They call themselves quirky and unique, fun and dynamic, intellectual and immersive. They are performers looking at another opportunity to expand their skills and push themselves.
Four Kansas State University actors have been nominated to compete for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, a three-part regional competition for an acting scholarship. Chelsea Turner, junior in American ethnic studies, Morgan Lynn Sterrett, senior in theatre performance, Michael Duncan, sophomore in theatre, and Sterling Oliver, junior in theatre and musical composition, have all been selected to represent K-State in January’s competition.
Returning to the stage
This will be Sterrett’s second year competing in this competition. She and her partner, Hunter Nelson, junior in theatre, made it through the preliminary round of the competition last year but plan on changing their approach to the upcoming competition.
“We had a great experience last year,” Nelson said. “This year, we just want to take it for our own personal advancement and training, rather than necessarily just for the competition.”
Sterrett said she is putting a strong emphasis on pushing herself and Nelson for the upcoming competition.
“Last year it was a lot of nervous energy,” Sterrett said. “This year, it’s a lot more ‘how can I better myself through this experience?'”
Sterrett said working with Nelson in the competition again gives them both the opportunity to try things they had wanted to do last year but didn’t get the chance to. Nelson said Sterrett is being much choosier about the pieces they are going to perform together and focusing more on themes that will push their acting skills.
“This year, we are taking a little bit longer to find and choose what scenes we want to do just so we know we’re going to get the most out of them,” Nelson said.
With one scholarship competition under her belt, Sterrett has been freely giving advice to her fellow actors to make sure they get the best experience as well.
“I’ve been kind of showering [words of wisdom] upon them as we go,” Sterrett said.
Comaraderie and competition
It might be a competition, but Duncan said the “camaraderie at the end of the day” is more important than seeing who will win. It is all about representing K-State to the best of their ability.
“A good way to look at [this competition] is four opportunities for us at K-State Theatre,” Duncan said.
These four actors have shared a stage with one another at some point during their K-State careers. Turner and Duncan were nominated for the competition for their performances in “The Arsonists,” and Sterrett and Oliver for “Into the Woods.” Several of them have worked together on other plays.
They share memories of Sterrett pulling a knife on Oliver during “Into the Woods,” of hearing Turner sing for the first time in last year’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and supporting one another as they take on different roles in theatre and even in classes.
So long as they are “getting the work done” and performing to the best of their ability, Oliver said the idea of one of them winning over the other has not crossed their minds. He said they all agree that they are more focused on developing as actors than the competition.
“It’s nice to see something come from hard work, working on ‘Into the Woods,’ then getting to work even harder to prepare scenes for the scholarship,” Oliver said.
Overall, it is less about competing to win as an individual and more to do with supporting fellow K-State actors. Sterrett said all four of them will have the opportunity to watch and support the others perform during the different rounds of the competition.
“Success for one of us is success for all of us,” Sterrett said.
The four nominees’ partners are required to be students who have not been nominated as well, and these actors have already chosen who they want to work with for the upcoming competition. They said these partners had to be complimentary to the actors’ own acting and possess some kind of stage chemistry. Overall, the partners had to be willing to put in the work with them.
“I want both of our skills to help us out and bring on our best performances,” Duncan said about his partner, Ceslie Parker-Waller, sophomore in theatre.
The nominees have been able to work together at some point during their K-State careers. Turner said she was able to work with her partner, Brooke Merriam, sophomore in theatre, in “Unity (1918)” last spring and is excited to work together again.
“She was completely phenomenal,” Turner said. “I was like, ‘I would be so honored if you would work with me, and I could learn from you.'”
Sterrett and Nelson work together so well on stage due to their chemistry. Nelson said they are able to play multiple relationships together and both have the drive to make sure they blend together, whether in a play scene or musical number. He said they are finding scenes to push their limits as actors and are willing to put in the work to do that.
“I think for all of us, picking a partner comes down to who you believe equally deserves this opportunity, because the biggest opportunity comes from the work before you go,” Sterrett said.
The regional scholarship competition will take place in Des Moines, Iowa, according to K-State Today. Turner said the competition is broken up into three rounds with different performances for each.
The scholarship award amounts range from $250 to $2,500 depending on the award received, according to the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship page on the Kennedy Center’s website.
“I’m just going to go and do my best,” Duncan said. “I feel like it’s nice to just be nominated in general, because being nominated in itself is an accomplishment that I’m always going to be happy about.”