LaGuardia Community College Theater Students are a Hit at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival

February 21, 2014 | LaGuardia Community College

Long Island City, NY—February 21, 2014—Julio Trinidad, a LaGuardia Community College theater major who hopes one day to see his name on a Broadway marquee, won the Kennedy Center’s American Collegiate Theatre Festival’s northeast regional acting competition.   The win comes with a $500 scholarship and an invitation to compete with the top 16 students from around the country in the national competition in April.

The aspiring actor also was awarded a $1,200 scholarship to attend the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Summer Intensive in Boston.

But Julio was not the only LaGuardia theater major to have the spotlight shine on him.  John Cosentino also made it to the finals and Toni Ryan was a semi-finalist.  And Yuka Taga performed such a captivating reading of a one-woman student play that the festival judges created a new award for her—“Best Performance in a New Play.”

For the second consecutive year, the LaGuardia students caused quite a buzz at the festival.  The consensus among faculty and students alike was: those LaGuardia students are great.

“For our students to have made such an impact speaks volumes about their talent, motivation and drive,” said Professor Stefanie Sertich, theater professor and training coach.  “And what sweetens their accomplishments is that they were competing against students from Boston University, Boston College and Western Connecticut State College and a host of other four-year colleges with noted theater programs.

Last year, the first year Ms. Sertich took her troupe to the theater showcase, 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, one of the students was a runner-up.

In this year’s Irene Acting Competition, the students were up against some 250 student actors who all had their sights set for the nationals.

The three-round competition was a grueling test of the students’ talents.  In the first round the students performed a three-minute scene with their acting partners.  Teams that went over three-minutes were stopped in mid-sentence by the judges.  “It was a nerve-wracking experience,” said Julio.

Julio and his partner, Jessica Orellana, performed a scene from “Jesus Hopped the A Train,” a critically acclaimed theatrical production about the relationship between two prisoners at Rikers Island, written by Latino playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.

In the second round, the field was whittled down to 36 teams that again had to act out their three-minute scene, along with a two-minute scene.   For his two-minute scene, Julio played the part of the hunter in Bathsheba Doran’s “Kin.”  “As the hunter, Julio had to have a convincing Southern accent and mime a shot gun,” said Ms. Sertich.  “For a kid from Queens who never hunted in the woods, it was a true test.”

He passed that test and found himself with 15 other finalists, who, in six quick minutes, had to perform both scenes and a one-minute monologue.  “It was an intense six minutes where the students were really tested,” said Julio.  “You had to make a quick transition from the last line, pause and seamlessly move right into the next scene.”

He did that, to the thrill of the judges, by transforming his body to the next character and changing his appearance by simply putting on a hat or taking off a hoodie.

After being a prisoner in his first scene and a hunter in his second scene, for his monologue, Julio transformed into Amir Kapoor, an American-born, Muslim-raised mergers and acquisitions lawyer living on the Upper East Side, who is torn between the contemporary world he is very much a part of and his religion, in Ayad Akhar’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Disgraced.”

“It is an incredible monologue, and I knew I had to do it,” said Julio.  But, it was not until the night before the audition, when the judges finally approved his selection, that he was certain he would be able to perform it.

At the end of his six-minute audition, Ms. Sertich said she had a strong feeling Julio won when one of the judges commented on his voice projection.  “She said to him, ‘If you are going to do eight shows a week on Broadway, you are going to have to protect your voice.’  I knew at that point he won.”

The judges were not the only people who were impressed with the competition’s finalist.  “So many faculty members came up to me,” said Ms. Sertich, and said, ‘Is that your kid who performed “Jesus Hopped the A Train?” He is going to win it.’”

He also won a scholarship to attend the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s summer intensive after performing a monologue by Mark Antony from “Julius Caesar.”  Having never performed Shakespeare before, Julio said he decided to audition because he heard that the judges were providing feedback.  “Normally, when you go on an audition, you perform your piece and you just get a ‘thank you,’” he said.  “Here was a chance to get some pointers and feedback.”

After his performance Julio had a conversation with the judge and that evening he learned he was a scholarship recipient.  “I didn’t know they were giving out scholarships,” he said.

He was equally surprised when his name was called on the final night of the regional competition.  The soft-spoken, humble theater major said it was only after he saw the reaction from Ms. Sertich and his classmates that he felt joy.  “When I saw how happy they were, it made me happy,” he said.

What makes the win even sweeter was that Julio was not supposed to compete at the festival.  When judges from the Kennedy Center came to LaGuardia last year to attend the college’s productions of “The Factory” and “Almost Maine” and select three students to attend the festival they chose Julio as an alternate.  It was when Daniel Feliz, one of the finalists decided that he did not want to compete that Julio was going to the festival.

“Danny knew that his heart was not in it and he knew Julio’s was,” said Ms. Sertich.  “He wanted to give Julio the chance to compete.”

Julio chimed in.  “It’s all Danny’s fault.”

So now, Julio is preparing his two scenes and monologue that he will perform at the nationals in Washington, D.C.   The two winners will receive $3,000.

He is also preparing to graduate next December and transfer to a four-year college with a fine arts program.

“I am in it for the long run,” said Julio.  “I came to LaGuardia just to take a chance.  I wanted to perform and saw there was an acting class so I took it.  It has just been a string of good luck.”

“Talent certainly has something to do with it, too,” Ms. Sertich said with a smile.

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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.

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