Wearing Many Hats: The A.C.T. Fellowship Project 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

For over six months, 13 young theater artists from various departments of A.C.T.’s Fellowship Program have come together to produce not one, but two plays in a project that will culminate in performances this week. Running April 19–22 at A.C.T.’s Costume Shop, the production features the work of Obie Award–winning playwrights Caryl Churchill and José Rivera with Far Away and Brainpeople, respectively. Both these plays tackle war, fear, and oppression through a dystopian lens, speaking volumes about the world we live in today. In celebration of this project marking the fifth consecutive year of the Fellowship Project, we spoke to some of this year's fellows about their experiences.

The 2017–18 A.C.T. Fellows involved in The A.C.T. Fellowship Project 2018. Photo by Allie Moss.
Nora Zahn (Director of Far Away): Being a part of this project from beginning to end has taught me a ton, especially when it comes to all the tiny details that go into making a production happen at an institutional theater! From changing the smallest phrases in fundraising letters to figuring out the exact coffee-to-water ratio to dye muslin, the sheer attention that has gone into each individual part of this process has been pretty mind-boggling. What an opportunity it has been to work with a badass group of largely women artists on a play as wild as Caryl Churchill's Far Away!

Nailah Harper-Malveaux (Director of Brainpeople): I feel incredibly humbled to work on this show with my three dope queens [Brainpeople actors Laura Espino, Andrea Guidry, and Jeunée Simon]! We are tackling a beast of a play. It's a joy and a challenge to work on Rivera's language and bring his words to life because there is such an incredible poeticism to them. The script is so meaty—we all just wish we had more time to chew on it! 

Costume Designer Bree Dills, directors Nora Zahn and Nailah Harper-Malveaux,
Production Manager Spencer Jorgensen, and Assistant Production Manager Olga Korolev
at the first rehearsal of the A.C.T. Fellowship Project 2018. Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
Miranda Ashland (Marketing Manager, Far Away Ensemble Member): I’ve taken a huge step in my understanding of how to market a show–or, in this case, two shows. Not only have I built on the knowledge I've learned from my time as a fellow, but I gained new skills through this project.

Far Away ensemble members Laura Espino, Andrea Guidry, Jeunée Simon, Rachel Stuart,
Taylor Steinbeck, Miranda Ashland, and director Nora Zahn in rehearsal. Photo by Mia Carey.
Rachel Stuart (Fundraising Manager, Far Away Ensemble Member): It felt so amazing to exceed our fundraising goal by thousands of dollars. Everyone was so helpful and I definitely learned a lot about raising money for a not-for-profit theater in managing my first campaign. While I'm happy we have extra funds to funnel into our show, my favorite part of this project has been collaborating with all the different departments. It's been fun getting to interact with fellows I normally don't get to work with. 

Bree Willard (Set, Prop, Projection, Graphic Designer): Wearing many hats in this project has given me insight into what it takes to problem solve for the different parts of a production. I've been able to use the visual design skills I’ve developed as the Graphics Fellow and apply them practically. 

Set and prop designer Bree Willard making papier-mâché mannequin heads. Photo by Miranda Ashland.
Mia Carey (Stage Manager, General Manager): It has been extremely rewarding to be deeply involved with these shows from the beginning—when they were just an idea—to now, when I am able to help run them every night.

The fellows involved with this year's project are: Miranda Ashland, Mia Carey, Tessanella DeFrisco, Bree Dills, Ilyssa Ernsteen, Nailah Harper-Malveaux, Spencer Jorgensen, Olga Korolev, Lealani Drew Manuta, Taylor Steinbeck, Rachel Stuart, Bree Willard, and Nora Zahn.

Far Away and Brainpeople run April 19–22 at The Costume Shop, 1117 Market Street. Tickets are free to the public, but require a reservation. Click here to reserve your tickets. For more about A.C.T.’s Fellowship Program, click here.

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