Wes Haskell says he spent his holiday break relaxing and watching TV at his parents´ home in Dell Rapids, S.D. He won´t have much time for that this week.
Haskell and the other cast members of Michigan State University’s “The Beaux’ Stratagem” are preparing for their three performances Thursday at the Kennedy Center College Theatre Festival Region III competition at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. They aren’t just rehearsing the comedy — they had to practice setting up and striking the set as well, because in addition to critiquing performances and direction, the festival judges also evaluate how quickly and smoothly the crew can assemble and pack up their show.
While there’s a certain amount of pressure in being part of tone of the 10 productions selected for the Region III competition, Haskell is concentrating on the pleasure instead.
“It’s a really busy week, but it’s pure excitement, with all that’s going on and all the people you can meet,” said the 25-year-old graduate student, who is wrapping up his master´s degree in acting this semester.
“Stratagem” competes against University of Southern Indiana’s “Rent,” University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s “Edwin Booth,” Hope College’s “Gone Missing,” Carthage College’s “The Rail Splitter,” Ball State University’s “Circus in Winter,” University of Evansville’s “Master Harold” and Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s “Risata, Sciocco … Risata.”
Haskell, who was seen in last year´s Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. production of "The Pride," is also competing at the theater festival for an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, which can be worth as much as $3,000 to an actor who makes it to the finals in Washington. Haskell’s scene partner in the competition is fellow “Stratagem” star Brandon Piper, who will also graduate with his master´s in acting this spring.
“As of right now, we’re doing a scene from ‘Good Boys and True’ and possibly a scene from ‘This is Our Youth,’” Haskell said.
Piper and Haskell performed in the Renegade Theatre Festival staging of “Good Boys” last August, under the direction of Rob Roznowski. “Brandon and I have had a lot of classes together, so we know each other and work well together,” Haskell said.
“We played opposite each other in ´Palmer Park,´ which was our first show,” Piper said. “So it´s fun that we´ve gotten to end together, too.”
Haskell is already familiar with the scholarship competition process: He and scene partner Leslie Hull made it to the finals two years ago.
After the festival wraps up, Haskell returns to MSU to prepare for his role as the Cook in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which opens Feb. 7.
He will wrap up his final semester by playing Elle Woods’ snooty boyfriend, Warner, in the Roznowski-directed “Legally Blonde: The Musical” in April.
“Then, I plan on moving to New York as soon as possible,” Haskell said. “I’ve always wanted to be in New York ever since I was a little kid — and after 20 years of school and 25 years of life, I think I’m ready.”