Hillsdale theater students swept two award ceremonies across the country this year at both the The Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival and the DePauw Undergraduate Honors Conference for Communication and Theatre.
Junior Austin Benson, senior Nikolai Dignoti, junior Katherine Buursma, and junior John Rohman, all took a Theater History class with Professor of Theater James Brandon Fall Semester, and out of that class came four prize-winning papers.
Every year, Brandon takes the top papers from the class and submits half to the American College Theater Festival and the other half to the DePauw Undergraduate Honors Conference in Communication and Theatre. This year, the Hillsdale students ranked in both competitions.
Benson is a junior theater and English major who has been involved with the Tower Players and the theater department since his freshman year. Benson’s paper on the origins of theater won him the Undergraduate Theater Scholar Award at the festival, along with a $1,000 cash prize, and a free trip to the festival in Washington, D.C. in April.
“My paper was about Anglo-Saxon oral poetry and early medieval liturgical drama,” Benson said. “My argument is that we can actually posit an early foundation for the origins of theater, particularly in medieval England, with this tradition of Anglo-Saxon performative oral poetry.”
Dignoti, Buursma, and Rohman’s papers were all selected for the DePauw Conference. DePauw generally accepts about 36 papers from across the country. Selected papers are assigned to a professor, who acts as a mentor to a group of 10 or 11 students. They work in groups and one-on-one with the professor to critique and improve their work.
Buursma’s paper focused on the history of Indian theater, and the 12 forms of dance dramas, while Rohman’s centered around the similarities between Greek tragedies and Japanese Noh drama and what these similarities indicate about the historical development across cultures.
“This conference is great because it is really important to take your work outside of a safe place. At Hillsdale, you know your professors, your audience, the expectations,” Brandon said. “To take your work out to people in the field who are not in your space is brave and necessary to become a scholar. For our Depauw students, this is some of the first steps on the way to real scholarship.”
Dignoti, a theater and history major, has also been involved with the theater department since his freshman year, and said he has enjoyed the opportunity to combine skills from both of his majors into his paper.
“My paper centrally focused on the Sophoclean tragedy Antigone and how it has developed into multiple modern adaptations today ranging from the early 1910’s by Walter Hasenclever to Bertolt Brecht in the 50s,” Dignoti said.
Dignoti said he is eagerly awaiting the conference and the opportunities it will give him to grow as a writer.
“I am looking to actually seeing if my work is relevant in the larger theater world, and if people are interested in reading the things I like to write about,” Dignoti added.
Brandon said he is immensely proud of all his students in their endeavors and accomplishments in this process.
“I have always taken scholarship in a theater program to be of tantamount importance,” Brandon said. “It is good to have that reassurance from the outside world that what we are doing here is top-notch scholarship, and I want my students to keep engaging in it.”