When Missouri Western gets national recognition, it makes the students, staff and community proud to be part of something spectacular.
Western’s production of “Of Mice and Men” is a perfect example of this. The cast and crew were recently selected out of 80 schools nationwide to perform in the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Bloomington, Minnesota.
The KCACTF is a national theater program involving 20,000 students from colleges and university nationwide annually. It is a year-round program in eight geographic regions. Western’s “Of Mice and Men” participated in Region 5.
Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Northern Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota all make up Region 5.
Six smaller plays were chosen from big schools like the Universities of Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.
Riley Bayer, who played Lennie in the show, shared his experience of the once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It went really well, at the point where it got overwhelming,” Bayer said. “We had probably the best audience we ever had. There were so many great reactions, like laughter and crying, it was a dream come true.”
Bayer was first nervous when told there would be over a thousand people in the audience, and when he saw the full house, he was even more nervous. But Bayer was able to overcome and put on an amazing show.
He was nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, which provides recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education.
Samantha Simmons, who played Curly’s wife, had a fun time performing for a crowd of over 1,000 people.
“It was cold, but the experience of a lifetime,” Simmons said. “I kind of stumbled when I saw the crowd. When I first went on stage for my part, I was blown away by how many people were there.”
An interesting thing about Simmons is she is not majoring in acting or theater. Instead, she is majoring in English education and accounting.
When the production was first performed in the fall semester of 2014, it was recognized as one of the best plays Missouri Western students had ever seen and been a part of.
Dr. Brian Railsback, who taught honors tutorial classes in creative writing and literature at Western Carolina University and who is also an expert on John Steinbeck, writer of “Of Mice and Men,” recognized Missouri Western’s production.
Jordan Jinkerson, who played Curly in the show, also shared his experience in Minnesota.
“I don’t know how to describe my experience, it was so overwhelming,” Jinkerson said. “When we went to go look at the main stage, which was the same size as Potter, we were so astounded because there were thousands of seats and a balcony. When we did rehearsals, we sat in different spots just to make sure we heard them on stage.”
Jinkerson also said that 500 tickets were sold within five minutes of going on sale. Besides performing, the cast and crew got to explore the city and experience opportunities others haven’t. They got to eat at the different restaurants, visit the Mall of America and even participate in different acting workshops.
The workshops were not just limited to acting. There were also dancing and Shakespeare workshops that would help students advance their skills to help their acting careers.
Despite competing against other schools, the cast didn’t see it as a contest.
“None of us really looked at it as a contest,” Bayer said. “It was just a really great honor just to be the main stage show with a full house of people who appreciate the play,” Bayer said.
The cast, crew and the entire set of Western’s “Of Mice and Men” drove to a different state to perform for a different crowd to bring honor to the great university that is Missouri Western.