Department victorious at conference despite difficulties

Grambling State University students took center stage during the National Association of Speech and Dramatic Arts Conference, last week in Baltimore. 

Over a dozen students and three faculty members from The Department of Visual and Performing Arts participated in the weeklong conference from April 7-14, for a chance to compete in several categories against 21 other colleges and universities. 

“NADSA affords students the exposure to new African- American works in theatre, fellowship with Afro-American artist,”said Dr. King Godwin, department head of visual performing arts.

  “The opportunity to have their works adjudicated by both educational and professional artist and the conference allows students to showcase their talents.” 

Founded in 1936, by Sheppard Randolph Edmonds, the mission of NADSA serves a two-fold purpose: to encourage member institutions to establish and conduct programs in the theatre, communicative and performing arts; and provide pre-professional as well as professional experience for students, faculty and practitioners.

Taking advantage of the organization’s mission, GSU students competed and won first, second and third place awards in five of seven categories. 

One of the winners was 19-year-old freshman Dawn Clements, who won first place in duo acting, and gained recognition as a member of All-Star Cast, she said the awards won was just a representation of rehearsal. 

“Winning those awards was an amazing highlight in my overall experience,” said Clements, a native of Alabama and visual and performing arts major. “Knowing that all the hard work put in did not go in vain made everything worth it even more.” 

Brandon McKnight, 22, was part of the winners circle, accompanying Clements in the All-Star Cast category, and took away more than awards. “It definitely inspired me and opened my eyes up to a lot of the different aspects that occur when it comes to the art form,” said the junior Bossier City native. “What I know now, is so much more than I knew before I went, and I most certainly will apply those new ideas when it comes to my characters.”

Other awards won by the department was 

First place in the Allen Williams One Act Play Festival for the stage play, Miss Evers’ Boys.

Willie Miller, sophomore and New Orleans native, teamed with Clements in winning first place in Duo Acting. 

Second place in Reader’s Theatre for their performance of the Insane Asylum. 

Senior and Dallas native Tiana Alexander, 22, won third place in Dramatic Monologue

Not only did GSU walk away with awards, but NADSA honored Floyd L. Sandle and Dr. Allen Williams, both who served over 40 years as the department heads for the university theatre department. 

Even with the accomplishments at the conference, the department has had some hurdles to overcome as they have done a lot with very little. 

Without a Technical Director, a position that has been frozen for over a year and needed when meeting accreditation requirements and teaching stage craft courses has made students in the department to build, paint, light and manage sound on their own.

 “I do the sets, act and pride myself on being a student leader within the department. I am the person over the scene shop,” said Sean Turner, a senior 22-year-old native of New Orleans who has operated has the technical person for all shows. “I’m faculty without the faculty pay check.”

Presenting nearly 17 shows per academic year, including the one act shows done by the director’s class in the spring, Godwin says that the budget is stretched thin when preparing for shows and many times the staff pay for things out of their pockets. 

Managing three accounts, the principle budget is gained from the $1 student assessed fee, which depends on university enrollment, the second being the Theatre Guild Account, that comes from box office sales and the third account comes from the state, which are funds used to buy supplies. 

Even with the numerous accounts, the department follows professional guidelines when it comes to purchasing scripts and royalties of a stage play, a cost that can range between $1,500 and $3,000. 

With funding, Godwin says he wishes the department had the support of those on campus in hopes to expand the field of educational theatre

“I think one of the things we must be conscious of in the arts, is that if you are going to do the arts and do it well, it’s going to be a cost adventure, and we have to stop taking the generic rode,” said Godwin. “We cannot continue to piece meal and recycle stuff; we’ve got to be able to be authentic.”

Turner agrees with Godwin, wishing that the university community embraced the hard work that they do. 

“The school didn’t even support us on our trip to Baltimore, it all came out of the students pockets,” said Turner, when referring to the recent NADSA that cost nearly $20,000. “At the end of the day I want the university to embrace us like they do our sports and the band.” 

As the first Historically Black College or University to be nationally accredited and one of five current HBCUs to still be accredited, Dr. Godwin has high hopes for the department in the future with plans of adding a bachelor of fine arts degree and then a master’s program. The department is currently gearing up for their performance for Presidential Dinner Theatre on Friday, April 19, 2013 and the One Act Play Festival, beginning April 23. 

Financial woes may end as students voted to increase the student assessed fee from $1 to $5 for the department during the recent spring semester elections and the Technical Director position has been unfrozen and should be occupied by the start of fall 2013.