Arts & Culture

Cuesta College students to perform play at prestigious festival

Cast members of "Pool '63" rehearse at the Cuesta College Experimental Theater.
Cast members of "Pool '63" rehearse at the Cuesta College Experimental Theater.

After six sold-out performances at home, Cuesta College students are taking their original play “Pool ‘63” on the road.

About 20 cast members will perform “Pool ‘63” next year at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The play is one of only nine full-scale productions picked to participate in the festival, which runs Feb. 12 to 15 at the Los Angeles Theatre Centre.

“We’re so excited,” said director bree valle, who heads Cuesta’s drama program.

“Pool ’63,” which premiered Dec. 6 at Cuesta College’s Cultural and Performing Arts Center, was created in collaboration with valle, playwright Philip Valle and current and former Cuesta theater students. Set during the summer of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., the one-act, 55-minute drama examines how the lives of two 9-year-old girls — one black, one white — are shaped by the civil rights movement. (The title refers to the desegregation of public swimming pools.)

Cuesta had planned to take a 20-minute version of “Pool ‘63” to the Kennedy Center festival. But after Kennedy Center adjudicator and Cal Poly theatre arts professor Josh Machamer saw the production, he decided that “Pool ‘63” deserved more time in the spotlight.

He contacted the festival’s regional chair, Matt Neves, who flew to San Luis Obispo in time to catch the final performance of “Pool ’63.” What Neves saw was enough to convince him that Cuesta should come to Los Angeles. When valle shared the news with her students,

“They were just screaming,” she recalled. “They worked so hard. They were pretty thrilled.”

According to valle, herself a Kennedy Center adjudicator, nine schools will present full productions in February. Four are community colleges, including Los Angeles City College, Santa Monica College and College of the Sequoias in Visalia.

The universities involved are Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Fort Lewis College in Colorado and Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University in Utah. All are part of Region 8, which includes more than 300 colleges and universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Guam.

According to valle, February will be the first time Cuesta has presented a full production at the festival. She and her husband, Philip Valle, along with technical director Richard Jackson and stage manager Kelly Musgrove, plan to accompany as many as 25 cast and crew members to Los Angeles.

Although valle is not sure how much the trip will cost, she’s hoping to cover registration, transportation and housing expenses for the students. To help pay for the trip, Cuesta will present “Pool ‘63” on Feb. 7, 8 and 9 and March 13, 14 and 15 at the Cultural and Performing Arts Center’s Experimental Theatre.

According to valle, performing at the Kennedy Center festival will lend credibility to Cuesta’s small, cash-strapped drama program.

“It’s a huge deal,” she said.