Out Of The Dark, Into The Light

Photo By Samantha Schwartz

Alex Eisen doesn’t normally keep his phone on during his studio musical theater workshop class, but on Tuesday, March 6, he expected an important email from a friend. However, when he opened his inbox, he was surprised and excited to find an entirely different message.

“Strangely, to this day, I have yet to receive [the] email from my friend that I was originally expecting,” he said.

Instead, Eisen, a fourth-year theater performance major, found out his original musical “The Dark I Know” had received the 2013 KCACTF Musical Theatre Award, a national recognition.

“I excused myself from class and took a few moments alone out in the hallway to take in what really just happened,” he said. “At first, it was also a bit surreal, but overall, it was simply very exciting.”

According to their website, The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) brings the Musical Theatre Award to faculty, college and university students. The composer, lyricist, librettist and producing institution of the award-recipient’s musical receive monetary awards.

Eisen first heard about KCACTF when he transferred to SUNY New Paltz in fall 2011.

Early last semester while researching and learning about playwriting opportunities, Eisen discovered the KCACTF Musical Theatre Award. Since “The Dark I Know” was an original musical produced at SUNY New Paltz, it was eligible for the award.

“I decided then I wanted to go for it,” Eisen said. “What really helped was that I had also received encouragement from my cast and production team, including my advisor Professor Kitsakos, to apply for it. So I owe a big thank you to all of them for their encouragement and support that they had given me when I applied for the award last fall.”

Stephen Kitsakos, assistant chair of the Department for Theater Arts, advised Eisen through an Independent Study last fall, when he received academic credit for his work on “The Dark I Know.” The two met regularly during the semester and Kitsakos facilitated production and advised Eisen on casting, production and directional matters.

“Alex had already had a workshop production of the musical done in 2011 and was eager to grow from that experience,” Kitsakos said. “Alex and I spent many, many hours rewriting, editing, amending, deleting and crafting in order to tell the story concisely, explore the themes that he and his composer collaborator were putting forth.”

According to Kitsakos, this type of recognition is unique for the university.

“We have had other students become regional finalists and go to a national competition, but this is the first time a New Paltz student has won an exclusive national recognition,” he said.

The first person Eisen contacted when he found out about the award was his friend and the composer of “The Dark I Know,” John Watts, a third-year music education and composition major at New York University.

Eisen said the award has provided opportunities including a professional development of the show through the Eugene O’Neil Conference in Connecticut Residency — which will be determined soon. Eisen and Watts have been working on the show for five years and said they hope to continue to develop the show and watch it grow even more.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned while writing this show is that there is always room for improvements, and as a writer, that’s one of the things I look most forward to in the creating process,” Eisen said.

“The Dark I Know” won’t be performed in its entirety at the Kennedy Center in April, but selections of the musical will be presented in a Playwright’s Showcase, which Eisen said he and Watts are very excited about.

Other than preparing for the KCACTF, Eisen’s current focus on the show is working and developing an original cast album with members of the New Paltz cast this spring. The musical was also recently accepted into the Midtown International Theater Festival in Manhattan — a prospective second run of the production in New York City.

Kitsakos said the award is a “wonderful tribute” to Eisen’s artistry and dedication.

“I am extremely proud that ‘The Dark I Know’ has received such recognition, because it means that through the KCACTF resources he will be able to develop the musical further,” he said.