Carthage theatre receives national accolades from Kennedy Center
The Carthage Theatre Department is making waves again — receiving national attention for its work.
The original play “Memento Mori,” directed by Professor Neil Scharnick ’99, has received two awards from the national committee of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, recognizing the play’s excellence and its positive impact on the community. The play won both the Citizen Artist Award and the committee’s newest honor: Distinguished Achievement in the Facilitation of a Brave Rehearsal Space.
Citizen Artist Award
The Citizen Artist Award recognizes “programs in higher education using theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through an artistic lens, to encourage empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world, and to advocate for justice on campus and throughout the world.” This is the third time a Carthage production has received the prestigious Kennedy Center’s Citizen Artist Award.
Brave Rehearsal Space
The Brave Rehearsal Space award “celebrates teaching artists who create a rehearsal room community that prioritizes the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of their student artists; empowering them to safely engage with challenging theatrical stories.” This is a newly developed national award from the American College Theatre Festival, and Carthage has been honored with this significant accolade.
“The awards are a tremendous honor,” director Neil Scharnick says, “and I think these particular awards show something more than the excellent work we’re doing. They show that we’re doing work that matters, and we’re doing it right.”
Corinne Ness, dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities, echos Prof. Scharnick’s praise for theatre at Carthage. “The long history of Carthage theatre awards is evidence of its quality,” she says. “These two newest honors recognize the community that we work hard to maintain — a space where student artists can fully realize their potential with the support of exceptional faculty.”
Creating “Memento Mori”
Each year, the Theatre Department commissions and develops a new play, partnering with award-winning playwrights and theater artists from across the globe. Throughout the program’s 14-year history, Carthage students and faculty have collaborated with NPI writers who are winners of Academy Awards, Emmys, Obies, Golden Globes, Writers’ Guild Awards, and more.
The 2022 New Play Initiative, “Memento Mori,” has a unique origin story. It was launched as a collaboration with the Gaiety School of Acting (GSA), National Theatre School of Ireland. The plan was to collaborate with GSA acting instructor Donal Courtney; but when Mr. Courtney left the GSA to become founding director of a new theater school, West End House School of Arts in Killarney, the project went with him.
Mr. Courtney and Prof. Scharnick wanted the play to encourage students and audiences to engage with life’s biggest questions. The working title became “Memento Mori” — “remember you must die.” Mr. Courtney had been teaching an acting approach to empower actors to develop personally meaningful work. Prof. Scharnick and Mr. Courtney were both eager to bring that approach to Carthage.
Shortly after work began, however, Mr. Courtney was diagnosed with cancer. Before the project could move beyond the earliest workshop stage, he passed away. Pressing on and dedicating the work to Mr. Courtney’s memory, Prof. Scharnick and his students wrote and developed “Memento Mori” over the next several months. The play tells the story of a young musician named Alice who has recently passed away. Her friends mourn and try to make sense of her death while Alice tries to come to terms with life beyond the grave.
The play premiered at Carthage in November 2022, before becoming one of four productions invited to Flint, Michigan for the Region III Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in January. Two days after the festival was complete, the cast and crew traveled to Ireland to perform at the historic Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin and at West End House.