University News

WIU BFA Student Finalist in Kennedy Center Competition

February 7, 2018


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MACOMB, IL – Continuing what is becoming a Western Illinois University tradition, a student in the College of Fine Arts and Communication (COFAC) and Department of Theatre and Dance has qualified to compete in the national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Nissi Smith, a junior musical theatre major from South Holland, IL, qualified through a Midwest regional competition to take part in the national contest April 9-14 in Washington, DC. She is one of 18 national finalists in the Musical Theatre Intensive category and will sing "I'm Here," from "The Color Purple."

"Everyone has told me how huge this is, but I don't think it has settled yet," said Smith.

At Western, Smith is an actor, singer, dancer and choreographer. To qualify for the national event, Smith had to perform a song and a dance in competition with 18 students from other Midwestern universities. Only one competitor qualified for the national competition.

WIU student Samantha Bonzi, a senior musical theatre major from Rockford, IL, was named the alternate, if Smith is unable to take part in the competition.

Smith praised the faculty in the WIU Department of Theatre and Dance and said she would have never qualified for the Kennedy Center competition without their support and encouragement.

"I would have never expected this type of thing to happen without them," she said. "Freshman Nissi would never have expected this to happen."

Smith said she hopes the competition will help with her future career plans.

"Hopefully Broadway is in my future," she said. "This competition can open doors."

Between now and the April competition, Smith said she will continue to prepare and rehearse for the competition.

"I keep working on my song and digging in to what it means to me and others," she said.

Other WIU students who were recognized at the regional competition include:

KC/ACTF Region 3 Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) Nominee:

Samantha Anderson, a senior musical theatre major from New London, IA

KC/ACTF Region 3 Irene Ryan Scholarship Comedy Award Nominee: 

Drake Pough an MFA acting graduate student from Hayward, CA – Smith was his acting partner.


Students who represented WIU at KC/ACTF Region 3 Festival (Jan. 9 - 14 in Indianapolis, IN): 

Anderson - ITJA and Design Storm 

Emily Wirkus Olson, an MFA graduate student from Macomb - Irene Ryan Partner and Directors Workshop

James Tweedale, an MFA graduate student from North Bend, WA  - ITJA 

Chad Fess, an MFA graduate student from Macomb - Irene Ryan Nominee 

Justis Drakes, a senior musical theatre major from Chicago - Irene Ryan Nominee

Shantina Lowe, a senior theatre major from University Park, IL - Irene Ryan Partner 

Pough - Irene Ryan Nominee 

Smith - Irene Ryan Partner and Musical Theatre Intensive 

Bonzi - Irene Ryan Partner and Musical Theatre Intensive 

Pauline Parkhurst, a senior musical theatre major from Germantown Hills, IL - Irene Ryan Partner and Musical Theatre Intensive 

Matt Bender, an MFA graduate student from Macomb - Irene Ryan Nominee 

Rosalind Blume, a junior musical theatre major from Peoria, IL - Irene Ryan Partner 

Kiera Martin, a senior musical theatre major from Bloomington, IL - Irene Ryan Nominee and Musical Theatre Intensive 

Joseph Collins, a sophomore musical theatre major from Bloomington, IL - Irene Ryan Partner and Musical Theatre Intensive 

Austin Roach, an MFA graduate student from Wasilla, AK - Irene Ryan Nominee 

Brandon Herring, an MFA graduate student from Grimes, IA -Irene Ryan Partner 

Emery Lade, a senior musical theatre major from Elkhart, IN - ITJA 

For more information about WIU's Department of Theatre and Dance, visit wiu.edu/cofac/theatre/.

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (JK-Pospeschil@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations