12 SEMO students hope to score roles at theater conference

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dr. Kenneth Stilson knows the life of an actor can be difficult. That's why Southeast Missouri State University theater and dance professors devote a chunk of their efforts to teaching students how to launch a career.

"We teach how to survive in this business," said Stilson, a professor of acting and directing.

The department has made considerable strides since establishing a bachelor of fine arts program in 2003. At a regional audition last weekend, 12 of the 16 students who advanced were from Southeast.

They will move on to the Southeast Theatre Conference March 4 to 8 in Birmingham, Ala., where they will have the opportunity to score roles through one of 90-plus companies recruiting for summer and year-round positions.

Last year, Desmond Gray was selected for a position with the Stephen Foster Company through an audition at the conference. He spent the summer in Kentucky performing in three shows, "Stephen Foster: The Musical"; "Annie," in which he played Lt. Ward; and "The Civil War," in which he played Frederick Douglass.

He is now a fourth-year student at Southeast and again progressed in last weekend's regional competition in Tennessee.

"When we first began getting our students involved, we were lucky to get three through to the next level," Rhonda Weller-Stilson, an assistant professor at Southeast, wrote in an e-mail.

Weller-Stilson said theaters including the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Williamstown Festival, Santa Fe Opera and Glimmerglass Opera will be hiring performers and technicians.

Combined with other auditions, about 50 percent of students last year worked in a professional environment, Stilson said.

"Professors are really into professional development to make sure everyone is prepared and has a job," Gray said.

Andrew Tebo will graduate in December. He knows acting doesn't offer a high degree of job security, so he's trying to get as much practical experience as possible before he graduates. Through the Southeast Theatre Conference, he has obtained summer jobs with the Seaside Music Theater and the Stephen Foster Company, where he had several lead roles.

Department personnel are attributing recent success to increases in acting classes, faculty, scholarships and recruiting efforts.



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