Theater Students Excel at Regional Festival

Moreau as the title character in the NMU production of "Salome."

Three Northern Michigan University musical theater majors scored major achievements at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's (KCACTF) Region 3 conference in Flint. Junior Maya Moreau of Dearborn made history as the first NMU student to win the $500 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship and advance to the national KCACTF festival competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Liam Fisher of Grand Rapids and John Thomson of Marquette were among 18 finalists selected for the regional Musical Theater Intensive, out of nearly 70 who auditioned.

Moreau was nominated to compete for the scholarship by a judge who saw her performance as the title character in NMU's 2023 production of Salome, which she considers her favorite role to date. The Dearborn native and the other finalists had six minutes to present a scene with an acting partner, along with two monologues.

Moreau was joined by NMU student Copeland Diver for a snippet of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, a drama about two people who meet in a bar and share their pain and trauma in a one-night stand. Her monologues volleyed from the classic Romeo and Juliet to the disturbing yet darkly humorous Betty's Summer Vacation. When the judges cut her performance short because it reached the time limit, Moreau said she was upset and feared it put her out of contention.

“But then we went to the judges and they were giving me so many positive compliments,” she added. “I just wasn't expecting that carrot to be dangled in front of me because I thought I wasn't going to win. And then it was like the last award presented and my name came up on the screen. I felt a rush of bliss; it was so exciting! Liam, John and Copeland were there with me in the balcony and they threw me in the air. I had to run down to accept the award. It was so fast and incredible. I didn't realize until later that I was the first from Northern to win the scholarship.”

Bill Digneit, head of NMU Theatre and Dance, called it “a massive accomplishment that brings Northern Michigan University visibility as a top theatre and dance program in our region and at the national level.”

At the Kennedy Center in April, Moreau will perform the same repertoire while competing against seven other regional winners for a chance to win the highly coveted National Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Award, named for the actress who played Granny on television's The Beverly Hillbillies and other roles in vaudeville, radio and movies.

Moreau made her acting debut in third grade, portraying a child in a high school production of The King and I. It was a non-speaking role, but sparked her interest and passion. She later attended the Michigan Thespian Festival, where she learned about an interview opportunity for NMU's BFA in musical theater program and received a scholarship.

“At Northern, I've had all of these opportunities to perform in ensembles and as a lead that most BFA students at other schools don't get until they're seniors,” said Moreau, whose goal is to work in the movie industry. “You can set up your schedule here as if it's a conservatory. You're working every day on your craft, immersing yourself in acting and dance classes. Taking a deep dive into all of this is how I was able to develop the acting chops to be able to go to this competition and win.

“It's definitely a credit to Northern's program and the awesome faculty. They've helped me realize I need a process before I go on stage that will help to ground me and regulate my nerves. If I ever get to the Oscars, which—fingers crossed—I will, I'll be sure to thank all of my acting, dance and vocal professors. They're so important and meaningful to me.”

The Musical Theatre Intensive (MTI) celebrates outstanding musical theater students from across Region 3. Through in-person auditions of two short cuts from two contrasting songs and individualized feedback, the MTI offers educational opportunities to work with musical theater professionals. Finalists, including NMU's Fisher and Thomson, participated in a showcase at the end of the festival.

For his MTI audition, Fisher sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables and “Old Devil Moon” from Finian's Rainbow.

“The coolest part was advancing with my good friend, John, and being able to share that experience,” Fisher said. “The festival was a weekend-long extravaganza jam-packed with workshops and competitions. It was a great opportunity to expand my horizons as an actor and meet a lot of talented people. You can learn a lot by watching others perform—what to do to improve your own skills and what not to do. It's nice to get that real-world application for what we learn in class.”

Now in his second year at NMU, Fisher has appeared in Spamalot, Rock of Ages, Grease and Salome. He said he enrolled at “a perfect time because the program is growing immensely and is guided by professors who have performed on Broadway.”

For his MTI audition, Thomson sang “Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar and “Anthem” from Chess.

“This was my first time at the festival,” he said. “It was great to be surrounded by students from around the Midwest who share a passion for theater. We learned about the industry and how to audition and succeed in it. This was my first type of audition setting in person away from NMU and with a big group. The whole experience taught me I'm definitely on the right career path. To be selected as one of 17 finalists, especially after hearing some of the incredible voices, was amazing and reassuring.”

Thomson's first role at NMU was Leo Bloom in The Producers. Other favorites include Danny Zuko in Grease and Drew Boley in Rock of Ages.

“I definitely feel I'm in the right place at the right time at Northern,” Thomson added. “It's unbelievable that professors with awesome talent and experience on Broadway and elsewhere have found their way to the university in my hometown. They're teaching us the tools that will help us succeed in the industry if we're willing to work for it, listen, take everything in and learn from it. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the program.”

Moreau, Fisher and Thomson have all been cast in NMU's upcoming production of the musical Anything Goes. They were among six NMU Theatre and Dance performance students who attended January's KCACTF festival for Region 3, which covers Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Western Ohio.

Learn more about NMU Theatre and Dance's degree options here.

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director