HawkStrong: Kourtney Collins sees Theatre as a crash course in dedication and teamwork
HFC student Kourtney Collins has been acting in community theatre and school plays since she was 4. During her time at HFC, she discovered how much she loved directing.
Under the mentorship of HFC Director of Theatre John Michael Sefel – affectionately called “Dr. John” by his students – Collins will serve as the assistant director of HFC’s production of Leo’s Big Day Out (which Sefel is directing) the weekend of Nov. 18-19.
“Last year, Dr. John gave me and a few other students the opportunity to direct short plays during HFC-23,” recalled Collins, of Allen Park. “I sent him an email afterward detailing how much I enjoyed being on the other side of things. After that, he asked if I would be interested in being an assistant director, and I said ‘Absolutely!’”
Assistant director of a mainstage show
Her duties on Leo’s Big Day Out include blocking one of the scenes and assisting Sefel with the rest of the scenes.
“The closer we get to the performances, the broader the responsibilities have become,” she said. “I’ve been standing in for the crew, moving set pieces, understudying for characters, painting the set, helping actors prepare, keeping the energy in the room positive, and generally running around in the spirit of theatre! It’s been fun. I have been thriving in the chaos.”
Sefel met Collins shortly after he was hired at HFC in 2022. At the time, she was appearing in HFC’s production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, directed by HFC theatre instructor Christopher Bremer.
“I remember being really impressed with her work. Flash forward several months: I had the opportunity to cast her as Ishmael in our Moby Dick-inspired production, The Passage, for which she was recognized by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for 'Excellence in College Acting,’” said Sefel. “A year later, she's risen to assistant director of a mainstage show – the highest position we offer students! Her growth has been phenomenal, and while we'll miss her once she graduates, we're working hard to get her ready to receive that degree and move on to her next stage in life where she can continue to grow and thrive.”
Inspired to continue in theatre
The youngest of three, Collins was born in Melvindale. An alumna of Melvindale High School, she decided to continue her education at HFC, thanks to the high praise her older sister, alumna Kara Piekarski, had for the College.
“I had heard such great things about HFC from my sister and it was my most affordable option,” said Collins. “My experience at HFC has been wonderful. The support from the faculty and staff has helped me get through school and grow as a person. I have made lifelong friendships here, and I will always view HFC as a second home. I recommend people attend HFC because there are many amazing students and faculty members who will care about you and help you achieve things you may not have realized were available to you.”
Collins wanted to give a shout-out to the late Marybeth Kinnell, her drama teacher from high school.
“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Ms. Kinnell. She was the first adult figure in school to take me seriously and see something special in me. I had stopped doing theatre until she started teaching at my high school and encouraged me to audition for the musical, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the rest was history,” recalled Collins. “I could go on for days about her all-around brilliance, but I’ll leave it at this: Although she is no longer here to see the continuous extension of her impact during her short time on Earth, her love and spirit lives on through her students and everyone she knew. Whenever I get overwhelmed or question myself about my path in life, I think about her and how excited she would be if she knew what I’ve been up to.”
Collins will earn her associate degree in theatre in 2024. She is still undecided to where she will transfer, but she is considering Wayne State University. She would like to continue studying theatre and directing. She is also grateful to Sefel, who has been highly influential.
“My career goal is to be able to make a sustainable living doing what I love. I would love to become a director at a school and do what Dr. John does,” she said. “He has gone out of his way to advocate and create opportunities for me, which has made all the difference! I didn’t see myself graduating until he became a part of the College’s Theatre Program last year. He has incredible insight, both theatrically and worldly, that he eagerly shares with all his students. I hope to carry the knowledge and passion he has shared with us into my own future.”
Reasons to brag about student excellence at HFC
Collins has been a member of the HFC Theatre Club for two years. For the 2023-24 academic year, she has been the president. Membership increase from five to 30 active members. Collins has three goals for her presidency:
“One: I would like to aid as many students as possible in their journey to both finding and embracing themselves as they are, the way that past leaders in theatre clubs I’ve participated in did for me.
“Two: I would like to try and get one meeting with 50 members in attendance.
“Three: I would like to explore opportunities to see whether the club could start taking trips to check out live theatre," she said.
Sefel called Collins a superstar of the Theatre Program.
“As a student, actor, worker, director, club president, and friend to all, Kourtney consistently models leadership, intelligence, and empathy. She has earned the respect and support of her peers and HFC Theatre staff. When I brag about student excellence at HFC, she is one of the first examples I give,” said Sefel.
Collins spoke about why theatre and the arts are important.
“The diverse community that theatre welcomes is magic,” she explained. “Being involved in putting on a play is the crash course in teamwork and dedication that all humans desperately need. Being in the audience of a play is the escape that people often need. The arts provide a safe space where vulnerability and self-expression are encouraged and rewarded, which is critical to the human experience. There is a spot for every type of person here. Whether you’re the lead on stage, the person selling tickets, or a child in the audience seeing your first musical, your presence and energy and your specific you-ness are important. We all want to feel heard and we all have our stories be told. Live performance is one of the few places on Earth where you are guaranteed that.”