Brownstown alum to compete in national theater festival

All three years she has been at the University of Indianapolis, Katie Rohlfing has entered the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and participated in festival activities.

From acting to design to playwriting, there are so many different categories to enter, the 21-year-old theater education major said.

Her first year, she was in the Design Storm competition in scenic design for “The Revolutionists.”

Her second year, she was in the 10-minute play festival as an actor, competed in the Design Storm competition with hair and makeup design for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and competed in the design and technology management category in the costume design division for “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

“I loved attending and doing things for KCACTF,” said Rohlfing, a 2019 graduate of Brownstown Central High School. “I would always attend every workshop and do everything I could to gain as much experience as I could.”

Approaching this year’s competition, Rohlfing said she was unsure about competing. During a theater department meeting, though, faculty members talked about the festival and encouraged students to sign up to participate.

Rohlfing decided to go for it and sent in her set design for Jackson County Young Artists’ Theatre’s summer 2021 production of “The Princess Who Had No Name.” She also directed that youth theater show.

“I went and talked to them about all I did this summer, and they told me that my entire show would work under a category in DTM called allied design, but if I was interested even slightly, I had to sign up in the next two days,” she said. “I went ahead and signed up and competed in this category.”

She wound up winning her category and an award and will compete in the national festival, which due to the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be virtual between April 10 and 23 with an awards ceremony May 21. Usually, that all takes place in Washington, D.C.

Along with presenting her work to professional designers, she will attend professional development sessions.

“I was so excited and surprised by this,” Rohlfing said. “It was a last-minute choice to compete, and with all the amazing work my competitors did, I did not expect to win. I gave it my all and tried my best, but it was unexpected. I couldn’t wait to tell my cast and crew about it. I couldn’t have done it without them, and I wanted to let them know about this honor.”

The nationwide festival is for college theater programs across the country. UIndy is part of Region III, which includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Ohio.

Typically, students attend workshops, do audition and musical theater work, watch performances by other universities, attend design showcases and participate in play festivals and competitions.

For the Region III competition this year, Rohlfing had to create a slideshow presentation showing off all of the planning and work she did for the JCYAT production. This included photos of the realized and final results and all of her drawing and planning worksheets. She created 14 slides and sent them in to be reviewed by the judges.

She had 5 minutes to present, answered questions from the judges and received feedback. She was then chosen as one of the four finalists for the allied design category and presented again for 8 minutes and questions and feedback for 15 minutes.

While watching the awards ceremony on her phone, she learned she won the category.

“They got to my category and they announced the runner-up. I was shocked because I thought they were going to win,” Rohlfing said. “Then they announced the winner and it was me. I was shocked and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t stop smiling as I continued to watch the ceremony to see if any of my peers won their categories.”

Then when special awards for the design and technology management category were announced, Rohlfing heard her name announced as winner of the Don Childs’ Award for Cross Discipline Collaboration from the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas.

“I was so happy and surprised to be receiving these honors,” she said. “Plus, I would get to attend the national festival competing with my allied design again and show my love for this show even more.”

Being recognized for her work with JCYAT is special because she said Jackson County Community Theatre in Brownstown has been her theater home for many years.

“It is where I thrived and where I developed my love of theater teaching,” Rohlfing said. “I knew that when I graduated high school, one summer I wanted to come back and lead the summer show and workshop. It was a goal I had set for myself to not only give me experience for my future career as a theater educator but also to bring back what I had been learning and use it to teach the next generation of thespians.”

She started working on this show and workshop in January 2021 and planned and replanned over the next several months.

“Seeing those kids smile and have fun while learning about theater and gaining self-confidence made me so happy,” she said. “I already felt so proud of these students, proud of myself and proud of the community after my show ended in July. This competition and awards just make me feel even more proud of the show and work we had done. It also shows that even though we may be small, we are mighty and we should be proud of our community theater.”

Teaching is her favorite thing, so this opportunity was right up her alley.

“Seeing those kids learn and build communication skills and theater skills, seeing them becoming more confident and outgoing in themselves makes me so happy,” Rohlfing said. “Theater is my passion in life, and I loved getting to teach and share this passion with the next generation of thespians.”

With the national festival, she said she wants to gain feedback and more experience to help on her journey as a theater educator.

“There are awards and opportunities that can be given, but my goal with this is the same as the Region III competition: To gain more experience and show off the work we did for these students,” she said. “I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity and receive these awards, and I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of my cast and crew, their families and the community.”

At UIndy, Rohlfing is president of Greyhound Sound, the school’s show choir; vice president and RSO liaison for Kappa Delta Pi, an international education honor society; and a member of Alpha Psi Omega, an international theater honor society. She also has been on the dean’s list every semester and has been involved with every theatrical production, whether it be on- or offstage, since her freshman year.

“I may be busy, but I love what I do,” she said.

She plans to graduate from UIndy in May 2023 and become a theater teacher at an Indiana secondary school.