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WCSU captures multiple KCACTF awards at regional event

image of WCSU's KCACTF award winners
image of WCSU's KCACTF award winners
WCSU’s KCACTF winners, l-r: Kelsey Lepesko, Colin Gallaher, Dante Cyr, Katie Girardot and Mark Sumner (missing from photo: Corey Stanley)

DANBURY, CONN. – The Western Connecticut State University Department of Theatre Arts returned in February 2020 from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Region 1 competition in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with a multitude of awards, continuing a trend of successful outcomes in the annual regional competition.

KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide. Eight regional festivals take place in January and February, with finalists and some award winners advancing to the national festival in April in Washington, D.C. WCSU is part of Region 1, which comprises Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northeastern New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Students who participated in the KCACTF Region 1 event competed for a wide variety of awards, including those in areas that involve staging and design, as well as performance. The following WCSU students received recognition for their work:

Dante Cyr, of Waterbury, Dramaturgy Program Note Award for “Ubu: An Absurdist Immersive Gran Guignol Musical

Colin Gallaher, of Wappingers Falls, New York, Excellence in Allied Crafts and Design Region 1 Finalist for his work on Hair/Makeup Design for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Katie Girardot, of New Milford, Achievement in Stage Management for “Ubu: An Absurdist Immersive Gran Guignol Musical”

Kelsey Lepesko, of Stratford, the Open Jar Musical Theatre Initiative Scholarship

Corey Stanley, of Brooklyn, Honorable Mention in Allied Crafts and Design for his work as Scenic Charge for “A Little Night Music

Mark Sumner, of Middletown, Region 1 Finalist, Irene Ryan Acting nomination for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Several WCSU faculty members have mentored the student award-winners during their studies. Their pride in their students’ success is evident as they discuss the outcome of the KCACTF Region 1 competition.

Dr. Donald Gagnon, professor of Theatre Arts, said, “Dante Cyr delved at least as deeply and thoughtfully into his dramaturgy as any student I’ve worked with. The scope of his research not only contributed to the success of the production, but it also fed into the creativity with which he approached his program notes. The KCACTF responders recognized the originality and clarity of his notes, derived from the same distinctive philosophy of the playwright, so it was clear that he applied his understanding of the material to the project so that his audience was properly prepared for the potential disorientation that they were about to experience. To call him dedicated to the ethics of his task is an understatement; he evidenced all the hallmarks of a true professional in translating the playwright’s ideas to the audience via his well-researched and cleverly crafted notes.”

Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Joni Johns Lerner, whose expertise focuses on costume technology, said, “I was very pleased that Colin Gallaher received this recognition from KCACTF. It was well deserved and well earned. It has been a pleasure working with Colin as a collaborator on this and other shows. He has real talent and skill in working with wigs and makeup, and is well on his way as a working professional.”

Professor of Theatre Arts Sal Trapani, who teaches acting, directing, playmaking with children, devised theatre workshop and theatre history, said, “Katie Girardot is an amazing student and stage manager. ‘Ubu’ was a big show, a brand new musical with lots of moving parts. Katie was magnificent in handling everything with grace and professionalism. She is an excellent manager of people, as well as being an organized and capable manager of operations. In the middle of things, Katie was hospitalized for a day with a health scare. The running of the show was so organized by her that an assistant stage manager was able to step in and call the performance without a hitch. This is a testament to Katie’s talent and organizational skills.”

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Tim Howard, coordinator of the university’s Musical Theatre program, mentored two of the award-winning students. “I am so pleased for B.F.A. Musical Theatre senior Mark Sumner for winning the Classical Acting Award. Audiences may remember his performance in the title role in ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,’ for which he was nominated to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting competition. I believe this speaks to the well-rounded training our students are receiving in the Department of Theatre Arts. This year at KCACTF, our B.F.A. Musical Theatre program had five out of the 20 chosen as finalists in the prestigious Musical Theatre Initiative Awards. I could not be more proud of junior Kelsey Lepesko for winning an Open Jar Musical Theatre Scholarship. Kelsey is an example of what happens when stellar work ethic and talent come together.”

Professor of Theatre Arts Elizabeth Popiel, an Emmy Award-winning set designer for ABC’s “Good Morning, America,” said, “It has been a joy and a pleasure to watch Corey Stanley’s development as both a performer and in the Design and Allied Crafts areas. He has recently been developing a keen interest in Faux Painting techniques where he has been developing a portfolio of marble and wood scenic art techniques. He works extremely hard, and excels in all he commits to with grace and beauty. He is currently working with me on an independent study in advanced scenic art techniques, which will prepare him for professional work to come.”

The Theatre Arts Department’s record of success at the KCACTF regional and national festivals is indisputable.

In 2019, WCSU earned seven awards at the Region 1 Festival. Five were for “Uncle Vanya”: Distinguished Performance in a Play (three awards), Distinguished Achievement in Directing and Distinguished Achievement in Stage Management. Two were for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” including recognition for Abigail Bueti, of Brewster, New York, a Region 1 Finalist for the Barbizon Award for Excellence in Design. Buetti was invited to attend the KCACTF National event in Washington, D.C., as a result of her award.

In 2018, WCSU captured 10 awards for “Evita,” including Distinguished Production of a Musical, Distinguished Director of a Musical, Distinguished Choreography, Distinguished Performance by an Actress in a Musical (five awards), and Distinguished Performance by an Actor in a Musical (two awards).

In 2017, “The Drowsy Chaperone” won 11 awards and an invitation for director Tim Howard and student Jillian Caillouette, of Meriden, to attend the national KCACTF event to accept awards.

The WCSU 2015 production, “Parade,” was nominated for 14 awards and won five at the 2016 KCACTF event.



Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.