‘Top Girls’ go for top prize

In 2001, the President of the United States was George W. Bush and the first film of the Harry Potter series was released.

It was also the last time a Pierce College production was selected to compete at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).

The Pierce Theater program has been chosen as one of the six productions to be showcased from region VIII of the KCACTF.

The production being highlighted at the festival is Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls” directed by Shaheen Vaaz, a professor of theater arts.

Vaaz compared the event to one of the most famous music festivals of all time but with different personnel.

“Just think of Coachella but filled with theater nerds,” Vaaz said. “Everyone’s really excited to go there and do workshops and see plays and interact with other people. It’s quite exciting.”

Jon Michael Villagomez, assistant director for “Top Girls,” was selected to participate in the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) Student Directing Fellowship competition.

Villagomez won first place for his SDC directing scene at the KCACTF this year and he became the first Pierce student to ever advance to the finals and win this national competition.

In addition to “Top Girls” being selected to compete at the KCACTF, Pierce sent eight acting students to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition.

According to the KCACTF webpage, the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships provide recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue a further education and career in acting.

Actors Trevor Alkazian, Trevor Figueroa and Justine Gorry all advanced to the semi-final round of the of the acting competition.

The theater department also sent Sarah Webster, set designer for “Top Girls,” to partake in the Allied Design and Technology competition where she was also a finalist for her scenic design presentation for “Top Girls.

Region VIII of the KCACTF is comprised of both community colleges and four-year universities from Arizona, Central and Southern California, Hawai’i, Southern Nevada, Utah and Guam.

Despite the play being set in the early 1980s, Vaaz believes the message of “Top Girls” can be applicable in today’s society due to the fact that the whole theme is about women empowerment.

“Currently it’s the time of ‘Me Too’ and I think we felt that in the air as we were all working together,” Vaaz said. “We all had a really deep personal connection to it.”

Department Chair of Performing Arts Michael Gend said the play was written as a response to the women’s liberation movement in the workplace that was happening in 1970s Britain.

“It really is about women’s rise to power and the lead character is a female CEO,” Gend said. “With all the movements that have been happening lately, it feels like the story has become relevant again because of what is happening in society now.”

Gend said by being selected to this well-renowned festival, it is a great way to promote themselves as a department to colleges across the nation and show what they bring to the table.

“They can see the quality of our work and become aware of us,” Gend said. “It’s also a great opportunity for our students that are planning to transfer because they will be able to meet with representatives from four-year colleges.”

Theater Manager Michael Sande said this competition gives the student actors the golden moment to showcase their skills to not only universities but to professionals as well.

“It gives [the students] a chance to attend workshops, go to seminars, and even meet with casting agents,” Sande said. “It really is an incredible opportunity for students.”

Vaaz hopes that by having a play selected to compete at the KCACTF, it gives the theater department a boost of confidence going forward.

“I hope the theater department sees how strong it is and that it can take itself seriously,” Vaaz said. “Right now it feels like we are much bigger and more established as a department. I want us to notice that we have real talent and amazing people who work here.”

The full-time Pierce Theater professor believes they entered this competition as an underdog.

She wants the students to embrace that feeling and use it as motivation to prove people wrong and make a statement for themselves.

“I hope it gives the competing students confidence that we can win one of these scholarships,” Vaaz said. “We’re just as good as these other schools that have been coming here forever. Why not us?”

Gend said the news of them being selected to participate in the festival came right when they needed it most because they took some losses to the department. Pierce did not hire any full-time faculty replacements due to poor enrollment and bad completion numbers which according to Gend is untrue.

“Our enrollment is the highest of all the performing art programs within the whole district,” Gend said. “We have more people graduating than ever before. We had 22 students graduate last year, which is really big for an arts program.”

With the theater department in shambles due to the bad news, Gend said being selected to the festival gave them an excuse to celebrate and embark on the journey to prepare and give it their all in the competitions.