A better theatre department

Sunday, December 20, 2009

By Dr. Robert W. Dillon Jr.

Regarding a Dec. 15 letter about "Boys' Life," student directing projects at Southeast Missouri State University and the tenure of Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson as chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance:

Stilson is not the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Stilson served as chair for eight years, leading by push and by pull, by hook and by crook, with the carrot and the stick, toward a re-visioned and re-fashioned new Department. These efforts most assuredly did not keep him off everyone's poop list, but they were, equally assuredly, good for the department, the university and this community in the long view.

Rhonda Weller-Stilson has been chair since May 2008. She is, incidentally, doing a wonderful job continuing her husband's efforts steering the department toward national stature as a bachelor of fine arts-granting, nationally accredited training program -- efforts which, like it or not, very nearly burnt Kenn out before his time.

Finally, Kenn never said, anywhere in the Southeast Missourian article about "Boys' Life," that the production was the first or only student directing project or student-run project or anything of the sort. The article makes that statement but does not attribute it to Stilson. It is incorrect in any case. In fact, his directing class is showcasing students' projects -- open to the public -- this very week.

What Kenn and Rhonda and the rest of us are justifiably proud about is the formal adoption by the department of a four-show, student-directed "Second Stage" season. These include two staged readings -- I got to act in one this last semester, as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" -- and two full productions. In years past -- and I have been hanging around this department for 20 years -- such student directing projects were informally established and occasional. The distinction is in advancing the cause of student directing, not shortchanging it. In other words this department is now showcasing our collective respect for and support of student energy and talent. Kenneth L. Stilson would be the last person I would accuse of doing otherwise.

Dr. Robert W. Dillon Jr. is a professor of theater in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University.

Editor's note: The Dec. 15 letter was written in response to a Dec. 11 story that said "Boys' Life" was the "first student-run play" at the university. The story misidentified Kenneth Stilson as the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. According to Rhonda Weller-Stilson, chair of the department, "Boys' Life" is the first student-run full stage production funded by the department.

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