Sky High: The 2013 Sky Festival

Posted by Sharon Rietkerk, Marketing Project Manager

Sky Festival scheduling = Excel jigsaw puzzle!
The annual A.C.T. Sky Festival is a dynamic event that brings together the A.C.T. community in the creation, rehearsal, and performance of a vibrant and eclectic range of work. Each year A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) Program students and faculty, core acting company members, and artistic staff submit proposals for projects they are personally passionate about, offering students an opportunity to approach work from multiple angles, from directing to devising to performing. Ranging from self-written work to movement-based interpretations of printed texts and conventional explorations of "straight plays," the chosen projects (12 this year) are developed over two weeks of intense rehearsal and exploration, culminating in two days of studio presentations.

But how do you get three classes of M.F.A. Program students, 12 projects, plus faculty and advisors sorted out to rehearse nonstop for two weeks without creating casting and rehearsal space chaos? An interview with A.C.T. Conservatory Producer Dick Daley reveals how much logistical planning goes into producing the Sky Festival each year.

The Sky Festival rehearses for two weeks (January 7–18), culminating in performances for fellow students, faculty, and A.C.T. staff on the final day. When do you start preparing for this event? 

Student proposals are due by the end of October. At that point, they are given to the selection committee, comprised of A.C.T. M.F.A. Program faculty members, for review. After careful consideration the committee aims to select 12 projects—due to logistics, including the available studios and casting pool, this is the maximum number of projects that can be accommodated for the festival. We choose about 15 projects as potential candidates so that we have options to work with as we create a schedule.

How many proposals did you receive this season? 


The final version.
You ended up with a total of 12 pieces in this season's Sky Festival, all being rehearsed at the same time . . . 

Six rehearse in the morning, and six in the afternoon. So a student might be working on a one-woman show in the morning, and then direct a piece that was proposed by another student in the afternoon.

How long does it take you to create the rehearsal schedule? You have to take into account casting and rehearsal spaces, yes? 

It takes me about three full working days to put together the schedule for Sky Festival. I plug projects into a chart and work out who can be in which piece in the morning and who can be in which piece in the afternoon. Then I have to figure out where each piece will rehearse, as each project needs a separate room.

Are students able to request specific actors to perform in their piece, or specific rooms to rehearse and ultimately present their piece in? 

Yes, they can request both of those things, along with a request for someone specific to direct the piece, but they are not guaranteed. If one student is directing his own piece in the morning, he can't be in another student's piece at the same time. We do try to take everything into consideration, however. There are certain pieces that require gender- or race-specific casting, so I use those as the cornerstones, and work out the logistics for the other pieces based on those. It is a big jigsaw puzzle.

And you coordinate all of this?! Scheduling, producing, finding props, everything? 

Yes—I am a one-man band overseeing Sky Festival, although I have good resources for support. Conservatory Manager Hannah Cohen helps with scheduling, Sarah Phykitt and Shay Henley in production are good with troubleshooting technical issues. I enjoy watching and working with the acting students as they figure out how to accomplish a production issue that usually is handled by a production's technical and design team. The process opens them up to the wider realm of putting a show together that normally isn't their focus when working on a play. And the students seem to enjoy it themselves. I think the festival is great in that an acting student gets a chance to lead a project in a new way—and in the end, they may realize they're good at it and want to continue exploring an area other than acting. Or they find out they'd prefer creating a piece from an actor’s position. Or a project may give someone the confidence to propose their own project next year. That's what I hope education can do best: open our eyes to opportunities that we may not have found out about on our own. There's extra excitement in the air at A.C.T. this time of year. How can it not be with 12 projects in creation at once, in one building, that come to fruition in just over two weeks?

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