Dr. Michael Swanson, associate professor of theatre and director of theatre and dance, earned a Certificate of Merit from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) for his direction of “Looks Like Rain,” a short play. The festival took place last January at West Chester University.
The KCACTF 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 festival was a chance for everyone involved, both students and professors, to have their work responded to by college professors and critics. The program is broken up into eight geographic regions with regional chairs who coordinate the events.
Certificates of Merit recognize excellence in art.
It is a subjective decision based on the reviewer who comes to watch the performance, and they make nominations in any area such as directing, acting, lighting or costumes. After the performance, the reviewer gives a brief critique, noting the strengths of the performance and highlighting concerns.
“Looks Like Rain,” written by Carnegie Mellon graduate Laci Corridor, was a one of six plays to be given a staged reading, which is when actors read the playwright’s script with little rehearsal. There is little movement and no set or costume. They sit in chairs in a row with their scripts on music stands; their only motion is to stand and read their lines. This is meant to place the audience’s focus on the script — the work of the playwright.
The script is about strangers waiting for a train. One character is eccentric, while the rest respond positively or negatively to this character. To clearly portray the setting in the stage reading, Swanson aligned the actors diagonally from one end of the stage to other to simulate the idea of a train station.
Swanson loves the “fast paced situation of being assigned work.” There’s a certain kind of work ethic that comes with the work that he believes is a learning experience. One of the perks is that he is able to work with people he’s never worked with before and with students auditioning in places including New York, D.C. and Ohio. He considers it a “high-pressure situation in which you can learn a lot. You get to practice the ability to make decisions quickly and assure the cast is on the same terms to execute the performance.”
Swanson also received Certificates of Merit in the past. He was awarded Certificates of Merit for directing the play “Gint” in 2007 by Romulous Linney, and “Brilliant Traces” in 2010, which he directed in Millersville. He also received two Certificates of Merit for Ensemble Acting for “Tempest” in 2009 and the “25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee” for the collaboration between him and his actors.
Swanson has been involved in the KCACTF for over 20 years. He first heard of the program as an undergraduate student. Later, he served as executive chair for Region III, the Great Lakes states and for Region VIII, the upper mid-west states. As chair, he coordinated the logistics of the festival. It was essentially an “unpaid 30-hour a week job.”