CAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri, Dec. 15, 2014 – “Stirring people’s emotions, making them feel something deeply, whether it be laughter, love, anger, revenge, triumph” – this deeply rooted passion is at the heart of what makes Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson tick.
He will be rewarded for his fervor with Southeast Missouri State University’s 2014 PRIDE Award during commencement exercises at 2 p.m. Dec. 20. Stilson also will serve as grand marshal during commencement and present the Honors Convocation address at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 20. Both ceremonies are in the Show Me Center.
Stilson is professor of acting, directing and musical theatre and chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance in the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts at Southeast Missouri State University.
“I love working with the students,” Stilson said. “I love their energy, their talent and creativity, and their optimism about the future. They keep me young and current, and I learn from them every day. Professionally, I live for their successes in the classroom, on the stage, and in their lives after graduation. Nothing brings me more joy than to learn that one of my former students has achieved something significant in the fields of theatre, film, and television and knowing I played a part in their success.”
Stilson was selected for the PRIDE Award by the Council of Deans after nominations were solicited from each of the University’s colleges and schools. The recipient of the award is honored for exemplifying the teacher/scholar model. This is the 19th year Southeast has presented the PRIDE Award.
The Provost’s Research, Instruction and Development for Excellence (PRIDE) Award recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated excellence as a teacher, an extraordinary level of scholarship and service and whose overall accomplishments are especially noteworthy.
“This is a tremendous honor, and I am humbled and thankful to the deans, provost, and president for their support and faith in my work as both a teacher and artist,” he said. “This is certainly the kind of milestone that makes you reflect. I have a great life. I have a beautiful and loving wife and daughter, and I get to do what I always dreamed of doing. Confucius said, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ I am deeply and profoundly dedicated to this profession, and yet, I have never worked a single day. How wonderful is that?”
Dr. Bill Eddleman, Southeast provost, said Stilson is to be commended for his professionalism, talent and vision for Southeast’s theatre and dance program.
“Dr. Stilson is an example of a faculty member who is both an outstanding professional in his field and a great mentor to students. His work as an actor, director, and playwright have been recognized by audiences and his peers as the best,” Eddleman said. “In addition, under his leadership for the last 13 years, the Department of Theater and Dance has grown from 20 majors to over 150 majors. He has also been instrumental in the move of the visual and performing arts to the River Campus, and in lifting the theatre and dance program from a relatively minor one, to one that is recognized throughout the region, and that is gaining a national presence as well.”
Stilson has played an instrumental role in building the professional training programs in theatre and dance at Southeast, which recently received accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST).
“I work in a powerful medium that affects the audiences’ daily lives. It transports them to another place and time,” he said. “It allows them to put their daily troubles and anxieties aside for two hours and live vicariously through the lives of the actors onstage in an imaginary world. Movies, plays, musicals explore the depths of the human condition, and I get to tell their stories.”
As a professional director, writer, and actor, Stilson has worked in such theatres as the Lincoln Center (New York City), American Academy of Dramatic Art/Hudson Theatre (Hollywood, California), Southern Repertory Theatre (New Orleans, Louisiana), Le Petite Theatre (New Orleans), Alabama Lyric Theatre, Stage West Theatre (Ft. Worth, Texas), Shakespeare in the Park (Ft. Worth, Texas), First Run Theatre (St. Louis, Missouri), University of Missouri’s Summer Repertory Theatre, Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, Mississippi Shakespeare Festival and the Last Frontier Theatre Festival (Alaska).
From Shakespeare to modern musicals and plays, he also has directed more than 55 university theatre productions for Southeast Missouri State University, Texas Wesleyan University, Texas Woman’s University, Stetson University, The University of South Alabama, and The University of Missouri-Columbia. Earlier this fall, he directed the musical “Hairspray” on Southeast’s River Campus. He has been an acting coach for 23 years, and he has many former students working professionally in theatre, film and television, including two who have recently won Obie Awards and Tony Awards.
Stilson directed and co-wrote the feature film, “Fire Lily,” for Victory Film Productions. The film is based on his own play, “Where the Lilies Grow,” winner of the Critic’s Choice Award at the Edward Albee/Yukon Pacific New Play Lab. “Fire Lily” was later produced by the American Academy of Dramatic Art in Hollywood, and it was adapted to the screenplay, “Fire Lily,” in 2006. Stilson directed that film, having co-written it with Fred Jones of the Southeast faculty and Shirlee Wilson. The film went on to win Best Feature Film, Best Cinematography and Best Actress at the American Artist Film Festival (Kansas City/New York City/Los Angeles), and it was an official entry at the Lakeside Film Festival in Michigan.
He also has published “Ezra Stone: A Theatrical Biography,” as well as numerous national and international articles on acting and theatre. His play, “The Cow and the Milk,” was produced as part of the Mizzou New Play Series, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, and Southeast’s 2011-2012 Second Stage Series, and was recently selected as part of Focus Publishing’s anthology, “Best Monologues from the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, 2009-2012.”
His most recent play, “Murphy’s Law,” won three major playwriting awards: 6th Annual Southwest Playwriting Competition (Actors’ Equity Association), the First Run Theatre’s 2013 Annual Playwriting Festival and Excellence in Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, where it was recently presented as part of the Regional VI annual festival. “Murphy’s Law” premiered in April 2013 at Southeast’s River Campus.
Stilson earned a doctoral degree in theatre in 1991 and a Master of Arts in theatre in 1987, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Larry D. Clark. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Southeast Missouri State University.
Before returning to Southeast in 2001, Stilson served as head of acting/directing programs at the University of South Alabama, Texas Wesleyan University and Stetson University (Florida), and as an instructor of theatre at Tulane University.
Stilson is best known as the author of the classic text, “Acting Is Believing,” 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th editions, with Clark and the late Charles McGaw, which has been adopted by more than 150 universities and colleges around the world.
He continues to serve in leadership roles on numerous national committees, and, over the past 15 years, has presented master classes and presentations at various regional and national conventions and at numerous universities, colleges and high schools.
Stilson and his wife Rhonda Weller-Stilson, director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Southeast, are the parents of a daughter, Emma.
Stilson is a 1979 graduate of Malden High School. He is the son of Juanita Cook, a 1954 graduate of Malden High School, who now lives in Cape Girardeau, and the late Jack D. Cook.