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Nguyen ’20 becomes first Doane student to win regional Irene Ryan award

Nguyen ’20 becomes first Doane student to win regional Irene Ryan award

Boston Reid, Jimmy Nguyen, Abby Weber

Facing 325:1 odds, Jimmy Nguyen ’20 came out on top. 

Nguyen, a senior theatre major at Doane University, became the first Doane student to ever win an Irene Ryan regional scholarship award as he was the top finisher at the Irene Ryan acting competition, part of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Region 5, held January 19-25 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Colleges from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota were represented at the Region 5 festival.

Advancing to the semifinal round of the Irene Ryan competition (down to 66 students) is a feat in itself, and Nguyen and his partner Abby Weber ’21 (and accompanist Boston Reid ’23) were one of three pairs of Doane students to advance to the semis. Allison Baird ’20 and her partner Nicole Carraher ’23 and Mason Morrill ’21 and his partner Bailey Cordwin ’23 also advanced to the semifinal round. 

Once Nguyen and Weber advanced to the final round, only 16 students were remaining. 

“It’s a really great honor to make it that far,” said Joel Egger, assistant professor of theatre at Doane. “These are some of the best actors chosen from around the region and the people choosing the finalists are well-respected theatre professionals.” 

In the final round, participants have six minutes to perform a combination of three pieces -- one monologue or solo, one scene, and one duet. Nguyen and Weber chose to reenact pieces from A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, Hand to God by Robert Askins, and Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare. 

As actors, Egger says he encourages Doane students to “do the work, prepare as best you can, put yourself out there, and let it go.” 

“Just like any audition, it’s out of the student’s hands. The material Jimmy chose showed him off really well, showed Abby off really well, and put him in a position to be undeniable. When the chair of the festival read Jimmy’s name that he won, the whole crowd started chanting his name.” 

Out of 325 participants, from colleges and universities from seven different states, a Doane student was the last man standing.

“It was a great way for me to end my last KCACTF experience,” Nguyen said. “Every year I’ve been nominated and have competed in the Irene Ryan competition but I had never come close to winning. It’s nice to see me grow as an actor from then until now but I know I still have much more growing to do.” 

As the winner of a regional Irene Ryan scholarship award, Nguyen receives a $500 scholarship and will attend the KCACTF National Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., from April 6-10. Nguyen and the other seven regional Irene Ryan award winners and their partners will compete for two national scholarships -- $5,000 for the winner and $2,500 for runner-up. The partners will receive $1,000 and $500, respectively. 

“Not only will we be representing Doane, but we will represent the entire Midwest region of college actors,” Nguyen said. “They are trusting us to go to Washington, D.C. and represent the talent, passion, and motivation of Midwest college theatre students.” 

While Nguyen won the competition, he is very quick to credit his partner, Abby Weber, for their success. 

“We work very well together,” he says. “From the six minutes we were on stage in the final round, there weren't ten seconds when someone in the crowd wasn’t laughing. Everyone who watches us can tell that we’re more than just acting partners but very good friends as well.” 

In addition to the Irene Ryan award, Doane’s theatre department took home the following awards at the KCACTF Region 5 Festival: 

Outstanding Adaptation of a Play - Robin McKercher (Ubu the King)

Outstanding Direction - Robin McKercher (Ubu the King)

Outstanding Sound Design - Patrick Sedivy (Ubu the King)

Outstanding Scenic Design - Jack Wagner (Much Ado About Nothing)

Outstanding Acting Ensemble - The Ensemble of Good for Otto


Nominations for: 

Invited Scene Showcase - Much Ado About Nothing

Costume Parade - Much Ado About Nothing