Gannon University to Perform at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 2

Posted: January 5, 2018

Gannon University's Schuster Theatre troupe will take the stage at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 2 for the first time in more than 20 years.

The festival, on January 20 on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, features invited productions from theater programs at colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Gannon will perform "APE/ESSENCE," a production that garnered rave reviews during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, earlier this year. 

"I compare it to being in the 'Elite 8'" of an athletic championship, Jax Vadney, technical director of the Schuster Theatre, said of securing an invitation to the festival. "We're excited to perform." 

"APE/ESSENCE," based on Aldous Huxley's dystopic 1948 novel, "Ape and Essence," originated at the Schuster Theatre and was largely created by student actors based on an adaptation written by the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, associate professor of theatre. Erie-area theater-lovers who missed the 10-performance run at the Schuster Theatre in April will have another chance to see the show before the festival during a one-night-only performance at Dramashop, 1001 State St., Suite 210, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public and can be purchased online at

Eleven students and two alumni, Ali Leng and Tom Barton, will be involved in the show. 

The invitation is evidence that something special is happening in the Gannon theatre program, said Assistant Professor of Theatre Alaina Manchester, who co-wrote and directs "APE/ESSENCE."

"it is just such an honor to showcase what we've been on," Manchester said. "Here at Gannon, we strive to explore the process as well as the product. Our students are here to learn how to do the thing. Not only are they learning how to do the thing, they're cultivating their own actor processes." 

The festival is a chance for student actors to not only showcase their efforts but to learn from peers at other schools, Clerkin said.

"They're going to see some of the best productions" from schools throughout the region, Clerkin said. "And it's an opportunity for them to share their work. I'm always impressed because sometimes they realize how special their (Gannon) program is and how universal theatre is."

The invitation to perform on the the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 2 stage caps a season of praise for "APE/ESSENCE" and the theatre program. Following an August performance at the International Collegiate Theatre Festival (ICTF), part of the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the

British Theatre Guide awarded the show four of five stars - the highest rating given to any of the four colleges that performed at the festival.

Reviewer Graeme Strachan wrote of the production, "The players lope and whoop, while flinging themselves around the stage in energetic glee, bedecked in Mad Max-like war paint, khaki clothes and furs, managing to milk every drop of humour out of the ridiculousness of the situation, while allowing the uncomfortable undercurrent of violence and horror to bubble just below the surface, erupting periodically." He added, "Indeed, the tragedy of this show is that it will only appear for a mere 4 showings, each of which is at a different time of day-a state of affairs that will probably ensure it isn't seen by nearly enough Fringe patrons."

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