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Theater seniors awarded prestigious trip to DC festival

Two seniors will be attending the KCACT Nationals Festival in our nation's capital.

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Theater seniors awarded prestigious trip to DC festival

By Sam, Jackson

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The show will go on for EWU seniors MJ Daly and Lysbeth Neel as they head to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Nationals Festival in Washington, D.C.

Daly and Neel attended the KCACT Regionals Festival held at the University of Oregon on Feb. 18-22. The regionals festival included students from universities in 10 states. During the event, students had the opportunity to audition for awards granting fully-funded trips to the KCACT Nationals Festival during the week of April 15.

Daly was the winner of the Musical Theater Scholarship Audition at regionals, and Neel won the National Award for Stage Management. Both seniors described the opportunity of going to the nationals festival as “an incredible” achievement.

Bailey Monteith
Senior MJ Daly performs as Masha in EWU’s production of “The Seagull” by Anton Chekov. Daly recently competed against close to 200 other students for the Musical Theatre Scholarship Audition Washington at the University of Oregon.

Originally, Daly attended EWU to pursue a degree in dental hygiene, but by the end of her first two years completing prerequisites she had reached the end of her rope.

“I was just exhausted by it all,” Daly said. “I just knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.”

It was “just complete luck” that Daly stumbled upon the theater scene at EWU. She remembers someone involved with the theater department sharing a Facebook event for auditions in a senior capstone show called “One Acts.” She auditioned and got a part.  

Daly recalls being recognized by Sara Goff, professor of theatre and interim chair of the department of theatre and film, whom watched her act for the capstone and urged her to join the theater department. After a few happy tears, Daly committed and said she has spent nearly 12 hours a day in the theater building since.

Daly competed against close to 200 students for the MTSA in Oregon. During preliminaries each person was allotted two minutes to sing a song of their choice. The following final round cut the competition down to 16 students who each had five minutes to sing two songs. After the final round, the judges said the winner would be announced the next day.

It was kind of crazy because I was literally backstage with my binder just kind of shaking.”

— MJ Daly, Senior

Into the next day and decompressing after competing for a different award, the Irene Ryans, Daly was asked by Ed Brazo, the MTSA coordinator, to hurry backstage and “sing when they tell you to sing” the song she performed during the final round of the MTSA called “Gorgeous” from the play “The Apple Tree” by Jerry Bock.

As Daly arrived backstage she was greeted by another competitor from the final round of the MTSA. Both knew one of them won the audition and the other was the runner-up, according to Daly. The other competitor was asked to come on stage, and in that moment Daly knew she won the audition.

“It was kind of crazy because I was literally backstage with my binder just kind of shaking,” Daly said.

Daly is excited to attend the KCACT Nationals Festival and looks forward to being assigned workshops specifically tailored to musical theater. She said she hopes to make acting a career and is applying to work for the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Daly intends to use nationals as a resume builder.

Mckenzie Ford
Senior Lysbeth Neel shows The Easterner around back stage before a production of “The Seagull” by Anton Chekov. Neel won the National Award for Stage Management and will travel to Washington, D.C. to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Nationals Festival. Neel can be seen in action at the EWU Theatre’s production of “The Seagull” March 14 at 5 p.m. and March 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Neel attended art school for two years in Chicago and made the choice to transfer to EWU last year. Though she has a strong background in acting, she decided to take on the “other side of the theater” instead and dip into stage management.

“The Tempest” was the first play Neel had ever stage managed before, making her debut into the background of theater at EWU during winter quarter of 2018.

Neel says that stage managing at EWU has “definitely inspired” her and gives her a “sense of gratitude” to people who work backstage.

“It’s actually a very hard job,” Neel said. “It can be really tedious sometimes, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you can get really frustrated. And it’s long hours. So there’s a lot of, you know, pros and cons. I think the biggest thing for me is I love to stay busy, and I love just the excitement of seeing something pay off, even though (I’m) not the one on stage … You see it from beginning to end. And then in that end night when you’re caught in the show and everything just goes perfectly, that’s the feeling that stage managers crave and love.”

Winning the National Award for Stage Management at the regionals festival was “kind of surprising” to Neel. When she found out about the work sessions, she didn’t realize it was a competition for the award. Neel fully intended on treating the stage management workshop as a “big learning experience” and gaining feedback.

I think the biggest thing for me is I love to stay busy, and I love just the excitement of seeing something pay off, even though (I’m) not the one on stage … You see it from beginning to end. And then in that end night when you’re caught in the show and everything just goes perfectly, that’s the feeling that stage managers crave and love.”

— Lysbeth Neel, Senior

According to Jessica Ray, theater department lecturer and costume shop manager, Neel won because she spent a lot of time and hard work preparing for the event. At the event, Neel had to submit material she was working on, including a script, acting book, blocking book and cue book. She also had to participate in a simulation in which she watched a video to call a show using a script and a cue sheet.

“I think the thing that made her successful is she spent a lot of time developing those things, making sure they look good, making sure that it was right and having a plan in place,” Ray said.

Neel says she doesn’t think the reality of attending the nationals festival will hit her until she’s on the plane and heading to Washington D.C. in April. Her biggest goal is to eventually work for a touring company doing anything from acting to stage management.

For more information on The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, go to its website at web.kennedy-center.org/education/kcactf/nationalfestival.


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Theater seniors awarded prestigious trip to DC festival