Theatre Arts graduate students Kala Ross and LaShondra Hood were recently awarded the distinguished National Irene Ryan Acting Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C.
The two won first place in the regional finals in South Carolina earlier this spring, which earned them a chance to compete at the national competition, with their travel expenses paid for by the Kennedy Center.
“This is a first for the department and a huge deal,” said Baron Kelly, a theatre professor who helped Ross and Hood prepare their winning performances.
Ross said an adjudicator from the competition chose her as an actor to compete in the regional finals and she chose Hood to be her partner.
She had only two weeks to prepare three pieces for the regional competition in South Carolina: two scenes with Hood and one solo piece. It was a challenge fitting preparations into their already hectic schedules as Hood is a teaching assistant working on her thesis and Ross is a graduate assistant in Theatre Arts’ repertory company.
But, the whole department pulled together to support them along the way, they said.
Dr. Ari Calvano was the director of “Taming of the Shrew,” which was the play that received the nomination to compete in the competition. Kelly served as the coach of sceness and Professor Rachel Carter helped establish their characters’ dialect. Fellow students helped as well, they said.
“I believe we were as prepared as we were because of the resources offered through this program,” Ross said.
Ross and Hood headed to D.C. ready to win and were excited about the opportunities the competition could offer.
“It’s great networking with top-notch professionals, people who’ve made a mark on the industry,” Hood said. “I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who are doing the things you want to do.”
The award comes with a $5000 scholarship for Ross, as she was the competition’s initial nominee, and $1000 to Hood, as her partner.