Tarleton State Production Earns National Theater Festival Recognition 

Tarleton theater students, from left, Anna Lee Williams, Rebecca Franko, Benny Brown and Maddy Munn lead the cast of LIZZIE: The Musical. The production has been named by the to the short list of college productions for Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival regional competition as well as individual honors for members of the cast and crew.

STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton State University’s production of LIZZIE: The Musical has garnered national attention for students involved in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival production.

Kay Grimstad and Caroline Bachhofer were honored for outstanding achievements in acting, and Benny Brown, Rebecca Franko and Anna Lee Williams all earned nominations for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship.

Behind the scenes seven Tarleton State theater students were cited for outstanding achievement: Franko for costume design, Halani Harber for lighting design, Matalynn Thayer for stage management, and Wade Girton, Brody Custer, Andrew Pippin and Jackson Griffith for musicianship.

LIZZIE also was named to the short list of productions from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana colleges and universities to be performed at one of eight regional festivals in February. 

Award-nominated productions are chosen by judges who see performances in person, then make their recommendations.

The National Festival takes place each April. Students participate in workshops with theater professionals, see productions in Washington, D.C., and connect with their peers from across the country.

Theatre at Tarleton’s LIZZIE draws inspiration from Riot Grrrl music, queer sensibilities and ’70s/’80s female punk. Riot Grrrl is a subculture combining feminism and punk music. Its songs frequently dealt with rape, domestic violence, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, classism, anarchism and female empowerment. 

In late summer 1892 in Fall River, Mass., 32-year-old Lizzie Borden was accused (and subsequently acquitted) of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. LIZZIE: The Musical delves into the woman’s mind and speculates on her motivations, from loss of inheritance and a history of sexual abuse to overwhelming oppression and madness. 

Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt wrote the play. Theatre Assistant Professor Dan Stone directs the Tarleton version.

“When I came across this play, I was immediately drawn to its pounding guitars and howling vocals,” Stone said. “I’ve staged it like an ’80s heavy metal/punk concert incorporating aspects of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. This means harsh saturated colored lighting, sound that pierces and pulsates, unexpected surprises and ritualistic movement/physicality.”

The annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) involves 18,000 students from colleges and universities across the country. It has given more than 400,000 students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their theater skills, and receive national recognition. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended approximately 10,000 festival productions nationwide.

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