Local Schools

Maur Hill-Mount Academy principal headed to national theater competition

Charlie Peitsch cowers from Cameron Carlson during a performance of “The Wall.” Carlson is Maur Hill-Mount Academy’s principal, and Peitsch is a MH-MA parent. The play centers on the good thief in Luke’s Gospel and has advanced to national competition in Kentucky, June 12-17. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KAREN BONAR

by Lisa Baniewicz
Special to The Leaven

ATCHISON — Although Dr. Cameron Carlson here is the Maur Hill-Mount Academy principal by day, he’s an award-winning actor by night.

Carlson and MH-MA parent Charlie Peitsch competed in the theater production of “The Wall” at the Region V Festival in Salina in April.

Not only did they both receive “Outstanding Actor” awards for their performances, but “The Wall” was selected from among six productions to represent Region V at the American Association of Community Theatre Festival (AACT Fest) in Louisville, Kentucky, in June. Theaters from South Dakota, two from Minnesota, two from Iowa, and Theatre Atchison participated in the adjudicated performances.

Carlson is not new to theater.

“I grew up in theater,” Carlson said.

He’s a fourth-generation actor. His great-grandparents were part of a traveling theater group, his grandmother was in the vaudeville circuit, and his parents opened the Broken Arrow Community Playhouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Carlson attended the University of Oklahoma on a theater scholarship, successfully competing at the national level while there.

The idea for competing in the theater production of “The Wall” came about while planning a different production for Theatre Atchison.

“While in Mass . . . I felt God was calling me to bring more people to Christ,” Carlson said. “I felt the best way to do this was to do a play called ‘Godspell’ (based on the last days of Christ from the Gospel of Matthew).”

Carlson pitched a “Godspell” production to Theatre Atchison director Travis Grossman.

During production plans for “Godspell,” Carlson was asked if he was interested in participating in the theater competition with “The Wall.” It’s a story about the two thieves in the Gospel of Luke who are crucified with Christ living out the last few hours of their life in a prison cell next to Jesus.

Since Carlson wanted to focus on faith-based theater, the answer was obvious. He was chosen to play the prisoner Gestas and Peitsch was chosen to play Dismas.  

“For the preliminary competition held locally at Theatre Atchison, we only had a week of rehearsals,” Carlson said. The only other time the two had worked together was in the spring MH-MA school musical “The Music Man Jr.” They were part of a barbershop quartet with MH-MA parent Adam Buhman-Wiggs.

Peitsch’s reasons for accepting the role of Dismas were similar to Carlson’s.

“I think God wanted me to do it,” he said. “It came about during Lent when I was asking God for more opportunities to grow close to him. I was going through a spiritual struggle, and I saw this as a way to work through it.”

Carlson is still trying to process competing at the national level.

“The most important thing is not my success, but that people are moved by the show as they are confronted with the Gospel and the truth,” he said.

According to Grossman, the play has certainly struck a chord.

“We were surprised with the number of people that approached us and said they were brought to tears by the performance,” he said.

Grossman credits the actors’ intensity as well as the play’s director, Layne Roate. Although Roate came with years of experience to Theatre Atchison recently, this is the first time he directed for a theater competition. He received best director award for his hard work.

At the national competition June 12-17, they will compete against 12 other productions, and this is the first time Theatre Atchison has made it this far. It’s certainly created enthusiasm for theater in this small town.

“I know it’s a great honor and exciting for Theatre Atchison,” Peitsch said. “I’m hoping this creates more opportunities for faith-themed productions at Theatre Atchison.”

Grossman is optimistic about nationals.

“We’ve been told that a show like this will represent really well at the national level,” he said. “It’s why three judges chose it at regionals. I think they’ll do remarkably well!”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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