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Joel Williams’ ‘Promises’ Chosen to be Performed at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Feb. 4, 2014. “Promises” a new play by Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance faculty member Joel Williams has been chosen to be performed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (HCACTF).

promises_01This is the third time that Appalachian has been selected for this honor, following acclaimed festival appearances in 2001 and 2010. The Region IV festival is being held Feb. 4-8 at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. “Promises” will be performed with an Appalachian cast during the prime slot of 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7. It is already sold out.

Originally produced on campus in October 2014, “Promises” is one of only four major productions selected from more than 60 participating entries from colleges and universities in nine southeastern states and Puerto Rico. Professor Williams will lead a company of 21 students and eight faculty and staff to participate in the festival with his play. 

Three cast members, Will Allen, Paige Borden and Carson Rich, will compete for the prestigious Irene Ryan Scholarship, which provides recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education. In addition, three theatre faculty members have been nominated for “Excellence in Design” awards for their work on the production: Mike Helms for the scenic design, Martha Marking for costumes and John Marty for stage lighting. 

Started in 1969 by the Kennedy Center’s founding chairman Roger L. Stevens, KCACTF is a national theatre program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide. It has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, in which theatre departments and student artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by respondents. Since its inception, KCACTF has given more than 400,000 college theatre students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills and receive national recognition for excellence. More than 16 million theatergoers have attended approximately 10,000 festival productions nationwide.

Dr. Derek Davidson, director of “Promises,” said that KCACTF is one of the best experiences college students can have, and is at the same time one of the most prestigious in the country. “We were honored with three students nominated for the Irene Ryan Award. ASU is fortunate to have some of the most talented young people in the state, but it is exciting when we are able to show off our talent around the region,” he said. 

Davidson stated the the national winner of the Irene Ryan Award is “The Heisman Trophy Winner of the theatre world. Our very own students are in the running, and deserve to be.”

“Promises” tells the story of Joseph, a 50-year-old man who sets out on a journey to fulfill a request made by his dying mother and comes to understand the truth of his own personal history. Letters and artifacts that once belonged to his parents prompt flashbacks that reveal complex relationships and secrets hidden from Joseph for most of his life. 

The play deals with love, loss, betrayal, reconciliation and promises, both kept and broken. It is set against the historical backdrop of the wartime construction of Fontana Dam in Swain County, which local residents called “The Road to Nowhere.” Although characters in this play are fictional, their story is inspired by factual history: the building of the dam, the incorporation of the North Shore into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and the ongoing tradition of decoration days that require excursions across Fontana Lake into the boundaries of the national park. 

Playwright Williams said, “I am thrilled and honored that “Promises” has been invited to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and I am very grateful to the students in the cast and crew, as well as my colleagues. They worked so hard and so effectively brought the words of the script to life on stage.”