University of Nevada, Reno senior Ethan Leaverton, supported by his acting partner Cameron Miller-DeSart, earned top honors at the nation’s most prestigious collegiate acting competition on April 20 during the 45th Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Leaverton, a 21-year-old theatre major from Spring Creek, Nev., was selected by a panel of 13 professional theatre adjudicators to receive the top prize at the Irene Ryan Acting Competition. More than 2,000 acting students from across the nation competed to earn a spot in the festival. Leaverton and Miller-DeSart topped entrants from schools such as USC, Arizona State and Stanford. Miller-DeSart is a 23-year-old University of Nevada, Reno journalism major and theatre minor from Las Vegas, Nev.
For his victory, Leaverton received the $3,000 Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. His three-part performance was also awarded two other wins: the Mark Twain Scholarship for Comic Performance ($2,000) and the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre Scholarship ($6,000).
“It didn’t really get into my perspective until I heard someone else say it,” Leaverton said. “When I heard someone else say, ‘This means Ethan and Cameron are the best college actors in America, I had to take a step back and go, ‘Whoa.’”
Leaverton’s performance consisted of three pieces: a dramatic scene, “The Pillow Man,” plus a humorous scene, “The Almost First Kiss,” both of which he performed with Miller-DeSart, and then a Shakespearean monologue where Leaverton delivered the words in the rarely heard “original pronunciation” style of old English. Leaverton learned the “original pronunciation” of Shakespeare dialect when he was part of the University’s “original pronunciation” production of Hamlet in 2011 – one the few times over the past 50 years that such a production had ever been performed in the world.
Miller-DeSart said he was impressed by the quality of his friend’s performance.
“I was like, ‘Honestly, after the performance Ethan just gave, there is absolutely no way we didn’t win.”
Rob Gander, chair of the University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, was in the audience at the Kennedy Center when Leaverton’s victory was announced.
“The recognition Ethan received serves as a symbol of our program’s status,” Gander said. “Students like Ethan and Cameron come to us with talent and our rigorous training challenges them to expand on those abilities and refine them. When students apply the actor training we offer here, the results turn heads, even in Washington, D.C.”