University Theatre Honored at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Theatre students photo From left to right: Joe VanBuskirk, Christa Cesicki and Professor Timothy Pyles.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Two University of South Dakota theatre students and their professor will compete on a national stage in April at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., making it the third year in a row that USD students have been selected for the honor.

Christa Gesicki of Broomfield, Colorado, and Joe VanBuskirk of Rockford, Minnesota, along with their acting coach Professor Timothy Pyles will compete with seven other regionally-selected performers in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Audition at the Kennedy Center.

The program is sponsored by the Irene Ryan Foundation. The late Irene Ryan is best remembered for her portrayal of Granny Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies” television series.

Gesicki, VanBuskirk and their professor will spend a week in Washington working with nationally-recognized theatre professionals and competing for a national scholarship along with opportunities to attend acting workshops and festivals, and to seek positions with acting companies.

Two other USD students advanced to the semi-finals at the regional competition, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. Semi-finalist Ebrin Stanley of Houston, Texas, was named Best Musical Theatre Performer. He was invited to perform a scene from his recent role as Jesus of Nazareth in the USD production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” His performance partner was Josie Kasik of Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. Musical theatre majors Alexandra Newcomb-Weiland of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her scene partner Rachel Smith of Rockford, Minnesota, also made it to the semi-finals.

Out of nearly 300 participating productions in the regional competition only eight scenes are selected for the Invited Scenes Showcase, which this year included Stanley as Jesus Christ.

Thousands of college students audition each year for the Open Jar Institute’s Broadway Acting Intensive but only 60 are selected. Four USD students were named to this year’s list: Gesicki; Braden Garret of Olympia, Washington; Alyeska Krull of Soldotna, Alaska; and Tabitha Bass of Mebane, North Carolina.


USD's College of Fine Arts encourages students to pursue their chosen professional field in art, music or theater through their study with nationally recognized faculty who are working professionals. Students learn and grow to be professional fine artists with great job potential anywhere in the country. The college offers opportunities for additional real-world experiences through work with guest artists, study tours abroad and opportunities at the National Music Museum and the University Art Galleries on the Vermillion campus and the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park. The college brings more than 80 guests artists to campus annually to work with students.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 205 undergraduate and 73 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 17:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 17 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.