December 18, 2014  

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Southern Miss’ Southern Arena Theatre Opens 38th Season

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Actors Kris Kuss and Emily Classen rehearse a scene from Arcadia, which opens June 27 at Southern Miss.
Actors Kris Kuss and Emily Classen rehearse a scene from Arcadia, which opens the Southern Arena Theatre season June 27 at Southern Miss.

Sets are finished, polished and waiting for their spotlight. Lines, cues and expressions are etched in the minds of the actors. Costumes have been stitched, embellished and pressed.

It’s showtime for the 38th consecutive season of Southern Arena Theatre at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. This year, the wonderfully talented summer theatre company will present The 39 Steps, an adaptation byPatrick Barlow and Arcadia, a play written by Tom Stoppard.

The 39 Stepsopens June 20 in Hartwig Theatre. All show times are 7:30 for performances on  June 20, 21, 22, 29; and July 2, 4, 6, 10, 12. These shows will be at 7:30 p.m.  A matinee performance is scheduled for July 7 at 2 p.m.

Arcadia opens June 27 in Tatum Theatre. All showtimes are 7:30 p.m. for performances on June 27, 28; July 3, 5, 9, 13.  Matinee performances will be June 30 and July 14 at 2 p.m.

Southern Arena Theatre, or SAT, as it is known in the bustling halls of the Theatre and Dance Building at Southern Miss, began in the summer of 1977. The very first performances included A Streetcar Named Desire, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Uncle Vanya.

Dr. John Warrick, chair of the Theatre Department, says SAT is performed in the same venues as fall and spring semester plays, but the goals of the productions are very different. 

“During the fall and spring terms, the focus of faculty is on the actual training of theatre students,” said Warrick. “”We are committed to our audiences, but we are also committed to making sure our actors, particularly, get a range of periods and styles.”

The summer theatre is a highlight of the arts calendar and is purely dedicated to entertaining the greater Hattiesburg area and the Southern Mississippi region by featuring shows that appeal to everyone. This season, a comic thriller and a lyrical romance, which are both mysteries, were specifically selected for the SAT audience. 

Certainly no stranger to SAT, Dr. Lou Rackoff was a producer for seven SAT seasons and directed three productions. He is director of The 39 Steps, which is based on the John Buchan novel and more notably for many, the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. 

The 39 Steps is a really fun and high energy play that seemed appropriate for our summer repertory and can please audiences in a number of ways,” Rackoff said. 

The plot involves British national security in 1936 just before World War II and has an importance that can keep an audience on the edge of its seats. The form of the show is highly theatrical, with strong comic support; four actors play more than 25 roles in a wide variety of scenes as the play’s main character, Richard Hannay, journeys to discover the meaning of The 39 Steps

“The comic style of the presentation is in counterpoint with the serious nature of the thriller, and this provides a really dynamic energy for the show,” Rackoff said.

Dr. Monica Hayes, director of Arcadia, believes that her cast and crew is part of a brilliant play with all of the elements that make for truly great summer theatre. It features two time periods, 1809 and 2013, that alternate until the final scene, in which they collide and combine for a thrilling ending. 

Arcadia is full of laughter, lovely romance, a driving mystery, along with surprising and intelligent substance. The world is loving the British period pieces like Downton Abbey.  They'll love this, too,” promised Hayes. 

The play was widely acknowledged as the best play of 1994-95, garnering an Olivier, a Drama Desk and a Tony Award.

SAT affords the actors in both productions a serious opportunity to act full-time and prepare the way they would professionally.  They audition against the best in the program, graduate and undergraduate. 

Support for SAT comes from Southern Miss, the College of Arts and Letters, the Department of Theatre, Partners for the Arts, local corporations and from individual SAT donors. 

“For many years, SAT donors have provided key support for the summer repertory,” said Warrick.  “They make contributions beyond the cost of tickets because they believe in the importance of SAT as a vital cultural service to the community.  In fact, we consider our donors to be company members of SAT, as important to the success of each season as are the playwrights, actors, directors, designers, technicians and staff.”

The actors and directors are excited about the 2013 SAT season and look forward to the performances. “SAT 2013 includes two really exciting and divergent productions and I hope everyone will attend both The 39 steps and Arcadia,” said Rackoff.

For tickets, call 601.266.5418, 800.844.8425 or order online by visiting www.southernmisstickets.com.