New York opera coach comes home to Cape to teach

Thursday, April 21, 2005

After assisting the faculty and students at Southeast Missouri State University in pulling off a production of "Guys and Dolls" that many said was the university's best production ever, Judith Farris was given an offer she couldn't refuse.

The offer was a contract to teach for one year starting in August at her alma mater, Southeast. After watching the last night of rehearsal, Farris' mind was set.

"I walked in and signed the contract that next morning," Farris said. "What made me sign it was the students and their response to me."

Under the deal, Farris, a native of Cape Girardeau, will get a renewable, nontenured position teaching both theater and music courses at the university. The addition of Farris will allow the departments of music and theater and dance to offer a new major, said music department chairman Dr. Gary Miller. For the first time, Southeast will have a bachelor of fine arts program in musical theater.

Four of her courses five courses will be taught in the theater department, and theater and dance chairman Dr. Kenn Stilson is looking forward to her contribution.

Stilson praises Farris for her contribution to "Guys and Dolls" and hopes her presence will help the department -- which has tripled in size over the past four years -- grow even larger.

As part of the contract, Farris will also serve as a recruiter for Southeast, traveling to high schools and delivering master classes.

The process began when Farris visited Cape Girardeau in October for a performance. It was then that Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins approached her about teaching.

"He floored me," Farris said.

Farris said her contract is all part of Dobbins' vision of making the university a performing arts hub with the new River Campus project.

"Ken Dobbins' vision for the theater department and especially musical theater is what started this," Farris said. "I think he'd like to see a musical here every year."

Despite all the praise Farris garnered for her help on "Guys and Dolls," she remains humble, always speaking of the great faculty already present at Southeast. Even though Farris teaches the stars on Broadway, she would rather stay out of the spotlight.

"I feel like all the other teachers did the building and I just decorated."

Using a reference to a musical, "The Lion King," Farris said the move back to Cape Girardeau is part of the "circle of life." "It all started in Cape. That's where I did my first singing, that's where I got my education. It's home."

Farris will return to New York once a month to coach students at her studio while she lives in Cape Girardeau. The contrast between the two places is great, she said, and Farris will miss the lights of Broadway and the chance to see a student perform on that famed strip on opening night. However, Cape Girardeau offers its own charm.

"I love Cape," Farris said. "I love the people and I like the way it's simpler there. You don't have to hop on a subway every day to get to work."

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