Moraine Valley Community College won two Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) awards for the play “American Griot.” This is the first time the college has won any KCACTF national awards.

“The fact that one of our actors and the play itself got recognized at the national level reflects incredibly well on the cast, the crew, the director and Moraine Valley’s theater program. It shows we’re preparing students well to perform on stage and behind the scenes,” Dr. Lisa Kelsay, assistant dean of Liberal Arts and Director of Academic Arts at the college, said upon learning of the awards.

“American Griot” had its world premiere at the college’s Fine and Performing Arts Center in February 2019, and it received the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award, which recognizes programs in higher education using theatrical production to make a societal impact. It was co-written by Ronnie Malley, a Moraine Valley alumnus, who has had a successful career as a musician, actor, producer and educator.

The play, told by Mamadou, an 18th Century griot (African storyteller musician), explores the shared history of Islam and the blues in Africa and America.

“Audiences were in awe about what it represented. It opened a lot of eyes on a part of history that isn’t often discussed,” Kelsay said.

Jarrin Comer, a former Moraine Valley theater student, currently pursuing acting at the Theatre School at DePaul University, won the Distinguished Performance by an Actor Award for his portrayal of Mamadou.

“Jarrin was phenomenal. I wasn’t surprised to see him on the list of winners,” Kelsay said. “It’s good to see Moraine Valley students have opportunities that people might not expect at a community college. It’s often only upper-classmen who get the lead parts at four-year schools. We’re giving students an opportunity to jump in as freshmen.”

Comer said, “It’s gratifying that my work was recognized. It is an honor. I had a great experience at Moraine Valley, and I definitely feel going there benefitted me,” he said.

The two awards were announced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which recognizes outstanding work in collegiate theater at eight regional festivals held each year. Normally, the winners travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the center’s national festival, but this year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.