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Theatre majors advance to final round of acting competition

Elizabeth McCole, a senior theater and communication major, and Andrew Cates, a junior theatre, music and art design major, recently made it to the final round of the Irene Ryan Acting Competition, where they performed against students from eight different states.

Photo via Instagram @hallcommarts

The competition commemorates the memory of Irene Ryan, a well-established actress in vaudeville, radio, film and on Broadway. Ryan is best known for her role as Daisy May “Granny” Moses in the show “Beverly Hillbillies.”

Peter Reader, an associate professor of theatre, explained the complex process that goes into earning the honor of participating in the competition.

Reader said the Seton Hall Theatre and the Theatre program are associate members of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF).

“Faculty Responders for KCACTF are assigned to review productions from across a seven-state region representing over 100 theatre programs,” Reader said. “Responders nominate a student from a production they have seen to compete in the Irene Ryan Scholarship competition at the regional festival, which was at Montclair State University.”

McCole represented Seton Hall at the event and described how the competition was structured. She explained that the first round included 234 pairs of students from schools all over the region, including Maryland, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and more. McCole said for the semifinals, the judges narrowed the contestants down to 32 pairs and the final round to 16 pairs before picking one winner and one “alternate,” or runner up.

McCole said every contestant was required to have a partner, and that the decision of choosing a partner was easy, as she picked her “good friend” Andrew Cates.

“We had to choose scenes, study our roles, block the scenes, and of course memorize and prepare them for performance,” Cates said.

McCole said a large portion of the preparation was finding the scene that fit both her and Cates. They performed scenes from “4,000 Miles” and “Crime of the Heart.” McCole also performed a monologue from William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.”

“I wanted to choose something that would suit Andrew really well,” McCole said. “To take advantage of our friendship and to make it easy for me to act with him, and also to challenge me and my skills because ultimately they’re judging me.”

Though the competition prize is $5,000 in scholarship money, all students got the chance to showcase their talents in front of casting directors, managers and agents, McCole said.

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“I started acting in 4th grade after a knee injury forced me to stop all the athletic activities I was doing for a while,” McCole said. “I wanted something else to do so I auditioned for a summer musical and I never really went back to sports. Since then acting professionally and supporting myself acting has been my dream.”

As a result of the competition, McCole said she has received offers to take her talents to an even higher level. “A couple of acting training programs and conservatories have reached out to me asking me to consider applying,” McCole said. “After college I hope to keep working on the administrative side of theatres, perhaps with a company, and start auditioning for acting roles.”

Cates said the experience is something that he knows was unique and exceptional. “It was very rewarding to get to compete against other very gifted actors as well as hear feedback from professionals in the field,” Cates said. “The workshops and speakers at the festival were also very informative and knowledgeable.”

Dalton Allison can be reached at


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