The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh theatre department and recent graduate Bryan Carter have each earned an award from the National Committee of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).
UW Oshkosh won the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award, an honor given for “programs in higher education using theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through an artistic, empathetic exploration of our complex cultural and physical world, and advocates for justice on campus and throughout the world.”
Carter, a Racine native who graduated with a political science degree in May, received an Outstanding Performance by an Actor award for his portrayal of Nat Turner in Nat Turner in Jerusalem last fall at UWO.
The play, directed by theatre professor Merlaine Angwall, earned UWO both honors after its selection for the regional festival earlier this year.
If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Carter would have traveled to Washington D.C. in April for the KCACTF national award ceremony in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. He was among the 125 student artists invited. The event was canceled in March, however, and the award winners instead were announced Saturday.
“To be honest it lifted me,” Carter said. “I read this play at a time when I felt looked over, unused and not good enough. I was no longer a theater major so I was constantly commuting to Chicago to work with private coaches to improve my skill level while studying political science and working part time.
“Seemingly out of the blue Merlaine (Angwall) decided to give this show and me a chance. To see the ripple effect of that choice is overwhelming at times.”
Nat Turner in Jerusalem was written by the contemporary playwright and Princeton University lecturer Nathan Alan Davis. It’s centered around the captured leader of a 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia who is awaiting his execution. It’s the fourth UWO show to make the KCACTF regionals from Angwall and Carter is the third under her direction to receive a national award from the festival. It was the only work from Wisconsin selected to be performed at the Mitchell Theatre on the UW-Madison campus in January as part of the regional KCACTF.
“This national award is significant,” Angwall said. “First, it validates our choice in producing the show. We presented a more diverse season for our audience, and as history and current events have demonstrated, it is an important play for our time.”
The play was staged at the Fredric March Theatre on the Oshkosh campus in October. Davis, its creator, came to UWO for a workshop and for the filming of a Wisconsin Public Television special.
“Judging from our audiences reactions to the play, the show was inspiring, poignant and a moving experience for them,” Angwall said. “I talked to several audience members after they saw the show and the best takeaway I have is the play was thought-provoking and made them want to continue the discussion on diversity long after they left the theatre.”
While much of the performing arts remain on pause because of the pandemic, Carter plans to again play Nat Turner in a production in Chicago. He also was chosen to attend the school at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, but the summer residency has been put on hold until 2021.
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