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Released September 4, 2003

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SOUTHERN MISS THEATRE REVIVES SUMMER FAVORITE

HATTIESBURG -- The University of Southern Mississippi Department of Theatre and Dance is reviving a show from the 2003 Southern Arena Theatre season, Oliver Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer," in the Gilbert F. Hartwig Theatre.

Re-opening Sept. 17, the play is a comedy about a young 18th century gentleman who is shy when speaking with women of his own class, but eloquent with those of "lower station."

"Most of the cast is new," said Frank Kuhn, chair of the department. "Many of the summer cast returned to other parts of the country, but our revival cast members will bring new perspectives to the characters and relationships."

Kuhn points out that the revival is not part of the regular subscription season at Southern Miss (which opens Oct. 2 with Martin McDonagh's "The Cripple of Inishmaan"). He said the restaging is intended "to offer the university community and any others who weren't in town over the summer a chance to see the production."

With a new cast in hand, guest director Cynthia White of Seattle, Wash., will return to put final touches on the production before it opens. As the production's guest director during the summer run, White believes the emotional release of a good story with a group of people is what excites her most about theater-and what keeps her coming back.

She calls it "the essential act of theater--actors sharing a story with the audience." White also attributes actor training as a key element in performing a piece like "She Stoops to Conquer."

Funny and perceptive, Goldsmith's play (written in 1773) is a celebrated story of class, courtship and dysfunctional families. In fact, his own background of worry and bad health, coupled with incidents of his youth, may have inspired him to write this now famous comedy.

Goldsmith was born in Ireland in 1728. In 1744 he went to Trinity College in Dublin, where he barely managed to make a living during his studies. His personal ungainliness and crude manners prevented his making many friends, and his life at college was miserable. He did graduate in 1749, after the death of his father, but went to live with his mother.

Searching without success for a profession, Goldsmith decided to immigrate to America, but missed his ship. He then decided to study law, then medicine, and finally embarked on a walking tour through Flanders, France, Switzerland and northern Italy, earning his keep with his flute. In 1756, he returned to England, without a penny in his pocket, and tried his hand in translations, the writing of superficial histories, children's books, and general articles. Thus began his true calling.

"As a period piece (written and set at the end of the 18th century), the play has relevance to the study of history, manners, and literature," Kuhn explained. "It's also fascinating to see how universal and contemporary much of the play is to modern life experiences."

"Actors train in order to develop the flexibility to perform in plays of different periods, cultures and styles," White added. "I don't think the complexity and difficulty of actor training is generally appreciated. We all recognize that ballet dancers need to train in order to do deep plies and high leaps. Athletes need to train and be in shape. Actors need to hone skills that allow them to speak 18th-century language as naturally and easily as they converse with their buddies over lunch."

The love of training actors is partly the reason White accepted the summer directing position at Southern Miss and her subsequent return for its revival. While working with students in a rehearsal situation, she gets the opportunity to teach as well as direct.

"It is important to have guest directors like Cynthia White come to USM," Kuhn said. "Hattiesburg is not geographically near many theater centers, so it is important for us to find ways for our students to connect with the profession as it exists around the country. Guest artists are an important part of our program. We are particularly lucky to have someone with Cynthia's skills and range of experience. Our students are learning a lot from her."

Having started her own acting career in high school, White believed it to be her calling. But, after 10 years of practicing her craft, she decided to go to graduate school and study directing.

"I admire actors for putting everything on the line in each performance. It is hard work," White said. "It is important for the actor to be able to trust the director and the notes the director is giving them. The directing process starts off with the director knowing more about the characters than the actors do, but then, about halfway through, there comes a time when the actor takes over that knowledge and is able to shape the show and the character each night when it is performed."

Evening performances Sept. 17, 19 and 20 start at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees also available on Sept. 20 and 21 in the Gilbert F. Hartwig Theatre. Individual show tickets are $10 for regular admission, $8 for senior citizens and USM faculty and staff, and $6 for students.

For tickets call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or 800-844-8425. Order online at www.usm.edu/tickets. Tickets may be purchased at the theater box office one hour prior to curtain time for each performance.

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April 20, 2004 4:48 PM

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