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Kathryn Rohlfing ’23 (Secondary Education, Theatre) Leads Community Youth Theatre to National Spotlight

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Kathryn Rohlfing ‘23 has known that she wanted to be a teacher since she was eight years old, and her love of theatre started even earlier. It seems that Kathryn’s pursuit of secondary education and theatre studies at the University of Indianapolis was inevitable.

“I’ve been doing theatre for 15 years,” said Kathryn. “And I’ve done everything on- and off- stage: acting, directing, stage managing, designing. You name it, I’ve done it.”
What really sold Kathryn on studying at UIndy was the community. She was looking for professors that really cared about her, as a student and a professional, and she found that in both the Department of Theatre and the School of Education.

“My favorite things about UIndy are how close everyone is and the small class sizes,” said Kathryn. “There are so many places where it’s an in-and-out experience, especially in education, but at UIndy I know my professors, and they know me. They want to make sure that I can succeed in both education and theatre.”

Kathryn’s professors supported her efforts both in and out of the classroom. 

Kathryn was selected to direct the Jackson County Young Artists Theatre’s summer 2021 production. Kathryn would work with children ages six through 18 to perform “The Princess Who Had No Name.” As director, Kathryn was responsible for creating a curriculum to teach her students about theatre production, designing the set and costumes for the production, and directing the acting students. 

“I was working on the set and the costumes for about a year to make sure everything would be ready because I wanted to give them the best show I could,” said Kathryn. “My Costumes professor, Penny Sornberger, allowed me to borrow costumes for the show. My Acting/Directing professor, James Leagre, let me borrow books about theatre games and would also look over and provide feedback on my plans for the students.” 

Kathryn’s efforts and dedication to ensuring that her students enjoyed their time in the program certainly instilled a love of theatre into those students.

“My favorite part about it all is what the kids put on and seeing them grow,” said Kathryn. “I had a student who had never done theatre before, but decided to do the show. There’s a picture of him with me at the end of the first production where he is all smiley, and saying, ‘Oh, I love my director and the show!’ He was so proud of what we all accomplished together. He was a kid who never fit in anywhere before, had tried every sport/group, and he found a place where he and his family felt like they belonged. Then there’s a second picture from the end of the program where he is realizing that the show is over and he’s pretty sad.”

A year later, Kathryn attended an information session about the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), a national theatre program involving 18,000 students annually from colleges and universities across the country with regional festivals to showcase and celebrate students’ work in theatre. Kathryn considered submitting her work with the Jackson County Youth Theatre Program to individual categories like set, design, or costumes. But then her professors asked:

“Why don’t you just submit the whole show?”

And so she did. 

At UIndy, I know my professors, and they know me.

Kathryn Rohlfing ’23 (Secondary Education, Theatre)

Kathryn and her students’ production of “The Princess Who Had No Name” was submitted to KCACTF under the Allied Design and Technology category, which considers work from students who have completed major design or technology projects in areas including makeup, projection, properties, scenic art, technical direction, costume craft, and more. 

The festival’s award ceremony was streamed online (due to COVID restrictions). Kathryn was out getting ice cream with her family when she decided to tune in. 

She won the overall award for Allied Design and Technology.

“I was surprised; I couldn’t even understand what’s happening. I just stopped enough to be able to screenshot it on my phone,” recalled Kathryn. “I could not believe that a girl like me, living in a small town in Indiana, with their small town theatre, doing children’s theatre work, just won in this big regional competition from the Kennedy Center.”

She continued watching the awards ceremony, and the news got even better. 

“I kept watching and they got to the overall design awards,” she said. “These were awards that were picked out of everybody in the design category, not just allied costumes or sets. And I was announced to receive a special award, the Don Childs Award for Cross Discipline Collaboration from the Stage Craft Industry of Las Vegas, and as Design and Technology Allied Design and Technologies Award Recipient for Region 3.”

Which meant Kathryn would move on to compete in the National KCACTF Festival. Kathryn quickly shared the news with her students and their families via their dedicated Facebook group. 

“The first thought in my mind wasn’t, ‘I need to tell everyone. Look at me. I won an award,’” reflected Kathryn. “It was, ‘I need to show these kids what we did. I need to let them and their families know what they accomplished.’ It still shocks me to this day that I won that. It really shows what children’s theatre can do.”

The national festival brought Kathryn and her students’ production into consideration amongst the best college theatre students in the country, which made their victory all the more inspiring.

Kathryn was awarded the Randy Lutz Allied Design and Technology Award.

“I didn’t see it as I won. This wasn’t just me,” said Kathryn. “We won.”

While Kathryn’s time competing in KCACTF is over due to her graduation in May, she will continue to inspire young theatre students as a teacher. In addition to working with students at a secondary school in Indiana, Kathryn will of course continue to lend her theatre expertise to her community’s theatre programs. 

“I submitted the production in 2020 because I wanted to help these kids,” said Kathryn. “I wanted to put on this workshop. I wanted to do all of this. I wanted to gain not only experience for myself, but to take what I had learned and give back to my community and the program that helped shape me. I put everything into that show. I believed I could and I did it.”