Linda Bisesti-Reidy received a phone call in December that would herald a new milestone for the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Theatre and New Dance.
“I was in my kitchen, and I had been informed that we had been invited to perform ‘Intimate Apparel’ at KCACTF Region 8 in February 2018,” said Bisesti-Reidy, a theatre professor and director of the Department of Theatre and New Dance’s fall 2017 play, “Intimate Apparel.”
KCACTF, or the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, is a national organization split into eight regions, where judges evaluate college theatre productions. Everything from an actor’s use of dialect to the minutest details of a set is fair game for the judge’s consideration. Productions invited to their regional festivals represent the best of the season and if they do well can advance to the national competition in April.
The university’s production of “Intimate Apparel” is one of six out of more than 150 schools in five states honored with an invitation to the organization’s regional festival in Mesa, Arizona. It’s also an uncommon achievement the theatre department last enjoyed for its 2010 production of Bob Gilbert’s “Betrayal.”
Although Bisesti-Reidy has taught on campus for more than 16 years, “Intimate Apparel” was the first show she directed that could have been considered for KCACTF.
“This is a first time out of the gate for me,” she said. “It’s a big honor, but it’s not about me, it’s about my students. It’s nice that I get to go with a show I directed, but it’s about them, and I think it’s great for the department because we have a really wonderful department here.”
“I was really happy and knew the students would be crazy about it, but I didn’t tell them immediately because it wasn’t official yet,” Bisesti-Reidy said. “They were all nervous about this because they knew we would find out sometime around the time I got the call, but I had to keep quiet and wait for three days.”
And so the secret stayed with the director until she emailed her students with the news.
Written by playwright Lynn Nottage, “Intimate Apparel” follows African-American seamstress Esther, who lives in a boarding house for women at the turn of the Twentieth Century and sews intimate apparel for clients to make her living.
Esther’s clients range from wealthy white patrons to black prostitutes, and she dreams of using the money she’s saved to open a beauty parlor where black women will be treated as royally as the white women she sews for. A man she meets through letter exchanges, however, threatens to upend her plans.
Based on the life of the Nottage’s great-grandmother, “Intimate Apparel” is the story of the determination to fulfill a dream, and ability to remain unbroken in spite of betrayal.
For the students who brought the story of “Intimate Apparel” to life on stage, being invited to do it again at the regionals is an opportunity to elevate the recognition and stature of the university’s theatre program.
“I just want people to put Cal Poly Pomona on the map and not overlook us,” said theatre student Mary Hill, who played “Intimate Apparel” main protagonist Esther. “When we got the news, that’s one thing I was hoping for because we’re not known for our theatre program. That’s something I look forward to so people can see us and know that we’re here.”
Harmand Mosquera, a theatre student who portrays George, said he was “very astonished” that the university is invited to compete at KCACTF Region 8.
“Having this outcome and for us to be chosen to perform at such a high level is very astonishing to me because it shows how hard we worked for that spot,” he said.
Theatre student Sarah Nyenke, who portrays the protagonist’s landlady Mrs. Dickson, said the news gave her a “thrilling feeling” and was a “wonderful Christmas gift,” but she said the invitation meant more for what it symbolized for the department.
“I really don’t see it as a competition, but more as a recognition of the great work we do here – no matter how small or limited we are,” she said. “It brings light to the fact that our department needs more recognition because we are important and art is very important, so this is an opportunity for us to express who we are and what we want to do.”
By nearly all accounts, “Intimate Apparel” was a challenging production for the Department of Theatre and New Dance to undertake, and one whose success Bisesti-Reidy was unsure of until opening night.
“We didn’t have an audience until opening night to give us that immediate feedback, but they were so vocal on opening night,” she said. “Everyone was reacting to the play, and I think that’s what did it for me and when I realized how special this show was – and we didn’t have that until it opened.”
Theatre student Roslyn Glasco, who portrays Mayme, said she was excited to revisit her character. She also said she sees the competition as an opportunity for the cast and crew to play their roles again in a beloved, albeit difficult-to-execute, theatre performance.
“I was so relieved when we closed the show, but I knew I would miss my theatre family,” she said. “So to get one more shot to do it is exciting and exhilarating.”