High Profile Production Company Auditions Southeast Students at River Campus

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Feb. 20, 2009 – Southeast Missouri State University freshman Tayloir Pace said she’d never before auditioned with a professional company.

But when this Dallas, Texas, native heard Matt Davenport Productions Inc., was coming to Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus Feb. 7 to conduct auditions for theatre work, she jumped at the opportunity.

Pace, who is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre degree, sang “Let Yourself Go” from “All Shook Up” and “Old Devil Moon” from “Finian’s Rainbow” in an effort to land a summer theatre job.

“They (Matt Davenport Productions Inc.) go to New York, Los Angeles . . . and Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau,” she said. “It says a lot about our program.”

Stephen Fister, a former Southeast Missouri State University student from Fenton, Mo., who is currently at the River Campus helping build the upcoming “Sweet Charity” show, said he also auditioned with the company two weeks ago.

“It’s a pretty solid company,” Fister said. “The caliber of their shows is very high, very professional. They put on good productions.”

Matt Davenport, founder of Matt Davenport Productions, launched his company in the late 1980s as a “one-man show.” Matt Davenport Productions, based in Nashville, Tenn., has grown into a thriving full-service production company, having written and produced every genre of show from theme park review to national touring company, from dramatic pageantry to comedy.

Fister says Southeast’s students are very fortunate to have the opportunity to audition with a company of this caliber right in their own backyard.

“For the younger students coming into the program, they have professional companies coming in here to audition,” he said. “They don’t have to drive three or four states away to audition.”

Fister said he sang “Walking in Memphis,” Tony Bennett’s “Just in Time” and Rascal Flat’s “Broken Road” for his audition.

“It really puts the University in a great light that somebody wanted to come in here to audition our students,” he said.

Davenport began his entertainment career as a singer and dancer in stage productions at Opryland USA theme park in Nashville. He shortly thereafter became a regular background vocalist on TNN’s Porter Wagoner at Opryland television show. During that tenure, he also landed a role on NBC’s Nashville Palace, and later formed his own band, Diamond Rio.

Davenport has written and directed stage shows for Opryland USA, Fiesta Texas, The Alabama Theater, The Showboat Branson Belle, Busch Gardens and Silver Dollar City, among others. Among those shows are “The American Pride Show” and “American Jukebox,” which won Amusement Parks Magazine’s “Best Show” award for Busch Gardens-Williamsburg. In 1992, Matt Davenport Productions launched its first national touring company, The Tennessee Waltz, and later began to explore the world of musical theater, producing and directing a national touring company of the off-Broadway hit “Always… Patsy Cline.” In the spring of 2002, the company produced and directed the smash comedy “Forever Plaid” at the Empire Theater in San Antonio, Texas. The “Best Country Show” in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is also a Matt Davenport Production. In 2001, the company was contracted to write, produce and direct Country Tonite at the Country Tonite Theater.

Rhonda Weller-Stilson, chair of Southeast’s Department of Theatre and Dance, says Matt Davenport Productions does casting for cruise lines, theme parks and other production companies. She said Matt Davenport staff members have become familiar with Southeast students who have participated in a variety of auditions for many years, including in the Southeast Theatre Conference (SETC) regional auditions and with University Professional Theatre Association (UPTA).

“They recognized the name ‘Southeast Missouri State University,’ how well our students are prepared, the way they look, their caliber, the way they interview,” said Weller-Stilson.

In addition, she said, Matt Davenport Productions has a professional relationship with  Lees Hummel, a Southeast assistant professor of theatre and dance, who has continued working with several members of Matt Davenport Productions since she was employed at Opryland many years ago.

Weller-Stilson said Matt Davenport Productions is only conducting on-campus auditions at two other universities in the country this year – Western Michigan University and Oklahoma City University. This is the first time they have auditioned students on Southeast’s campus.

More than 20 Southeast students auditioned for acting and singing roles, and seven auditioned in technical theatre, Weller-Stilson said. She said Matt Davenport will begin making decisions about the auditions in March.

“They talked to some of our students about the long-term,” she said. “We just think it says a lot about the caliber of our students that they asked to come here. We were thrilled with it, and they were very happy with the quality of the students who showed up.”