Denise Demcho of Crosslake, a technical theatre student at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, captured the highest honor yet among CLC entrants in regional competition.
Demcho earned two second-place awards Jan. 21-26 at the Region V American College Theatre Festival in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
She won second place in the Technical Exposition category for the design and fabrication of weaponry used in the CLC Theatre production of "Macbeth" last fall.
Among the entrants she surpassed was another "Macbeth" designer. Competition included university and college theater majors from eight states.
"She worked very hard and deserves the honor," said Michael Harvey, CLC technical theater instructor.
Harvey and Director Patrick Spradlin have given their star student a rare opportunity as her final assignment before graduating in May. She will be the technical director for a main-stage show, "A Streetcar Named Desire," when it plays April 24-May 4.
"I will step aside, and Denise will do it all -- lumber orders, drawing the set, handling the budget," Harvey said.
"I am used to putting in the hours," Demcho said, recounting the process by which she not only designed but also helped craft 10 daggers and 10 swords for the college's "Macbeth." For several weeks she not only logged classroom time as an enrolled student taking 16 credits' worth of course work.
"She was in the welding area or the scene shop for about a month and a half," Harvey said.
To create the stylized weaponry, she first employed research skills and drafting skills and applied old-fashioned physical labor in the end.
"My fingers got a little sore," she said, explaining the repetitive process of alternate sanding and polishing of the aluminum.
Harvey said the college couldn't have afforded to buy the props. "It was cost-prohibitive," he said. Future CLC shows will make use of the weaponry.
"It was an excellent project, a wonderful portfolio piece, the kind of thing that gets people jobs," Harvey said of Demcho's achievement.
Demcho also took second in the undergraduate division of Sound Design for her work in "Macbeth" and "The Diary of Anne Frank."
As a result of a critique from a Minnesota State College, Mankato, professor who viewed "Macbeth" at CLC, Demcho was presented a Meritorious Achievement Award for her sound design of that production.
Harvey also received a Meritorious Achievement Award for his set, lighting and video design in "Macbeth."
Demcho, who is president of the Theatre Misfits student group at CLC, is an honor student whose technical theater path opened after she enrolled in the one-credit theater production lab that requires 30 hours of backstage work on a CLC Theatre production.
When she landed sound board duties for "Hello, Dolly," Demcho gained more confidence as the head of a crew. "She mixed a dozen wireless microphones," said Harvey. "Mixing live audio was her challenge."
He added, "I asked her if she wanted an easy job or a hard job. She wanted the hard job."
The 1999 Pequot Lakes High School graduate, who said she has never acted nor intends to perform on stage, enjoys knowing that all facets of a production go well.
Seldom acknowledged, the backstage professionals nevertheless maintain a symbiotic relationship with the actors, said Harvey.
"A good show takes everyone working on respective specialties," he said. "Denise has acquired a lot of skills, from sound design and board operation to carpentry."
"I don't look for compliments," she said. "It's enough to know 'I did that' and to know that the directors and those who understand theater appreciate it."
The Demcho resum should lead to a host of career opportunities. She spent last summer working for Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji. Last fall she was paid to design the sound for Hibbing High School's production of "The Wizard of Oz" through a contact made in Bemidji.
Demcho is exploring educational opportunities beyond CLC, but she is also considering the prospect of immediate employment in technical theater.
Other CLC students attending the regional festival were Jessie Horman and Andrew Otterstad, both of Nisswa; Jaime Bellefeuille of Little Falls; Lydia Hawley of Emily; Ross Derheimer of Port Charlotte, Fla.; Leif Nesse and Nichole Carey, both of Brainerd; Tony Craig of Pequot Lakes; Brianna Keran of Baxter; Doug Larson of Red Wing; and Adam Nygren of Finlayson.
"Our Irene Ryan Scholarship acting competition students comported themselves well but did not advance beyond the preliminary round," said Spradlin, who along with Harvey accompanied the students.
The CLC students entered among about 200 in the competition were Carey, Hawley, Keran and Nesse.
Spradlin said competition was among more than 350 actors from two- and four-year colleges. Only 36 advanced to the semi-finals.
"The regional festival is a gathering of people to see one another's work and to share ideas," said Spradlin. "In addition to performances, there are a wide range of activities that in the past have included workshops and seminars on such topics as playwriting, auditioning, voice, movement, stage combat, theater for children, scene painting and scenery construction."
The trip, and last year's regional trip to Lincoln, Neb., was funded in part by a grant from the Student Senate for the student theater club at CLC, which is known as the Theatre Misfits, and also through various fund-raisers the club holds throughout the year. Individuals make up the difference to be able to attend.
The group viewed plays from other colleges and universities in the region, which includes Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Workshops covered a variety of theater-related topics.
The event also affords students the opportunity to audition for summer stock venues.
Most winners from the eight regionals in acting, design and productions from across the country advance to the national festival April 14-20 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
CLC Theatre students are now preparing for the Feb. 20 opening of the comedy "Brother Truckers," which will run in Chalberg Theatre through March 2.
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