This month, we're looking ahead at what awaits the two students chosen to attend the national festival in April. And there is no doubt the experience has a lot in store for them.
Alumnus Anthony Stratton '12 was one of two Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship finalists at the Region V festival in January. From a pool of over 300 students, Stratton, and his scene partner Morgan Griffin '12, were advanced to the national festival in Washington D.C. It will take place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"I'm still at a loss for words on the whole thing," Stratton said. "I couldn't have ever imagined that I would be up in the ranks of all the amazingly accomplished performers I saw year after year in the regional finals."
A total of sixteen performers, two from each of the eight regions across the nation, will compete to win the national award. The winner receives a $3,000 scholarship to the educational institution of his or her choice. But there is more at stake than the money, something to which theatre professor Daniel Rairdin-Hale can attest.
"While you are in residence at the Kennedy Center there are wonderful workshops you get to do," Rairdin-Hale said. "You don't want to miss any of the networking and learning opportunities from some of the nation's leading theatre artists."
In the spring of 2003, while working on his undergraduate theatre major at St. Ambrose, Rairdin-Hale advanced to the Kennedy Center as a Region V Irene Ryan winner. The prestigious award allowed him to spend one month of the following summer studying at the renowned Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, CA.
Now, Rairdin-Hale will attend this year's festival as a coach instead of the student.
"It's so surreal," Rairdin-Hale said. "I never thought I would be on this side of it. But it's going to be fun."
Yet another highlight of Rairdin-Hale's '03 trip was a surprise visit from Dan Sheridan '05, a fellow student and friend who had come to support him. Sheridan, who currently serves as the Artistic Director at Davenport Junior Theatre, attended the national festival himself as an Irene Ryan finalist two years later in 2005.
"It made me a ‘silver bullet' for the Unified Regional Theatre Auditions," Sheridan said. "I moved right past the screenings and directly to auditioning for graduate schools."
Professor Corinne Johnson has had the pleasure of coaching all three of these Irene Ryan candidates over the years. At the Region V Festival this past January, she even had the honor of presenting Stratton with his award as a finalist.
"It's truly amazing that we've had three [Irene Ryan] national finalists in the last decade," Johnson said. "I'm not sure if that's ever been done."
In addition to sending three Irene Ryan finalists, St. Ambrose alumna Rachel (Mayer) Ramirez also attended the national festival in her graduating year of 2009. Ramirez was selected for the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers National Scene Audition, recognizing her achievements in directing.
"I am incredibly proud to have come from a theatre department that has had such success with KCACTF," Ramirez said.
Stratton knows that being accepted for nationals doesn't mean his work is over. While he continues working in Chicago, Griffin's recent move to Florida won't allow them to continue rehearsals in person. But Stratton isn't worried about them losing their edge, since "Skype rehearsals" are how they also prepared for regionals.
"Skype makes it more challenging, but it made us work harder," Stratton said. "And we will make it work again."
Stratton and Griffin both are thrilled for the networking experiences and professional workshops awaiting them at the festival. Stratton added that he could not be more thankful for the professors and mentors at St. Ambrose, who have given him "the acting foundation" which continually serves in his success as an actor.
Among those headed to Washington to support Stratton will be Johnson and Rairdin-Hale, as his acting coaches, as well as Sheridan and Ramirez. Retired professor Michael Kennedy, who worked with Stratton and still works with students on occasion, will also attend.
The Irene Ryan showcase will be open to the public, for anyone who wishes to attend. Participants will perform at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Friday, Apr. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 each.
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