Hitting all the high notes

Mariah Burks Wins National Scholarship at Kennedy Center

Hitting all the high notes

By Liz Gladieux

Graduating theatre and film student Mariah Burks is finishing her acting career at BGSU on a high note. Burks won the national Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship at the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), which was held April 13-18 in Washington, D.C.

“I am thrilled and honored,” said Burks.  “Being at the Kennedy Center competing with the best from all over the country was amazing.  It was truly a mind-blowing experience when we won!”

Gregg Henry, artistic director, Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, said “Our judges were looking for the complete package—a strong range, a big heart, great collaboration. Everyone at the National level had those things, but no one was surprised that Mariah won.  She stood out in all areas, leading the pack in spirit as well as ability.”

“There are eight regions that feed into the national event,” noted Henry.  “Each region has at least 250 pairs of actors which means the starting pool for this is over 2,000 people.”  

As winner of the Irene Ryan Scholarship, Burks receives a $5,000 scholarship to continue her theater studies.  Burks’ partner, David Baker, also a BGSU senior, received a $1,000 scholarship.  

“Going to the national level, performing on the Kennedy Center stage and helping Mariah win first place was one of the best highlights of my college and professional career thus far,” said Baker.

Eight regional finalists and their partners were selected to be in residence for the weeklong, expenses-paid trip to the national festival. They received professional development sessions and master classes and presented their scholarship audition. A panel of artistic directors, actors, producers and casting agents viewed the presentations of monologues, scenes and songs.

The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships provide recognition and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education and professional development.  The award was endowed in 1972 by actress Irene Ryan, best known for her role as Granny Clampett on the “Beverly Hillbillies.”

The selection panel for the 2015 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships included Nan Barnett, executive director, National New Play Network; Christine Bruno, Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts;  Curt Columbus, artistic director, Trinity Repertory Theatre, Providence R.I.;  Dean Gabourie, Acme Theatre Company, Toronto, and former associate artistic director of the Stratford Festival; Peter Lawrence, noted director and stage manager; Shirley Serotsky, artistic director, Theater J and actor Delaney Williams.

In addition to the Ryan award, Burks won the VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers Association) Award for Vocal Excellence. Burks received membership in VASTA and a $500 cash award.

Henry said, “At the start of the week, everyone feels like competitors.  After working together for an entire week, the performers have bonded and the loudest cheers when winners are announced is from the wings.”

“Competition in the arts can often be cut-throat, pitting one artist against the other,” he noted.  “We emphasize cooperation and teamwork.  The scholarships take a bit of the pressure off of furthering training for the young artist.”

KCACTF’s statement says, “Developed in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens, the Kennedy Center’s founding Chairman, the KCACTF encourages and celebrates the finest and most diverse theatrical productions from colleges and universities nationwide.  Since its establishment 47 years ago, KCACTF has reached millions of theatergoers and made important contributions to the professional development of countless college and university theater students nationwide.”