The Sundance Film Festival isn't the only creative-arts competition going on in Utah this time of the year. College theater companies are crowding into the Beehive State in a quest for recognition in the nation's capital.
Costa Mesa's Vanguard University is among the colleges vying in the Kennedy center American College Theater Festival's southwest region competition, taking place all next week in Cedar City, Utah. It's the second year in a row for the local thespians, who took last season's production of "The Lion in Winter" to the 2005 festival in Arizona.
This time around, Vanguard will be pinning its hopes on Arlene Hutton's "As It is in Heaven," which the college presented earlier this season. It's an insightful glimpse of the Shaker way of life.
"To be invited back again after last year's trip to Arizona for our production just floors me," said David Pecoraro, co-chairman of Vanguard's theater department. "This is unheard of, especially in the smaller private universities like ours. We are extremely thrilled and honored."
Vanguard was one of 173 entries in the festival and is among a selection of 10 schools invited to the regional competition. The local production made a deep impression on Jim Taulli of California State University, Fullerton, who's vice chairman of KC-ACTF Region VIII.
"I was very impressed with the entire production because it was so obvious to me that it came together as the result of an entirely collaborative effort," Taulli noted. "Every theatrical component worked in complement to each other. It was clear that they determined beforehand how every piece would fit together toward delivering the most optimum whole presentation."
Marianne Savell, who directed the Vanguard production, welcomed the opportunity to bring the "magical play" to life once again, declaring: "I'm thrilled that more people will be able to see Arlene's work."
"As It is in Heaven" is an ensemble piece, a character study of Shakers in Kentucky in 1838, focusing on how nine women react to the "visions" of another in the fold. The central character is played by Colleen Warner, while other cast members include Kristie Clark, Deborah Chesterman, Shauna Esau, Kristi Nolf, Donna Johnson, Missy Albanese, Caitlin Macy-Beckwith and Laura Manchester.
Should Vanguard win the regional competition, the company will be invited to perform "As It is in Heaven" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in April. A lot of fingers in Costa Mesa are being crossed this week.
* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot. His reviews appear Fridays.