Harrisburg students perform ‘Clue’ at theater festival

Characters huddle together in a scene from Penn State Harrisburg's fall play, "Clue."

Penn State Harrisburg students performed "Clue" in the fall of 2023, and recently packed up the production to perform it at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, Region 2, in Pittsburgh.

Credit: Sharon Siegfried

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Penn State Harrisburg students and staff recently took their production of “Clue” on the road to perform at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, Region 2, in Pittsburgh.

In the fall, the theater festival sends representatives — often college theater professors, as well as working theater professionals — to watch college productions throughout the region, which includes Pennsylvania and nine other states, and selects shows to perform at the festival.

Penn State Harrisburg’s production of “Clue” was one of five shows selected for the Region 2 festival in Pittsburgh in January.

Three members of the cast were also invited to compete in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition: Chantelle Harris, who played Miss Scarlett; Katelyn Isbill, who played Mrs. Peacock; and Caleb Steindel, who played Professor Plum. The actors had to prepare two contrasting monologues, and those who advance to the semifinals also perform a scene with a partner.

Out of 200 actors, Steindel advanced to the finals, the top 16, and Harris advanced to the semifinals, the top 32.

Maria Enriquez, associate teaching professor of theater and director of “Clue,” said the showing at the festival is exciting, especially considering that Penn State Harrisburg has only a theater minor, and the competition included students from universities with theater majors.

“It speaks to the passion and the talent and the dedication of our students,” she said.

Performing in Pittsburgh meant packing up the entire “Clue” production — set, costumes, props and all. Four staff members and 16 students, actors as well as crew members, attended the festival.

“It’s a skeleton crew compared to what we used in the Kulkarni Theatre,” Enriquez said. “Every single one of us had to unload the truck, set up the equipment lights and curtains. The students got the feel of what it’s like to tour with a show and that real hands-on experience.”

The four-day festival also includes workshops led by professors and professionals from the theater world, on a range of subjects from acting to stage management to theater administration.

Harris, a psychology major, said she enjoyed being in a space with other creatives and seeing a different level of appreciation for the arts. Performing in a crowd of theater enthusiasts was a different experience, too.

“When we performed ‘Clue,’ people were cheering at certain parts that other people wouldn’t normally get,” she said. “Every night, we have different crowds and you feed off of the different energy, so it does affect your performance. But this was the most exciting one that we’ve had because you could feel from the audience, they were genuinely enthralled.”

Harris was also grateful for the detailed feedback she and the cast received from the professionals, noting they provided “genuine feedback rooted in wanting to see us do better and strengthen our skills.”

Enriquez said the students received positive feedback from the national reviewers.

“They were amazed that there is no theater major at Penn State Harrisburg, but our students and production had excelled so much,” she said, adding that the variety of students involved is what makes the college’s program special. “Our focus is to open up our theater spaces to anyone who wants to get involved.”

Harris said she had some theater experience when she was younger, but her high school didn’t have a well-funded program and her passion died off.

In her second year at Penn State Harrisburg, she auditioned for “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and landed the role of Puck. Now, she’s looking into changing her major to pursue theater at the University Park campus.

“I’m just so blessed that (my passion) just reignited, and I got so excited to do it again,” she said.

Enriquez said the production’s trip to the regional festival puts Penn State Harrisburg in line for national awards, which will be announced later in the spring.

“It’s an exciting legacy that we’re carving out here of excellence in theater and the performing arts,” she said.