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March 5, 2020

Channeling a new skill in theater production, SVSU student now recognized nationally as a top college talent

When Rhiannon Hall enrolled at Saginaw Valley State University in 2017, she was excited to pursue her passion for theater but was not yet sure which role — either as a performer or behind-the-scenes crew member — best suited her. Empowered by SVSU faculty and inspired by her experience working on award-winning campus productions, Hall in less than three years both found her niche and was recognized nationally for excelling at it.
 
The Bay City resident learned this week she was selected to attend the Kennedy Center American College Theater National Festival from April 7-11 in Washington D.C. There, she will join some of the top U.S. college talent as they network and learn from industry professionals.
 
She earned the opportunity in part because she was recognized recently for her skills in dramaturgy work, an off-stage role that involves finding opportunities to deepen a play's immersive effects outside of the boundaries of the on-stage production. She was the recipient of the Regional Dramaturgy Award given at a Kennedy Center regional competition covering Midwest colleges in January. The award was presented to students at the eight regional divisions associated with Kennedy Center in the U.S., but only four of those recipients — including Hall — were selected to attend next month's national festival.
 
Hall and her three peers will spend five days honing their craft at the festival's workshops while receiving tutelage from Mark Bly, who has worked in dramaturgy for 35 years at theaters in Washington D.C. and New York City.
 
“I was shocked when I found out I was invited,” Hall said.
 
“The regional competition was in January and I had not heard anything since then. I had put it out of my mind so I wouldn’t think too much about it. Then I was opening my email to do homework on Tuesday when I saw the invitation, and I just started crying.”
 
The all-expenses-paid opportunity represents both a validation of her hard work and determination as an SVSU theatre major as well as a signal that her shift to practicing dramaturgy was a wise choice, she said.
 
Graduating from Fairview High School in 2017, the Grand Blanc-born Hall enrolled at SVSU with an initial interest in acting. Not long after her arrival, though, she was exposed to other elements of theater production that allowed her to channel untapped talents within her, she said.
 
“I came to SVSU thinking I knew theater, but I didn’t really know theater,” she said. “I’m thankful for all the people who showed me what I didn’t know.”
 
Among her SVSU mentors were David Rzeszutek, associate professor of theatre, as well as Margaret “Peggy” Mead-Finizio and Tommy Wedge, assistant professors of theatre. The trio challenged Hall to explore stage management and dramaturgy work on SVSU's play productions. And she responded.
 
In particular, Hall gravitated toward dramaturgy. Her flair for the work shined especially bright during SVSU's fall 2019 adaptation of "Proof." She provided writings to the actors that offered them deeper explorations of character motivations than what was available in the play’s script. For the audience, she arranged for SVSU’s Student Counseling Center to occupy a booth outside the production, making staff available to answer questions from attendees after they watched the drama about grief, depression and mental health.
 
The work won her the Kennedy Center regional award, and ultimately, the invitation to Washington D.C.
 
“I didn’t even know what dramaturgy was when I came to SVSU,” said Hall, who expects to graduate in May 2021 and hopes to eventually provide dramaturgy work professionally.
 
“I’m really grateful that I found a passion in a part of theater that speaks to me and makes sense in my heart.”