Posted Online: April 20, 2013, 8:56 pm

St. Ambrose graduates compete for acting scholarship in Washington, D.C.

Comment on this story

By Dustin Renwick

Photo:
Anthony Stratton and Morgan Griffin, 2012 St. Ambrose University graduates, are shown on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Friday, competing for the Irene Ryan National Acting Scholarship. They were one of 16 pairs representing eight U.S. regions. (Susie Shaffer/Kennedy Center photo pool)
A wooden table and two chairs starred at the Kennedy Center on Friday night, repurposed for first kisses, fractured relationships and various modes of transportation.

St. Ambrose University graduates Anthony Stratton and his scene partner, Morgan Griffin, competed on that stage for the Irene Ryan National Acting Scholarship at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The duo performed with 15 other winning couples who represented the top two pairs of college students and recent graduates from eight U.S. regions.

Although participants vied for awards, SAU theater department chairman Cory Johnson said the event encouraged a supportive environment.

"Being in a competition means beating other people," she said. "Doing your best work means hoping everyone else does their best work as well so you can celebrate."

Yet, Mr. Stratton and Ms. Griffin needed to win the regional competition in January to ensure their trip to Washington.

As May 2012 graduates, each already had moved – Mr. Stratton pursuing acting in Chicago and Ms. Griffin working in Iowa, then in Florida at Disney World.

Digital rehearsals bridged the physical distance. The comfort and chemistry they had fostered on campus stuck through the summer via Skype.

In January, Ms. Johnson announced the regional winners in her role as coordinator for the Irene Ryan awards. Recounting the story, Mr. Stratton and Ms. Griffin showed the rapport they've built.

"I was like, 'No, you're kidding me,'" Ms. Griffin said.

"I went on autopilot," Mr. Stratton said. "People were trying to push me to the stage. I forgot how to walk."

At the Kennedy Center, each regional winner performed two scenes with a partner and a brief monologue. Sixteen pairs. Six minutes apiece.

The switches mimicked a TV channel surfing binge. Characters and scenes morphed in the briefest of pauses, a caught breath or a turned head. Only the table and chairs remained anchors.

Mr. Stratton and Ms. Griffinstarted as a husband indignant at his cheating wife in a scene. Wheeling in quick steps, they then greeted each other in comedic banter in several foreign languages. After a slapstick slap in the face, Mr. Stratton sat on a chair to deliver a monologue on death.

And he walked off.

Six minutes. Life in microcosm.

Mr. Stratton did not win, but he held his perspective on the competition.

"Being here in itself is an achievement," he said. "We're sitting in the Kennedy Center. This is the pinnacle of the work that we have done. I can sleep happy with that."