The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival is an annual celebration of university-level theatre, separated into eight regions across the nation. One very important part of this festival is the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, funded by the late Irene Ryan, well-known for her role as Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies. Adjudicators, often professors from other schools in the region, give feedback on every show entered and nominate two actors from that show to compete.
The competition itself consists of three rounds. In the preliminary round, about 300 nominees are given three minutes to perform one scene with a partner. The semi-final round, cutting the number down to only 64, gives the nominees five minutes to perform their first scene along with another scene, again with a partner. The final round gives only 16 actors the opportunity to perform the two scenes again with their partner, as well as a monologue by themselves in a time limit of six minutes. From the final 16, two are chosen as the region's winners and go on to the Kennedy Center to compete with the other regional winners.
This year, eight Ambrosians took on the challenge. For SAU's production of columbinus, Anthony Stratton '12 and Michael Kline '11 were nominated. Lady Windermere's Fan produced two more nominees, Aaron Randolph III '12 and Stephanie Seward '13. The fall musical, "A New Brain," offered the honor to Tim Stompanato '13 and Kyle DeFauw '14. The children's musical, "Dakota Jones and the Search for Atlantis," brought out nominees Valerie Zawada '13 and Stacy Phipps '13.
Of these eight worthy contenders, five SAU students continued onto the semi-final round. Randolph, Stratton, Stompanato, DeFauw, and Kline represented our small but mighty school well, performing two scenes with their partners. Surviving the steep cut, Randolph made it to the final round in which he acted with 15 other nominees with his scene partner, Grace Allen '12.
During his first undergraduate education at SAU (Randolph is a returning alum of SAU) Randolph was nominated for his performance in "Play it Again, Sam." Last year he served as an acting partner and made it to the final round in the same competition with nominee Stephanie Seward ‘13.
This year was certainly special for Randolph, and not only because he was the nominee competing (and being highly successful). The one scene that took Randolph from the preliminary round all the way through to the finals was one he had written himself.
"It was certainly rewarding to make it that far with my own material," said Randolph of the experience. In fact, one of the judges from the final round liked Randolph's scene so much, he asked for a copy; the scene may soon be filmed to be included in a webisode.
Cory Johnson, PhD, theatre professor and department chair, has the honor of coordinating the entire event. Johnson and her team of three assistants are responsible for scheduling and finding judges for all three rounds, checking that every nominee's scenes are approved as far as rights and royalties are concerned, and overall making sure each student has a fair, unbiased and good experience. This year, however, one of Johnson's proudest moments was standing in the wings watching Randolph perform in the final round.
"It made me doubly proud to see the diversity in Aaron's great acting as well as his own writing," Johnson said. "It was truly a transcendent moment."
Congratulations to all of our nominees on your hard work and dedication!!
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