Oh, the drama: what we did at ACTF and why

Janelle Cammenga- Copy Edito

After spending a week in Des Moines at Region 5’s American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), I can safely say that I’ve learned some things.

I’ve learned that Domino’s delivers to hotels after midnight, but you should make sure they don’t get locked out of the hotel while trying to get to your room. Also, “Fuzzy’s Tacos” does not actually sell tacos covered in fuzz, no matter what one might assume.

I’ve learned that burgers with buns made of deep fried macaroni and cheese are nauseatingly fantastic and should only be attempted once in a year—or maybe once in a lifetime. I now know I can consume a Spicy Chicken Jr. and fries within the space of a two-block walk.

I’ve learned some tangible theatre skills. I know what kind of things are important when blocking a scene in the round—a setup that puts the audience around the stage. I’ve now lifted someone heavier than myself, which is possible as long as you do it right. Pro tip: Don’t attempt this if you’re embarrassingly out of shape and have just done a full hour of stretching and squats that have left your legs literally shaking. Not that I would know that from personal experience. Nope. Just… observed.

But a lot of things I already knew: The atmosphere and values of the festival came as no surprise. Swearing filled the scenes from the Irene Ryan acting competition as did sexual topics and themes, although the scenes on the whole were much milder than last year.

Brad Dell, chair of Region 5, exhorted festival goers to “Be the light; let your freak flag fly!” during his closing speech on Friday night.

In the case of ACTF, this “freak flag” involves seeking racial equality and respect for immigrants, but it also celebrates transgender people, unashamed promiscuity and same sex couples, things the Bible does not praise.

Why does a Christian theatre department take part?

The first answer is networking and learning: For those looking to be involved in theatre long-term, the people they meet at workshops and shows are their future colleagues and competition. The more years a student attends ACTF, the more people they will recognize and connect with others. There is value in learning skills from those who are actively involved in the industry, especially those with different skill sets from our theatre faculty. ACTF is the best option available to accomplish both of these things.

The second answer is more involved: The world is bigger than our theatre department. Theatre in general seems to attract the outcasts of society, those whose voices don’t get to be heard in other settings. But what started out as plain inclusion has shifted to a desire to push the envelope, which leads to the mob mentality and edginess that characterizes ACTF. Students who plan to stay in the industry should be aware of this tendency early and consider how to deal with the issue.

While we may not agree with ACTF’s specific values or even the methods they choose to defend those values, we can get behind their love of inclusion. Interacting with the people at ACTF helps us understand how they got to where they are ideologically. We should strive to understand, even if we don’t agree. Meeting and working with people with whom we disagree can offer us broader perspectives and give us unique opportunities to minister to their different needs. There’s no reason you can’t minister in a setting of dance workshops, plays and competitions.

Besides, is there anything more loving and Christian we can do than to befriend the outcasts?

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