Summer theatre program returns after community dissent

Summer theatre program returns after community dissent

After being canceled last year due to budget cuts, The University of Southern Mississippi Southern Arena Theatre will return this summer.

The Southern Miss SAT program provides entertainment to the Hattiesburg community during the summer months and gives extra opportunities to theater students to have hands- on experience.

John Warrick, associate professor of theatre history and chair of the Department of Theatre, said the SAT company is targeted at the local community.

“Primarily it’s our interest to make sure that we reach out to our Hattiesburg audiences and provide them with entertainment that is appropriate for a summer repertory company,” Warrick said.

The Department of Theatre will use the revived SAT program to produce two plays. The first, “Star Spangled Girl” will begin on June 9 and the second, a murder mystery based on Agatha Christie’s novel, “And Then There Were None,” will begin June 16.

Because of the university’s financial situation, the department can only run about two plays in rotation. However, the department plans to add a third event dedicated to ensemble based comedy shows called “Improv Comedy Club.” There are three nights dedicated to this new show.

“Really, this is straight entertainment,” Warrick said.

Before last year, the SAT program ran at USM for more than 39 straight seasons. It came in danger of being canceled in 2007, but volunteers from the local Hattiesburg community pitched in to keep the summer program alive.

Lou Rackoff, current head of the Masters of Fine Arts program, dealt with issues regarding SAT while he was chairman of the theatre department.

“When I was chairman of the department, I fought really hard to keep the program going,” Rackoff said. “I thought the cancellation was really unfortunate.”

Warrick said the program was important to the Hattiesburg community, and several generations of USM alumni who participated in the SAT program demanded that it be brought back.

“We have 40 years of alumni who were distraught because they realized not just what fun they had but how important it was to develop a professional attitude towards theatre,” Warrick said.

The importance also lied in the investment of the Hattiesburg community.

“We consider it a legacy offering of the university as a whole and wish to continue that when possible,” Warrick said.

Despite being revived, there is always the fear of the program being cut again. Because of low enrollment in the past few years, money has always been an issue at the university.

“This is not speaking specifically about USM, but the arts are always vulnerable,” Warrick said.

Warrick said when there are any kind of economic problems, the arts are usually the first things to be cut.

“We don’t often value our lives according to our jobs,” Warrick said. “We value our lives according to our community and cultural identities.”

For more information or concerns about the SAT program, call John Warrick at 601-266-4995 or email him at john.warrick@usm.edu.

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