UNCW’s Theatre Department spotlighted by North Carolina Theatre Conference College/University Award

Anna Ford, Staff Writer

Lights, camera – award time! The North Carolina Theatre Conference (NCTC) recently awarded the UNCW Theatre Department with the esteemed NCTC College/University Award, recognizing the program for excellence in theatre and education.

NCTC hosts an annual conference known as the Producing Gathering for active members. Producing Gatherings are designed to bring participants in the North Carolina theatre community together by hosting both local and educational theatre departments. Potential students from around the state are given the opportunity to meet and work with faculty and students at the college level.

Activity from members of NCTC are assessed annually by the board of directors, reviewing each department’s work on campus and as part of the larger local community. In addition to the NCTC College/University Award, NCTC also recognizes community theatre programs and selects individuals for outstanding achievement.

Ed Wagenseller, a professor teaching in UNCW’s Theatre Department full-time for 25 years, expressed an ecstatic response to UNCW’s recognition.

“I was thrilled for the department, and I felt like the recognition was long overdue, but [I’m] very grateful for it,” he said. “We’ve been doing fantastic work here for 15 [to] 20 years, and it’s just great to be recognized.”

Wagenseller views the Theatre Department’s adaptability as contributing to the success of the program.

“The department had been predominantly performance majors until the last ten years,” Wagenseller said. “[Tech director] Max Lydy and our costume designer Mark Soresen have made great strides in attracting design and tech majors as well. And when you have a really great facility and really good equipment, it’s a lot easier to recruit.”

NCTC supports the North Carolina theatre community and encourages the next generation of performers and theatre collaborators.

UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building, the hub for the Theatre Department as well as several other arts-focused departments, is approaching its 20th anniversary as part of campus and helped legitimize the theatre program within the state. With over 104,800 square feet of classrooms, rehearsal spaces and performance areas, the Cultural Arts Building provides a home for creative performance projects on campus and offers a plethora of resources to those involved.

Robin Post credited the “unprecedented number of students” involved in the department with garnering attention from NCTC. Post, an Associate Professor in Performance, leads the Shakespeare and Autism initiative at UNCW, a program that Theatre Department Chair Katherine Montwieler said “encourage[s] communication, empathy, and aesthetic appreciation” within the larger Wilmington community.

Shakespeare and Autism originated as a collaboration between Ohio State University and the Royal Shakespeare Company to study the relationship between the dramatic arts and “improving social and communication skills with children of all ages and across the autism spectrum.” Post brought Shakespeare and Autism to UNCW to continue supporting children on the autistic spectrum through the arts.

“No one else in the state has that,” Wagenseller said. “Post brought [disability advocation] to the table and has been awarded pretty impressive awards and grants to do her work over the summers.”

The UNCW Cultural Arts Building. (UNCW Department of Theatre)

UNCW also boasts the use of black box theater in stimulating creative initiative in students. Black box theater utilizes sparse set design to emphasize the performance aspect of productions. Students also have the unique opportunity to direct and produce black box theater productions at UNCW, allowing for artistic exploration in an innovative and encouraging environment.

The Theatre Department highly encourages participants from non-theatre majors in various roles. Whether working behind the scenes with the stage crew or performing in front of a live audience, opportunities to explore the world of theatre are open to all majors. Though the next round of auditions for Fall 2023 productions are closed until August, students can still become involved by visiting the Cultural Arts Building or contacting the department via email.

Montwieler and Wagenseller hope graduates of the theatre program will carry the professional and collaborative skills with them regardless of their life path following college.

“We’re responding in real time with new technologies, visions, and awarenesses that were unimaginable a few years ago,” said Montwieler. “Our visions are collaborative, collective, and interdependent, and our work brings out the best in all of us and inspires those fortunate enough to witness our efforts.”

Members from NCTC officially presented the NCTC College/University Award to UNCW following last Thursday’s production of “Electra.” “Electra” is directed by Christopher Marino and runs February 16-19 and 23-26.