Student dramaturg to compete at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Earlham College senior Spencer North will compete for national honors at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) in April.

North won three awards at the 53rd annual Region III KCACTF in January to advance. The awards included best program note, outstanding lobby display and overall student dramaturgy, all for the Earlham College Department of Theatre Arts’ production of “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” last fall (scene from the play pictured to the right).

“In my application for the award, I showed evidence of cross-departmental communications on campus as part of my work on this production,” said North, an ancient and classical studies major and theatre arts minor from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I cannot claim ownership of everything that happened, but I created larger conversations on campus about what we were doing in theatre. I think that impressed the judges.”

Dramaturgy is at the intersection of North’s academic endeavors, a passion that began in high school.

“Dramaturgy is pretty multi-faceted and not so many people know what dramaturges do,” said North, who uses they and them pronouns. “There are two main jobs: One is to look for historical accuracy. Anytime someone is developing a play that hasn’t been done before or they want to do a play during a specific time period, a dramaturg is one of the people who looks to find information to make sure the play is historically accurate.

“They also work really closely with the director to discern the themes that the director wants to pull for a show.”

    Like a lot of smaller colleges, Earlham doesn’t have specific coursework in dramaturgy. However, students can still develop dramaturgy skills because of Earlham’s commitment to the liberal arts and hands-on opportunities to contribute in theatre, said Lynne Perkins Socey, associate professor of theatre arts. 

    “Spencer has developed outstanding dramaturgy skills on their own and is committed to sharing what they’ve learned with others on campus,” Perkins Socey said. “This is an example of how an Earlham student with initiative can investigate, diversify, reflect, integrate, apply, create and communicate in whatever field those choose to focus their time and energy.

    “Script analysis and history is in a lot of our courses and other academic programs on campus,” she said. “A dramaturg’s work is all about research and analysis, synthesis, creative problem solving, and the creation of materials that support the artistic team and curate audience experience.” 

    For “Mr. Burns,” a dark comedy about the aftermath of an unspecified apocalyptic event as described in an episode of “The Simpsons,” North penned a program note and developed a lobby display. Part of their preparation for the production involved research with the Geology Department to better understand the relationship between nuclear reactors and geological events including earthquakes. 

    “I used interdisciplinary knowledge in order to make the show more accessible to the audience,” they said. “The lobby display was in phases which helped to set the places and times for the show, and I collaborated with the people who marketed the show to invite audience members to participate in the lobby display.”

    North also has experience as a sensitivity reader for the Earlham Theatre Arts department’s production of “Company,” which included gender-bending of the characters from the original production. Later this spring, North will serve asdramaturg for “Rotten Illusions,” a new play written by Brianna Miller, a senior theatre arts major.  They will also mentor a small team of first-time dramaturgs who will be supporting three short plays written by Samuel Beckett.  

    At the national KCACTF, North will benefit from workshops and networking opportunities to further develop skills as a dramaturg. 

    North is one of three Earlham students recognized by the KCACTF this year, continuing the College’s strong showing at recent festivals. Miller received one of two Region 3 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Awards and was also designated the Region Three Runner Up for the national competition. Junior Madi Eads was recognized as a runner-up for the KCACTF Stage Management Fellowship.

    During the Region III KCACTF competition in 2020, Perkins Socey was awarded the Prize for Innovative Teaching and multiple students were recognized with awards.

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