Friday, December 2, 2022

UM Students Nathan Burke, Rachel Staton Awarded "College Tonys" from Kennedy Center

Ole Miss Theatre students Nathan Burke and Rachel Staton were awarded Outstanding Performance by an Actor and Outstanding Performance by an Actress, respectively, by the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for their roles in Ole Miss’s production of The Laramie Project.

Ole Miss Theatre students Rachel Staton and Nathan Burke
Ole Miss Theatre students Rachel Staton and Nathan Burke

The two traveled to Washington D.C. on April 14 to showcase their winning work and to accept the awards.
“Winning the award was a big surprise,” said Staton, a sophomore seeking a B.F.A. in music theatre and acting. “We didn’t even know we were being considered.”
Burke, a junior seeking a B.F.A in musical theatre and acting, agreed with her.
“It was a surreal experience,” he said. “I was honored.”
The Kennedy Center paid for the pair’s entire trip, complete with a hotel stay, meals, and workshop classes. Different theatre professors from around the country taught the workshop classes.
Rene Pulliam, interim chair for the Ole Miss Theatre department, describes the awards as the “college Tony awards.”
Pulliam said she has been working with both Burke and Staton since they were freshmen.
“They’re both very talented actors who are very dedicated to their craft,” she said.
After a performance that attracted national attention, Pulliam says the experience was “eye-opening” for them.
“We don’t ignore diversity in the theater, but it’s just not an issue,” said Pulliam. “It’s a bubble of safety here.”
Pulliam said the media focused on the gay slurs that came from the audience, but there were many other comments made as well, including negative words about body types and race.
“It was an event that none of us expected through the course, but it made everything else sweeter, to know we had the support of the community,” Staton said.
Burke says that despite being from the South, it was still an awakening experience to see something like that happen.
“Up until that point, I hadn’t had any unpleasant experiences with the University,” he said. “There is so much are good that came of it though. It brought so much positive attention to the theater.”
Pulliam agrees.
“The experience with The Laramie Project helped them to realize how important arts are to society,” she said. “Theater is a reflection of society.”
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