Student Takes Texas Tech Theater to Prestigious Irene Ryan Scholarships

Jeff Scott and his graduate student partner, Paul Fillingim, will be the first Texas Tech students to make it to the finals since 1991.

His audition in March for the Regional Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship definitely gave him butterflies.

"It’s one of those things you show up an hour before and sit around waiting, getting nervous and chewing your fingernails," said Jeff Scott, a doctoral student at Texas Tech University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. "It was probably the most nerve-wracking theater experience of my life. In the first round, you perform a scene. In the second round, you perform the first scene in addition to another scene. If you advance, you perform both scenes again and a monologue. It’s pretty intense."

But though the regional competition against 150 students at Sam Houston State University felt tough, Scott says that experience probably will pale in comparison to his audition next week for the final round Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships finals at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

That’s because he’ll be up against 15 other theater students from across the U.S. And he and his graduate student partner, Paul Fillingim, will be the first Texas Tech students to make it to the finals since 1991.

The Irene Ryan Scholarships provide recognition, honor and financial assistance to outstanding student performers. The foundation awards 16 scholarships worth $500 to each regional representative that advances to the theater festival.

The winners at the national festival, which starts April 16 in Washington, D.C., will compete for two scholarships of $2,500. In addition, the student judged the Kingsley Colton Award-winner for Best Partner in the national auditions is awarded a cash prize of $250. Attendees are judged on quality of their auditions as well as their evaluations from classes. Several fellowships, apprenticeships and scholarships are given out, including a coveted internship with the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington, D.C.

Bill Gelber, head of acting/directing at the Department of Theatre and Dance, serves as one of Scott’s professors and helped groom him for the auditions. He said the fact that Scott has made it to the finals shows the quality of his work.

"Out of schools from five different states, starting with 150 auditioners at the regional level, Jeff was one of two students picked," Gelber said. "I can’t say enough about him as a talent or as an individual. I have had the pleasure of working with him on several shows, and he has always been the consummate professional. He is an outstanding student whose work is always top-notch.

"A good partner is instrumental in helping the auditioner to get to the next level. Paul Fillingim did a superb job of being that partner."

Fillingim, also a doctoral student, serves as Scott’s scene partner. Though he feels the pressure to help Scott earn the scholarship, he said he’s excited to audition.

"The great thing about it is we get to do the same workshops together with the same professionals," he said. "It’s going to be a great way to make connections in the real world. I’ll be up for the same kind of internships that he will. Plus, it’s a trip to Washington, D.C. It’s going to be great."

Scott and Fillingim will leave Tuesday for the competition.

CONTACT: Jeff Scott, graduate student and Irene Ryan Scholarship finalist, (830) 796-5890 or; Bill Gelber, head of acting/directing, Department of Theatre and Dance, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3601 or