By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival was online this year, but College of Fine Arts and Production students at Grand Canyon University again earned extra attention at the annual event.
Senior Brandon Brown and junior Abby Yee were selected to compete as finalists in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, and senior Morgan McCall was offered a $1,500 scholarship to the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Art) program.
COFAP acting instructor Michael Kary said it shows the creativity and drive his students have.
“I am super proud of them competing, especially in the environment that we’re in,” he said. “More than ever they had to craft their performances because the first two rounds (of the acting competition) were completely online and filmed. There was a lot they had to do. They showed a lot of initiative and a lot of creativity in the pieces they picked and how they filmed them.”
In addition to working with the students on their performances, Kary also assisted with the filming of their audition tapes. He was particularly impressed by one way the students adapted.
“I also am proud that that they were willing to do it for an audience of zero,” he said. “It shows their dedication to the art form. It was hard to do this. Everything was harder. And rather than sit back and let things be harder and give up, they were determined to make it their best showing.”
The proof is in the feedback the college continues to get every year in the festival. And that’s what matters most to Kary.
“I really focus on the feedback that they get at this level of performance more than if they get trophies,” Kary said. “We have been doing better and better. I think that our school has grown in reputation because of its presence at the festival over the last few years.
“I think all the students that went did very well.”
Brown said he felt privileged to represent GCU.
“It’s super amazing for us (as a program), and we feel very grateful to be able to get that opportunity to perform some pieces along with some really talented folks,” he said. “It was a blast to be able to do, especially right now.”
Students in the Irene Ryan competition performed two monologues or a monologue. Kary said several students pulled material from the first two Ethington productions of the semester, “Comedy of Errors” and “Wings.”
Three of the six GCU students who entered the preliminary round made the semifinals, and then Brown and Yee were two of the 16 students from around the country who made the finals.
For Yee, getting that far in her first year in the competition made it much more memorable.
“It was a really rewarding experience,” she said. “Since we had six of us going, that was already a big deal because I don’t think we’ve ever had that many Irene Ryan nominees at once. All of us are friends, so we were all meeting up and helping each other find pieces.
“The entire process was really community based.”
It’s an experience Yee doesn't think she would've had without GCU.
“It’s everything for me,” Yee said. “I didn’t even know about the Kennedy Center until I got here. A lot of what I have done has come from the College of Fine Arts, but it has also come from me outside of classes, putting my own effort in.
“I would not have had the confidence to do this right if not for my friends. I came into the program with a very low confidence, and with the help of my friends and the help of my professors, I understand who I am as a person better.”
McCall also made the semifinals and became one of eight students selected to receive a Cal Art scholarship, which offers a six-week intensive this summer to grow her skills as an actor.
“I’m excited and very grateful to have been given that scholarship,” McCall said. “It’s amazing at all that we’ve gotten to do theatre when so many other people have not been able to perform in the way that we have.
“I’m so grateful for how far I’ve come and how our program has prepared me, and I was able to reflect on how much I’ve grown in the last four years.”
It’s that growth that Kary said if further proof of the resilience of theatre performers. Even with all the adapting festivals like the Kennedy Center had to do to combat the pandemic.
“Theatre people are problem-solvers,” he said. “Students are scared about graduating into an environment where the doors of the theatres they know are closed, and I think one of the biggest positives to come out was that this festival said, ‘Well, even if the doors are closed, we’re still going to stream through the windows.’
“I think this next festival will be more of a celebration more than any other one.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].