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Biggs recognized for theatre education by Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Octavia BiggsOctavia Biggs (87), director of Morehead State's Little Theatre Company, has been awarded the Prize for Innovative Teaching by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF).   

The award was presented during KCACTF Region IV Virtual Conference, held Feb. 4-7. The award is given to a faculty member in the region who has demonstrated excellence in teaching innovation with regard to student success in the area of pedagogy and theatre arts. Biggs was nominated by a group of current and former students and work-studies, and she was not aware she had been nominated until she learned she had won the award.  

"It was a huge surprise. I had no idea," Biggs said. "I read and reread the email in total disbelief. What touched me most was the quotes from people that had written letters on my behalf. It still is a little unbelievable. There are nine states in this region of the U.S., and there are some very powerful theatre departments with some very incredible and talented individuals."  

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the theatre industry, which relies on live performances and people being close in theaters. However, Biggs and her colleagues found a creative solution to the problem. In November, the Little Company presented the play "Treasure Island," based on the classic children's book by Robert Lewis Stevenson. The performance was staged outdoors at MSU's Challenge Course, a ropes course located outside the Recreation and Wellness Center. Biggs and her assistant, Corinne Campagna, started researching over the summer to explore ways to hold live performances while still obeying COVID restrictions regarding social distancing.   

"Doing the show outside masked was the first decision made, then I was thinking about how an audience could view the show and I thought, 'what if they stayed in their cars and it was like a drive-in movie theatre performance, offering safety to everyone?'" Biggs said.   

She started working with the staff at the Recreation and Wellness Center, Facilities Management, University administrators and other campus agencies to stage the production. The department recently graduated a record number of students, and Biggs said there were not enough student set designers. So, she called on several alumni whose jobs had been impacted by the pandemic to help design the performance. Biggs said her students benefitted from working with alumni because it gave them a different perspective.  

"MSU Theatre graduated one of their largest classes from the department and so our design pool was very low. Finding designers became an issue so, I decided to help a few alumni that had lost their jobs to COVID and hire them as guest designers," she said. "Each one of these alum's brought an energy to the production that was infectious, and they quickly became advocates for encouraging the arts during a pandemic. They fired up the students and encouraged them to remember how fortunate they were to be doing live theatre during a pandemic when hundreds of thousands of artists are out of work all over the world."   

While staging a production during the pandemic presented numerous challenges, Biggs said it offered multiple learning opportunities for her students.   

"Theatre is collaborative. It also is a huge vehicle for creative problem solving; I love the challenge of thinking creatively. This is truly an opportunity for us to re-evaluate and keep these new concepts of teaching and producing theatre and then challenge and assess where we are with each situation and act accordingly," Biggs said.  

For more information about the Little Company, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/thelittlecompany.  

To learn more about academic programs in theatre at MSU, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/study/theatre, email mtd@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-2170.