A! Magazine for the Arts

Two actors showing off the work of T.J. Laws and Richard Curtis who were nominated for their work in costume design and make-up, respectively. (Photo by Dave Grace)

Two actors showing off the work of T.J. Laws and Richard Curtis who were nominated for their work in costume design and make-up, respectively. (Photo by Dave Grace)

Northeast State Theater Students earn Kennedy Center nominations for Living Dead

November 19, 2012

BLOUNTVILLE, TN - Northeast State Theater's Night of the Living Dead proved to be a big hit with audiences. The production also won over the critics earning several students and the play's director nominations for their work from the Region IV Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival judging body.

Student earning nominations were: Anne Rowell and Richard Jackson (acting); Aaron Bradley (scenic design and sound design); T.J. Laws (costume design); Richard Curtis (makeup); and Amanda Neas (stage management). Region IV judges also nominated Northeast State's Brad McKenzie for the Faculty Directing award.

"I was very pleased with it," said McKenzie, adjunct instructor of theater at Northeast State. "The tremendous effort the students brought throughout the production made it so successful."

Based on the classic 1968 zombie film, McKenzie merged stage action with brief television news clips shared by the audience and cast creating an element of drive-in movie nostalgia. The play's tension swept audiences into an apocalyptic vision being played out in a living room. The play ranks as the Northeast State Theater's second most popular production ever staged only trailing last spring's production of "The Wizard of Oz" in the number of ticket sales.

"I'm really proud of our department and what we are accomplishing. The KCACTF nominations reflect the hard work and long hours that our students put into the production," said Elizabeth M. Sloan, professor and director of Northeast State Theater. "Brad's dedication to Northeast State and the theatre department and especially the students is more than we can ask for."

With the action set mostly in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse during the late 1960s, Laws researched the look of that era's clothing. He coordinated the characters' style with Curtis's make-up effects.

"Richard and me worked to match costuming and masks trying to match up every detail," said Laws.

Curtis identified each actor playing a zombie – milkman, paperboy and bride – then custom designed each mask to fit each the character's identity and the actor's face. He created the mask structure with a combination of latex and silicone. The masks were later painted and garnished with the grotesque zombie features.

"It always makes you feel good when you see it happen on stage," said Curtis. "It is all worth the work you put in when the lights go up."

Bradley's design contrasted the house's off-stage upstairs area to on-stage cellar for dramatic effect. He framed the on-stage cellar area like a grave, dark and inescapable. The home's upstairs area stayed off-stage and unseen, suggesting an unknown fate and a possibility of hope.

"I looked at a lot of farm houses from the 1940s because the house was dated back to that time," said Bradley, who also played the character "Tom" in the play.

After using her talents as an artist and designer in past productions, Neas took on the formidable task of stage manager for "Living Dead." This new role meant long hours coordinating actors, designers, props, zombies, sounds and stage cues to keep the production flowing.

"It involved a lot of work and very little sleep, but I think this is most satisfying work I've done so far in my theater career," said Neas, a theater major. "I tried to take care of everyone and keep the play moving as one unified event."

The work of Neas and Curtis caught the KCACTF judges' attention for the second consecutive year. Neas won a first-place award last year in the festival's Weiss Design Competition for Lighting Design for her designs of "Equus." Curtis earned the Barbizon Scenic Design award for creating the Oedipus character masks. He was also nominated by the KCACTF judges for his scene design work on the "Godspell" production done by Northeast State Theater in spring.

The Kennedy Center Theater Festival recognizes the best theater work in Region IV representing colleges throughout the Southeast. McKenzie has won multiple Region IV awards and competed in the national Kennedy Center Theater festival.

"One thing I've tried to do is push my students as artists and theater majors," said McKenzie. "Theater is a creative art form where you learn to use your imagination. I want see my students grow beyond what they believe they are capable of doing."

A proctor from Region IV attended a performance to assess the play. The production's quality was graded and then considered for nominations to the regional competition. The KCACTF Regional Festival gives each nominee display space to exhibit his or her work. Judges review the work as it fits into the overall production. All the nominees will travel to the Region IV festival competition in Albany, Ga., next spring to compete against theater programs from across the Southeast.

"I'm really excited for Brad's Directing Award and the opportunities these students are going to get at the Region IV festival," said Sloan. "It is because of his artistic vision, hard work and dedication to the students that we have these nominations and that once again, a national spotlight will be focused on Northeast State Community College."