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Three BYU theater students honored at regional theater festival competition

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 8:23 p.m. MST

BYU student Ben Isaacs won the Classical Acting award in the Irene Ryan Competition at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Weber State University on Saturday. Isaacs, pictured here as Charles Musgrove in "Persuasion," received his nomination for his performance in the original adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. He is seen opposite Melanie McKay as Mary Musgrove.

Mark A. Philbrick

OGDEN — Three BYU theater students won big at the 44th regional competition of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, which ended on Saturday at Weber State University.

Becca Ingram was named a finalist and will travel to compete at the national festival in Washington, D.C., in April for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. The award is named for the actress best known for her role in “The Beverly Hillbillies” who funded the annual acting competition. Ingram was nominated to compete for the prestigious award after her performance of Anne in BYU’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

In the same competition, Benny Isaacs earned the regional Classical Acting Award of Excellence from the National Partners American Theatre organization. Following Isaacs’ role as Charles Musgrove in an original adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” by Melissa Leilani Larsen, the BYU actor was nominated to compete at the regional level.

BYU’s Jen Stewart was named best scene partner for her work with Joseph Skousen.

“Becca is a genuine person, and that quality is evident in her performances,” said Stephanie Breinholt, BYU theater department assistant professor, who coached the performers. “She is kind, giving and honest, and she allows her characters an honesty and depth that is inviting and exciting. She also allows herself to genuinely feel for each of the characters she portrays. And she gives to the audience. That giving energy is tangible in her performances.”

Breinholt also spoke highly of the work by Isaacs.

“You can feel the joy Benny puts in his work. He loves what he does, and he loves to share it with others. In his work at festival, he was innovative, energetic and had the ability to make Shakespeare’s language feel like it was his own contemporary speech. It was exciting to watch,” she said.

While a BYU student, Breinholt was a national Irene Ryan award winner in 1997. BYU holds the distinction of four national winners. The others are Mireille Enos, in 1996; Kevin P. Rahm, in 1994; and Scott Claflin, in 1991. Dixie State College's Whitney Morgan Cox, who earned the honor in 2009, completes the list of Utah winners.

At the competition in Ogden, Ingram performed a monologue from “Summer and Smoke” by Tennessee Williams. With her scene partner Ted Bushman, Ingram also performed a scene from “Adam and Eve” by Davey Morrison and Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part 1.” Isaacs also performed a scene with Bushman, from Shakespeare’s most obscure play, “The Two Noble Kinsmen.”

“Ted was a fabulous partner — adjusting to all the varied material, rehearsing many hours and adapting to direction,” Breinholt said. “He is a talented performer as well.”

Along with expenses paid for Ingram to travel to the Washington, D.C., event, the BYU trio will receive scholarships and stipends from the national organization.

Utah Valley University’s Wendy Gourley also earned scholarships and was selected to advance to compete in Washington, D.C., in two nonperformance-related categories. She was honored for her scholarly paper “The Federal Theatre Project: A Bastion of Democracy or Communist Propaganda?” and earned the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Fellowship regional Scholarly Paper Award for her work on “Eurydice.” In addition, Gourley was awarded the regional Program Note Award for “Sarah Ruhl, a Distance from Normal.”

UVU actor Eric Phillips was awarded the Chicago Style Comedy Scholarship and will travel to participate in the two-week California State University Summer Arts Workshop at CSU Monterey Bay.

For the second year, UVU was awarded the regional festival’s Golden Wrench Award, for its production of “Eurydice.”

Shelby Luke from BYU was selected to compete at the national festival for her work as costume designer.

There were more than 60 nominees for the Irene Ryan competition from theater departments in Central and Southern California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, Hawaii and Utah. After competing in the competition’s first round, seven Utah student actors advanced to the semifinals with Ingram and Isaacs.

BYU: Darick Pead, as Dr. Fredrick Treves in “The Elephant Man”; and Joseph Skousen, as Zachary Brown in “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.”

UVU: Daniel Fenton Anderson, as Robert in “Le ThÉ À la Menthe oÙ le Citron?”; Josh French, for his role in UVU's Short Attention Span Theatre production of “Wanton!”; and Andy Hansen, as Ali Hakim in “Oklahoma!”

Wendy Gourley contributed to this article.

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