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Theatre Design Student Earns First Place at KCACTF National Contest

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Efforts in Inclusivity, Collaboration with Student Composer Impressed the Judges

portrait of Kayleigh Shaffer. She smiles widely, looks at the camera and wears black-rimmed glasses.University of Kansas junior theatre design major Kayleigh Shaffer has received a First Place National award for Sound Design at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. As a result, she’ll receive a monetary award and a paid trip to the Prague Quadrennial, a premier festival often considered the Olympics of theatre design, in Prague this summer.

Shaffer earned KCACTF’s First Place National Award for sound design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a large-scale and complex production that was part of KU’s University Theatre 2018-2019 season.

“For five months my composer and I worked on this project. I had to do research on the locations within the show and research on making an inclusive theatre space. With my composer, we did music research on Phillip Glass, Erik Satie and Johann Johannsson, which we used for inspiration” she said. “It was four to six hours every day during the last month of the process for both of us.”

She says she shares this recognition with Matthew O’Brien, junior theatre performance and design major, who created the original music for the production. She and O’Brien attended rehearsals to get a sense of timing, movement, and tone so that the sound cues and music weren’t overwhelming for those in attendance or for any of the actors, she said.

Scene from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Two figures talk on stage. Behind them a very Sherlock Holmes-type projection

“We wanted to establish Christopher’s world and wanted audiences to feel that they were there with the characters,” she said. “Working with a composer was new for me. I knew from the first read through of the show that I wanted to create the world as Christopher hears it, and upon the first meeting with the director we found out that we shared the same feeling on how the show should be heard. When Christopher was feeling anxiety or conflict, I wanted the audience to feel this way as well. To do this, we snuck in low frequency noise that humans cannot hear but can feel and low-sounding heartbeats that were more audible but created that same effect.”

“Everyone at nationals inspired each other in different ways. I loved being able to learn new things from other sound designers as everyone has a different work process. I love that I was able to shed light on making theatre more inclusive for everyone as a whole,” she said.

This is the second year in a row Shaffer has represented the Department of Theatre & Dance at KCACTF Nationals in sound design. This year she out-shined eight other competitors in her category to earn the international trip. You can learn more about Shaffer’s time in the KU design program on our website. Shaffer will be the sound designer for “Chasing Gods,” the summer theatre production at KU, and for “The Christians,” which opens the University Theatre’s season in September 2019.

Lexey Jost, second year MFA student from Hutchinson, Kansas, earned a national KCACTF Honorable Mention for scenic design for "Spring Awakening." Katelynn Schultz, senior from Oskaloosa, Kansas, was a national entrant in the costume design category for “Perfect Arrangement.” KU Theatre had the most representation of any university in the nation in the theatre design categories at KCACTF, said Kelly Vogel, Academic Associate and Resident Artist in the Department who Kayleigh also credits for her successes. Additionally, Shaffer credits Ann Sitzman, technical coordinator for the Department, as someone who guided her growth as a designer and technician.

The KCACTF National Festival took place April 15-20 in Washington D.C. Students were able to attend workshops, learn from professionals, and create contacts within the industry.

The University Theatre is a production wing of the University of Kansas’ Department of Theatre & Dance, offering six public productions during the academic year. The University Theatre productions are funded in part by Student Senate fees and supported by Truity Credit Union.

The Department of Theatre & Dance is one of three departments in the School of the Arts. As part of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the School of the Arts offers fresh possibilities for collaboration between the arts and the humanities, sciences, social sciences, international and interdisciplinary studies.

For more information on the Department of Theatre & Dance, click into theatredance.ku.edu. For more information on the University Theatre, visit KUTheatre.com or follow KU Theatre on Facebook and Instagram.

Production photos by Luke Jordan.
Portrait provided by Kayleigh Shaffer.

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