By Billy Huntsman
New Mexico State University’s Theatre Arts Department, which last year was selected by Playbill.com as one of the best theatre arts programs in the country, recently found success in a prestigious theatre competition.
Every year since 1969, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., hosts the American College Theatre Festival, an eight-region competition involving more than 700 academic institutions throughout the country. New Mexico competes in Region VI, along with Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The Theatre Arts Department sent 16 students to the regional competition at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, on February 24-27, where eight competed for Region VI’s $500-Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship: Tiffany Tyson, Miranda Lukens, Ashley Vargas, Austin Parrish, Veronica Bissell, Valentin Guereque, and Josh Horton. The remaining eight were their partners.
The scholarship comes from the Irene Ryan Foundation, which since 1972 has annually awarded 16 regional and two national scholarships to provide “recognition, honor, and financial assistance to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue further education.” The scholarship and foundation are named after the Emmy-nominated “Granny Moses” actor from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Out of 148 competitors and after two rounds of cuts, NMSU had two Ryan-Scholarship-nominees remaining in the competition for the scholarship—Parrish and Horton. Horton, a theatre arts major and two-time-Ryan-Scholarship-nominee, was also a finalist at last year’s festival, which was NMSU’s first time competing in this event.
He says going to the finals last year was a big shock. Last year’s experience gave him more confidence this year, he says.
“It’s kind of surreal, I’m truly blessed to have the opportunity to go out there and do what I love to do,” Horton says.
Horton says he was nominated for the scholarship after KCACTF representatives saw him perform Alceste in NMSU’s production of Molière’s The Misanthrope in 2014 and Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night in 2015. Horton also received recommendation from NMSU assistant professor and Head of Acting Josh Chenard.
“He’s really changed the department around,” Horton says. “He pushes for new work and he doesn’t settle for mediocre things. He pushes you for the best performance that he can get out of you and I really appreciate that. I think sometimes people like being comfortable and his style doesn’t really sit well with people, but I know, as an actor, I’m always trying to give my best performance and be better each time. I can appreciate somebody wanting the same for me.”
In the first round, Horton and his partner, Aidan Viscarra, had three minutes to perform scenes from chosen material. Horton and Viscarra chose scenes from a play called The 12:40—a dramatic piece. Horton also had to perform a monologue. He chose one from The Misanthrope, having used it to audition for graduate school acting programs, for which he received 13 callbacks, as well as an offer from England’s University of Birmingham.
In the second scene, they had five minutes to perform The 12:40 scene, as well as a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Our Lady of 121st Street—a comedic piece.
In the third round, they performed both scenes and Horton delivered his monologue again. For his part, Viscarra received the competition’s Best Scene Partner award.
“I’m so proud of him,” Horton says.
Viscarra had been scheduled to go to the festival last year, but suffered kidney failure at the last minute.
“He’s been my best friend for the past few years,” Horton says.
Thus he took Viscarra to the festival this year as his partner.
“(Viscarra) deserved (the award),” Horton says.
Though the Ryan Scholarship was not awarded to an NMSU student, Horton says, he is proud of all the students’ work and the department at large.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it,” he says.
Horton, from Albuquerque, decided to come to NMSU upon recommendation from his high school drama teacher.
Horton is graduating in May, after he which he plans to pursue a career as a film and theatre actor. He says he looks up to Denzel Washington.
“My favorite Denzel movie is Training Day,” he says. “He makes you like a villain. That’s a hard thing to do.”