them the tools, the pathway, but they were the ones who really stepped it up. They dedicated themselves to it; they committed themselves.”
Still excited about their triumphs and the buzz they created at the competition, all the students agreed the festival was a life-changing experience.
“This is an experience that I will be able to draw from,” said Barney. “I learned a lot about myself and my future in the theater.”
John, who is now convinced he will pursue a degree and career in theater, said, “I loved the experience. It is something that will stay with me forever. I am already looking forward to next year. I am definitely going to go for it.”
Preparation for the competition began in earnest after the Christmas break. Each day, Ms. Sertich rehearsed with each group. “Some of the students were coming five days a week,” she said.
Tiffany said that during the early rehearsal sessions with Francisco she was having problems with the timing of her three- and two-minute scenes until she discovered she was not breathing through the scenes. “Once I realized that, and we found our tempo, we were fine,” said an animated Tiffany.
Daniel and Julio, during one of their rehearsal sessions of “Eye of the Hurricane,” were paid a visit by a special acting coach, Eduardo Machado, the show’s playwright. “Meeting him and performing in front of him was very scary,” admitted Julio. “But he enjoyed it and it was such a privilege receiving feedback from him.”
By the time the competition rolled around, the students felt prepared for an intensive five days of early morning auditions, rehearsals, and, for some, more auditions.
At the first round of the Irene Ryan audition, where he performed a scene from “Our Lady of 121st Street” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, John admitted to having pre-audition butterflies. “I was very nervous, but my scene partner calmed me down, and I decided to just have fun with it and gain from the experience,” he said. “I never thought I would make it to the semis, but when I did, I literally started jumping up and down. It was amazing.”
John realized how truly amazing his accomplishment was when one of his competitors came to congratulate him and said, “This is my fourth year and I never made it past the first round, and this is your first time and you made it to the second round.”
For the Design, Technology and Management Competition, Patrick, to his surprise, learned, upon his arrival, that the competition not only included an interview, but a stage management presentation. “There were students who had designed elaborate sets and play boards and I had nothing,” he said.
The students banded together to help Patrick create a hand puppet of Audrey II, the man-eating plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” the show he stage directed. After his interview, Patrick said a professor came up to him to say the two judges wanted him to know that they wished their students had as much passion as he has.
The students were not the only LaGuardians to impress the festival participants. Ms. Sertich was praised for her work with the students and asked to join the board of directors in the northeast region and to serve on the regional selection committee, which will have her travel to colleges and select students and college productions that will go to the festival.
For Dr. Gail O. Mellow, the president of LaGuardia, the competition is one of the best ways to help put LaGuardia’s fledgling theater major on the map. “Participation in the festival is an incredible component to the college theater student’s experience,” she said. “And the impact our students made there will encourage future theater majors to take a serious look at our program.”
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.