Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship

About the Scholarship

The Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship is awarded to a graduate student studying directing at an accredited university. The award is named after Dr. Leighton M. Ballew who served as Chair of the Drama Department (now Theatre and Film Studies) at the University of Georgia for more than 40 years.

Selection Process and Timeline

  • Applications Accepted: Jan. 1 – April 1, 2020 Deadline extended to Friday, May 1
  • Application Reviews / Candidate Interviews: April – June 2020
  • Winning Scholar Announced on SETC Website: June 30, 2020
  • Scholarship Funds Available: Upon Proof of Matriculation, 2020-2021 Academic Year
  • Winning Scholar Attends SETC Convention: 72nd Annual Convention

One Scholar Will Receive

  • $2,500
  • Free one-year SETC student membership
  • Free registration for the 2021 SETC Convention
  • Photo and bio recognition on the SETC website


Candidates must meet each of these qualifications to be eligible for this award:

  • You must be planning to attend an accredited program of graduate studies in Theatre Directing during the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • You must have graduated from, be currently attending, or have plans to attend an accredited academic institution in one of the following 10 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia.

Application Materials

For consideration, eligible candidates must submit the following materials by the deadline:

  • Complete resume, including any work in stage management or play direction
  • Three (3) letters of reference speaking to the applicant’s potential as a graduate student in Theatre Directing*
  • Letter of acceptance by an accredited graduate program in Theatre Directing (if available)
  • Complete, current transcripts from all colleges/universities attended


Questions about submitting application materials should be sent to info@setc.org.

2019-2020 Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship

Thank you to everyone who applied to the 2019-2020 Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship! We’re pleased to announce Karen Sabo as this year’s recipient.

Karen Sabo headshot

Congratulations, Karen Sabo!

Karen Sabo is a director, teacher, writer and actor. She has been a member of three different resident acting companies, including the Barter Theatre in Virginia where she was also a resident director, dialect coach and, eventually, director of education. Karen studied acting with the American Conservatory Theater, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Saratoga International Theater Institute (SITI) and Shakespeare and Company. She has a BA in liberal arts from Hampshire College, and an MA in liberal arts from East Tennessee State University. As a writer, her plays have been produced in New Mexico, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, and she has had dozens of articles published, including in Southern Theatre magazine. Karen also runs Performing Excellence, which uses acting and improv skills to improve customer relations and worker happiness for businesses. She has led three non-profit organizations, including In/Visible Theatre of Boone, which she co-founded. Karen is thrilled and grateful to be the recipient of the Ballew Directing Scholarship and to be an MFA Directing candidate at the University of Alabama.

Scholarship Stories

Recent Ballew Directing Scholars share what winning the scholarship meant to their studies and how the award funds helped them pursue their ambitions:

Shane Strawbridge

Shane Strawbridge ~ 2018-2019 Ballew Directing Scholar

“The honor of being chosen as a Ballew Directing Scholar pushed me to take risks in my research and practice as a director throughout the year. The title served as a constant reminder that I am not finished learning and growing, therefore giving me the added push I needed to explore techniques and methodologies outside of my usual comfort zone. Additionally, the money generously provided by SETC allowed me to spend more time focusing on experiential learning opportunities and less time wondering how to pay for tuition and fees. Although my ‘term’ as Ballew Scholar has ended, I continue to push my own boundaries and conceptions about what directing is and what it can be.”

Tom Alsip

Tom Alsip ~ 2017 Ballew Directing Scholar

“The Ballew scholarship was incredibly helpful to me in ways that I didn’t realize it would be. I had initially planned to find local work in the summer to save money to pay for my final year in graduate school at the University of Alabama. However, with the money given to me in my scholarship, I was free to accept an acting job with the University of Alabama’s SummerTide Theatre and use the money from the scholarship to pay the tuition for my final year of graduate school.”

Lauren Ellis

Lauren Ellis ~ 2016 Ballew Directing Scholar

“The Ballew Directing Scholarship opened so many doors for me to continue my education as a theatre director. The scholarships provided by SETC are gateways to wonderful opportunities as a student, an artist and a human being, and I am so appreciative.”

Kristin Rose Kelly ~ 2015 Ballew Directing Scholar

“The Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship allowed me to attend SITI Company Theatre Workshop at Skidmore College. I was able to practice Viewpoints, Suzuki and Composition with amazing SITI ensemble members while collaborating with theatre artists from all over the world. The workshop has been integral to my MFA directing projects at Virginia Tech. I frequently use Viewpoints for dance and directing projects for warm ups, group connection and awareness, and staging. Suzuki has allowed me to reconnect to myself as a performer and the rigor, focus, breath, and energy needed in performance. Finally, Composition has given me tools and theories as a director to consider and attend to the how of storytelling.”