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Northwestern Theatre Faculy, Alumni Recognized at Annual Industry Awards

School of Communication faculty and alumni were big winners this year at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education annual conference and awards ceremony in New York City in August.

Among the recipients:

  • Senior lecturer of theatre Laura Schellhardt’s play Ever in the Glades won the Distinguished Play Award in Category B, which honors plays primarily for middle and secondary school-age audiences
  • Recent alumna Rachel Seidenberg (C19) won the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award
  • Alumnus Luke Jorgensen (GC93) won the Orlin Corey Award for Artistic Achievement
  • Rosemary Newcott (GC76) co-won (alongside Chris Vine) the Campton Bell Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Bluelaces Theater Company, founded by NU alumni, won the Zeta Phi Eta-Winifred Ward Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company Award

A Seesaw Theatre sensory performance created for children with developmental differences

“It’s absolutely thrilling,” says Rives Collins, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre in the School of Communication. “It speaks really well of what’s happening in the Northwestern community; it’s something special.”

The American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) is the premier professional network for theatre educators. Through membership, the annual conference, and related programming it aims to enrich young people and communities through theatre arts. Northwestern is usually well represented at the annual awards, but Collins says this year’s award count was notable.

Collins partnered with Schellhardt in 2016 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s prestigious New Visions/New Voices program, where they workshopped Ever in the Glades—Collins as director and Schellhardt as writer. The finished work premiered at Northwestern in May 2018 and then traveled the following month to the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater for a one-weekend run. The play is now available with Dramatic Publishing, and Schellhardt hopes it will soon be produced at high schools and colleges around the country. The story, about teenagers trying to escape the clutches of alligators—and insidious adults—on a fictional Florida island, has received consistent and vociferous praise.

“The thing that’s lovely about this particular award is that it is a celebration of people in the industry, people who believe that theatre for young audiences (TYA) is as or more important than theatre for adults,” Schellhardt says. “I think theatre for everyone is important, but young audiences haven’t closed their ears yet, they haven’t formed firm opinions yet, they’re hungry for insight, they understand metaphor. I think it’s the right time to explore empathy, it’s the right time to celebrate the imagination”

A scene from Laura Schellhardt’s Ever in the Glades

Schellhardt said she’s buoyed by the honor because it may prompt more theatres to produce material that, like Glades, is challenging, features a diverse cast, and holds adults to account. This play also acknowledges that “we’re handing (the youth) a broken world, and we’re relying on them more and more, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, gun (reform), and now climate change…we’re increasingly looking to the younger generation desperately, as opposed to hopefully, to solve these problems.”

One of those young people is Rachel Seidenberg, a New York-based theatre maker who was active in Northwestern’s TYA scene, especially Seesaw Theatre, which specializes in creating sensory experiences for children with autism spectrum disorder. It was through this and related work that she was recognized as the outstanding undergraduate.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive this award. I’ve looked up to many of the honorees and AATE for quite some time; it’s humbling and exciting to see my name alongside theirs,” Seidenberg says. “Undergrads aren’t typically celebrated outside of their university for the work they do, so having opportunities to recognize undergraduate work in this way helps bridge the gap between professional and academic settings.”

Rachel Seidenberg works with a child during a Seesaw Theatre sensory performance

“(Northwestern) is one of the few universities where so much of the undergraduate experience revolves around its robust extracurriculars,” she adds. “There is a huge emphasis on learning outside the classroom. I would not have received this award if it weren’t for these hands-on experiences and opportunities that make Northwestern so special. Additionally, the theatre faculty at Northwestern…want to make sure each student succeeds and prepares them for the future outside of Northwestern.”

The other winners include Luke Jorgensen, an associate professor of theatre at Boston College, who took home the Orlin Corey Award; Rosemary Newcott, the Sally G. Tomlinson Director of Theatre for Youth and Families at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, co-received the Campton Bell Lifetime Achievement Award; and Bluelaces Theater Company, founded by theatre alumni, received the Zeta Phi Eta-Winifred Ward Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company Award. Winifred Ward was a legendary Northwestern faculty member and the “mother of creative drama” who developed the creative drama programming at Evanston Public Schools and launched the conference that would later become AATE.