A Calvin Theatre Company production will be performed in January 2003 at the Region III festival of the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
"As It Is In Heaven" was one of six plays selected for the Region III festival and is the first Calvin Theatre Company production ever to advance to the regional level. Among the other plays selected in Region III are the University of Wisconsin-Madison's "Hamlet" and Ball State University's "The Laramie Project." All of those plays will be judged and one could possibly move on to the national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, to be held in April 2003 in Washington, D.C.
"To be selected for the regional festival is a huge honor," says Calvin College theatre professor Stephanie Sandberg, who notes that over 50 plays in Region III (the Great Lakes region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) applied for consideration.
The 2003 festival will again be held in Evansville, Indiana, and will be hosted by the University of Southern Indiana (and sponsored by Fifth Third Bank). The dates are January 8-12, 2003 and those five days include not only performances of the plays selected, but also workshops, individual competitions and more. It will include a keynote address by Marsha Norman, professor of drama and co-director of the Playwrights Program at The Julliard School. Last year's festival, with an attendance of over 1,500, was the largest ever in the history of the organization.
"As It Is In Heaven" made its midwest debut under Sandberg's direction as part of the 2002 Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin. Prior to that it was part of a world-famous Scottish theatre festival that Sandberg attended as associate director, having collaborated with playwright Arlene Hutton as a dramaturg.
The play portrays a Kentucky Shaker community in the 1800s. As the dramaturg Sandberg, a communication arts and sciences professor at Calvin, did a lot of research. In fact, she drew upon years of prior research on the Shakers. She also used a Calvin Alumni Association grant to travel to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, where she spent time at the Shaker Village, immersing herself in the Village archives to learn more about how the Shakers thought, worked, and most importantly, worshiped.
Ultimately Sandberg's work was critical to this story about nine Shaker women who, because of the visions of an outsider, had to grapple with what it meant to be God's children and each other's sisters.
Being true to the Shaker's came out of Sandberg's research and from her and Hutton's own Christian commitment.
"Both Arlene and I are Christians," she says, "so this story was a powerful one for us. The Shakers are so different from other American religions. They're not fundamentalist. They're separate from the world, but part of it too with their contributions - their art, their furniture. Yet they have these intense religious experiences, like the Pentecostal revivals I went to as a child. We wanted to treat that seriously and respectfully."
Sandberg notes that "As It Is In Heaven" finds itself as part of a larger current trend in theatre. "All of a sudden spiritual subjects are coming back to the stage," she says. "This play fits into that movement. We didn't plan it that way, but it's interesting that's how it worked out."
The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival was started in 1969 and is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide which has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States. The KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theater departments and student artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF respondents.
In January and February of each year, regional festivals showcase the finest of each region's entered productions and offer a variety of activities, including workshops, symposia, and regional-level award programs. Regional festival productions are judged by a panel of three judges selected by the Kennedy Center and the KCACTF national committee. These judges, in consultation with the artistic director, select four to six of the best and most diverse regional festival productions. These productions are to be showcased in the spring at the annual noncompetitive national festival at the Kennedy Center, all expenses paid.