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Assistant Professor of Theater Arts and Director of Theater Scott Gagnon was recently named the 2022 recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Medallion from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) for Region 1.
Each year, the eight KCACTF regions honor individuals and organizations that have “made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and producing of theatre and who have significantly dedicated their time, artistry and enthusiasm to the development of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Most importantly, recipients have demonstrated a strong commitment to the values and goals of KCACTF and to excellence in educational theatre.”
Gagnon began working within Emmanuel’s Theater programs in 1999 when he directed one of the College’s Theater Guild productions. He began teaching as an adjunct in 2000 and joined the faculty full-time in 2001. Since then, he has worked to build out the program’s academic curriculum, offering courses not only in performance, but in theater history, production design, playwriting and dramaturgy.
“My goal for this program was to put as many students as possible in a position to participate, learn and succeed,” Gagnon said.
Over the years, Emmanuel College has been no stranger to the KCACTF stage, going up against powerhouse programs in Region 1, including Boston University, Emerson College, Tufts University and Western Connecticut State University. Under Gagnon’s helm, productions including 2020’s “Theatre Macabre: Network,” 2017’s “The Laramie Project,” 2012’s “Mystery Radio Theater, Season One” and 2011’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” as well as individual student contributions have been honored by the organization. Gagnon has also served as chair of the KCACTF’s Institute for Theater Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) for Region 1.
Notably, some of the theater program’s most celebrated works have come at a time when there was no traditional theater to speak of. In fall 2012, while the west wing of the Eisner Administration Building, which includes the Auditorium, was being renovated, Gagnon transformed the Fenway Room for a series of six classic radio drama performances, including “The Lost World,” “The Time Machine,” and “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Titled “Mystery Radio Theater,” each show was fully costumed and staged in 1930’s style, including the ushers and staff, and featured original music by members of the department as well as genuine Foley sound effects to create a true radio show feel.
"Some of it was born out of necessity," Gagnon said of the innovative idea. "This is just another way for us to perform."
Gagnon again found himself looking for a way to keep theater students engaged in Fall 2020, when COVID-19 forced the College to close its doors to in-person instruction for the semester. In addition to reviving “Mystery Radio Theater” for a third season, the group embarked on an interactive online experience in which audience members chose the scenes they viewed. The dystopian-themed “Theatre Macabre: Network” came to life from more than 200 pages of script and a total of 96 scenes, recorded wherever the students were learning remotely.
In addition to being selected as a festival attendee or KCACTF Region 1, “Network” also garnered the program’s first-ever Kennedy Center national honors, for Special Achievement in Virtual Community Engagement and Audience Development; Special Achievement in Overall Production Design; Special Achievement Award in Company-Generated Work; and Innovative Use of Technology.
“This is a really big deal for us,” Gagnon said at the time. “It was a challenging year for the arts industry, but our students never slowed down and put out some incredibly creative productions of which we are all very proud. It’s truly ingenious and something that has never been tried.”
As Gagnon can attest though, the importance of theater education is as much about what happens off stage as on stage.
“I hadn’t really found myself in high school,” he said. “In college, I found the theater program [at Bridgewater State University] to be a safe space to take artistic risk. In my 20s, my career goal was to create the kind of atmosphere that was as welcoming. If this award is a testament to that, to gathering likeminded people and allowing them to find their voice, that’s the most gratifying part.”
Since news of the award was announced, current students and alumni have expressed both congratulations and gratitude for Gagnon's influence on their college experience and career trajectories.
“So very well-deserved,” said Sarah Ribeiro ’13, senior marketing manager at Broadway Licensing. “Scott’s dedication and passion for theatre was a bright spark in my college experience and has helped me find a path to working in theatre.
“Scott hired me as the theater department’s PR and librarian back in 2011, way before the department was a department. My exposure to the business behind theater back then reflects a lot of the work I do today at Broadway Licensing, including familiarizing with the licensing process and finding ways to market theater. It really has been a full-circle journey.”
The KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide and has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States since 1969. The KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theater departments and student-artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF respondents. Many collegiate thespians equate it to the Oscars of college theater.
Through state, regional, and national festivals, KCACTF participants celebrate the creative process, see one another’s work, and share experiences and insights within the community of theater artists. The KCACTF honors excellence of overall production and offers student-artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design. KCACTF is a year-round program in eight geographic regions in the United States.