Theater festival selects five CCC students to compete

Comets chosen to attend college theater festival in Spokane, Washington.


Xavier johnson / The Advocate

RIGHT: Umi Grant (left) and Oz Herrera-Sobal (right) perform a scene from “How We Got On.” The play is nominated for presentation at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Spokane, Washington. The festival will take place Feb. 19-23.

By Gabriel Quiroz, Advocate Staff

Five students from the drama department have been selected to go to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival later this month in Spokane, Washington.

Umi Grant, Oz Herrera-Sobal, Xavier Johnson, Akilah Kamau and Cody Poehnelt will all be competing at the week-long festival after receiving nominations from last semester’s production of “How We Got On.”

Along with the five students nominated, Josiah Garcia and Diego Loza are going to the festival as acting scene partners. Garcia will work with Sobal and Loza will be working with Kamau.

The festival will be Feb. 19-23 with a week’s worth of productions, competitions and workshops each day.

The festival includes state, regional and national events where students compete in all aspects of theater, from acting to directing to production design.

According to its website, the goal is to “encourage, recognize and celebrate the finest and most diverse work produced in university and college theater programs.”

This is the second year students from the department have been chosen for the acting category of the competition. It is the first year that students will compete in the technical theater and drama in journalism categories.

Technical theater student Poehnelt received a nomination in lighting design after his work during last semester’s production of “How We Got On.”

Poehnelt has been working in technical theater at CCC for five years and knows the necessary steps to take to achieve the theatrical look he wants.

He said he first reads the script for the play, then speaks with the director and begins to develop a concept.

Once he decides what he wants to do, it usually only takes a few days to set up the lights and program the patterns. He said developing the concepts is the lengthy process.

“My favorite part of the whole process is actually putting on the show and hearing the crowd react to the effects I’ve created,” Poehnelt said.

During the festival Poehnelt will not have his lighting equipment with him so he must create a display board showcasing his process from start to finish to present to the judges.

Johnson will be attending the festival as the drama department’s first nominee for the Drama in Journalism category.

Journalists at the festival compete by covering of events going on throughout the theater festival and writing play reviews.

Drama department Chairperson Carlos-Manuel Chavarria said Johnson is his first journalism student he’s had compete. He said this is a learning experience because neither he or Johnson know what to expect.

This is also the first year Umi Grant will be competing at the festival as an actor. Herrera-Sobal and Kamau both competed at last year’s festival.

Grant attended the event last year as Herrera-Sobal’s scene partner.

The acting competitors are working closely with adjunct drama professor, and the director of “How We Got On,” Angelina LaBarre.

She got to choose the scenes and monologues for the acting students to perform at the festival.

LaBarre said scene and monologue selection is very important because students in the acting category will only have three minute segments at the festival to showcase their skills.

“I tried to find pieces that they knew how to perform, but also (scenes) that would challenge them,” LaBarre said.

One of these challenging scenes comes from “The Pillowman,” by Martin McDonagh, the story of Katurian, a fiction writer and his brother Michal who has suffered from years of abuse at the hands of their parents.

Katurian and Michal are both jailed because Katurians’ fictional writings seem to tell the story of actual murders of children that have recently taken place in their small town.

Sobal will play the role of Katurian during an intense scene where Michal admits to him that he is the one who has killed the children.

“This year we are part of the top 20,” Chavarria said, referring to the college’s position at the festival.

There are eight regions in total across the country. Contra Costa College is in Region 7, which includes Diablo Valley College, Santa Rosa College, along with other colleges and universities from Colorado to Washington.