On the sixth and last year Theatre professor Cory Johnson, Phd, would coordinate the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), SAU students gave her an appropriate sendoff: Two first place awards and one second place.
"This is the most successful we have EVER been at KCACTF!" Dr. Johnson said, Chair of the SAU Theatre Department.
On the first day of the festival in Lincoln, Neb., the technical theatre team—Tenacious Ninja Techies Dan Conlin ‘13, Kristen Jett '13, Sidney Junk '14, and Amanda Zweibohmer '16—was one of four teams that advanced to the final round of the Stagecrew Showdown. They won Best Team in the seven-state region and reclaimed the Golden Wrench Award for Technical Theatre.
There were many Ambrose students participating in the Musical Theatre Intensive, a new addition to the festival which showcased musical theatre numbers. In this competition, 62 acts prepared by students from around the region were considered for participation in a workshop and cabaret with 20 of those moving on to the final round. SAU's Stephanie Seward '13 moved on to the final round and participated in the Musical Theatre Cabaret, which consisted of a day-long workshop with London's West End actress Rachel Izen and Broadway actress Kelli Brisbane, ending in a polished performance at the festival.
Kelsey Francis ‘13 participated in the National Critics' Institute and wrote reviews of the fully mounted plays performed at the Festival as well as participating in group workshops led by Jeff Korbelik, Features Editor for the Lincoln Journal-Star. Francis was announced as the regional second place winner and as such, is the first alternate to the Kennedy Center National Festival in April.
Meghan McLaughlin '15 participated in a stage management event, stage managing the Festival's 10-minute plays contest and learning a great deal. Two St. Ambrose students, Cami Sackett '14 and Brooke Schelly '15, were cast in the 10-minute plays, which were auditioned and performed at the festival. Shannon Rourke '16 was selected to participate in the one-act concert readings which was a wonderful, unexpected experience for her.
For the first time ever, SAU participated in the Devised Theatre showings at KC/ACTF. Devised theatre is a collaborative work in which a group of actors work together to portray an idea through movement, speech, and music. This year's group consisted of Valerie Zawada '13, Amanda Kochanny '13, Junk, Mallory Baldwin '14, Brooke Schelly '15, and Zachary Meyer '16.
Many of our students did professional auditions at KCACTF. Students who participated in this event are Zawada, Kochanny, Jett, Tim Stompanato '13, Cami Sackett '14, and Molly Conrad '14. Among these students Zawada, Kochanny, and Conrad all received callbacks from multiple theatres. Jett has heard back from her tech interviews and is considering many theatres. Sackett has also participated in technical interviews.
The Irene Ryan Scholarship audition is always the crowning event of the festival. Students are nominated from performances on their home campuses. Nominated students then select an acting partner and prepare two scenes and a monologue or song to bring to the Festival. This year nominees competed in the annual acting competition: Anthony Stratton '12 with partner Morgan Griffin ‘12; Grace Allen '12 and Seward sharing partner Cody Johnson ‘13; Conrad and partner Jonathan Smith ‘13; and Shannon Rourke '16 and Francis sharing partner Kochanny.
This year the competition consisted of 324 nominees region-wide who participate in the preliminary round of acting. In the preliminary round, participants are given three minutes to perform one piece with their acting partner. Three nominees from SAU—Seward, Allen, and Stratton—moved on to the semi-final round, whittling the playing field from 326 to 64, in which participants have five minutes to perform two scenes with their partners.
Stratton moved on to finals—the top 16 of the original 324. In this round, he was given six minutes to perform two scenes with his partner and a monologue. At the end of the last day of KCACTF, our own Dr. Johnson announced Stratton as one of the top two Irene Ryan winners who will go to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
"I'm so incredibly proud to be a part of such an amazing and talented theatre department," Stratton said after his win (at left). "I'm blown away time and time again by the immense talent our department has to showcase. I'm so completely blown away and humbled by the experience of being selected as the Irene Ryan Regional Winner for Region 5, with the help of my amazing acting partner, Morgan Griffin, and the talented coaching insight of Cory Johnson and Daniel Rairdin-Hale.
"It's still so surreal. I would've never thought in my five years of attending KCACTF, and seeing the talent that passes through those doors, that I would be here. Again, I love and thank everyone who has guided us and held us up with your support; you are all amazing. This is us; this is Ambrose!"
This is the third time in the last 10 years that an Ambrosian has made it to the Kennedy Center (the other two are Daniel D.P. Sheridan '05 and now-professor Dan Rairdin-Hale '04), an unprecedented feat especially from such a small department.
Clearly, it was a memorable year for the St. Ambrose Theatre Department at KCACTF. We are very proud of all of those students who participated and wish Tony and Morgan all the best when they perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in April. Stratton may have said it best when he said, "This is us; this is Ambrose!"