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Two student-made plays draw Kennedy Center recognition

Contestants worry eliminating Performing Arts will make students less competitive in the future

Nuthouse+Improv+Comedy+students+perform+at+a+show+in+2016.
Nuthouse Improv Comedy students perform at a show in 2016.

Nuthouse Improv Comedy students perform at a show in 2016.

Jemma Gonzalez | Daily Evergreen file

Jemma Gonzalez | Daily Evergreen file

Nuthouse Improv Comedy students perform at a show in 2016.

ANGELICA RELENTE, Evergreen reporter

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A WSU student and an alumnus have been chosen as regional semi-finalists for The Kennedy Center’s National Playwriting Program.

Both plays were first produced by the STAGE student theater group, whose future has been thrown into question since WSU President Kirk Schulz announced the elimination of the Performing Arts program in October.

STAGE could continue without Performing Arts, but the students would not get any help from faculty advisers, who will lose their jobs after the last production in April.

Sophomore Ellen MacNary and alumnus Joe Olsen will compete in the one-act category at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Spokane between Feb. 19 and 23.

The Kennedy Center will host festivals in eight different regions. Within each region, two winning 10-minute, one-act plays will attend the national festival in Washington, D.C. MacNary and Olsen are the only two from WSU.

MacNary, a biochemistry and creative writing major, joined STAGE during her freshman year. Her play is about an artificially intelligent robot who questions his own being, orbiting around the meaning of consciousness. She said she came up with the idea in a creative writing class and later revised it with the help of Performing Arts professor Ben Gonzales, who is one of four Performing Arts employees who will lose their jobs in April.

MacNary said her mom was just as excited as she was about being chosen for the competition.

“It’s actually kind of embarrassing,” MacNary said. “Whenever I’m with my mom somewhere, she’s like, ‘My daughter had a play produced.’ ”

Olsen was involved with STAGE and Nuthouse Improv Comedy, another Performing Arts-supported student group, starting in his sophomore year. His play focuses on college students struggling with internal, familial and societal pressures.

Olsen said he hoped to show that students do not have to face their battles alone. While he was enthusiastic about being a semi-finalist, he was also worried about the future of Performing Arts at WSU.

“It’s like cutting the program is going to do wonders for the budget,” Olsen said, “but it’s really just a small part.”

MacNary and Olsen both spoke about their appreciation for Gonzales, saying he was a pivotal element when it came to writing and revising their plays. The absence of important figures like him will be a disadvantage for those in the Performing Arts program, Olsen said.

“We had so many successes from this group, and now that it’s being cut,” Olsen said, “students at WSU that want to be playwrights are going to have a lot harder time without the faculty members on campus.”

About the Writer
ANGELICA RELENTE, Evergreen reporter

Angelica is a sophomore Journalism and Media Production major from Hawaii.

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Two student-made plays draw Kennedy Center recognition