SFA to host Regional UIL One-Act Play Contest

The College of Liberal and Applied Arts and the School of Theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University are preparing to host the Region II Conference 5A UIL One-Act Play Contest Thursday, April 21, in W.M. Turner Auditorium on the SFA campus.

The One-Act Play Contest is a precursor to the UIL 2016 Regional Spring Meet for Region II Conference 5A that will take place on the SFA campus Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23. In addition to contests in journalism, speech and debate, STEM activities, and theatre and film, the UIL offers activities in several other subject areas, including business skills, language arts, social studies and essay contests.

Six plays will be performed back-to-back beginning at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, and acting awards will be announced following the conclusion of the final play that evening. Two plays will advance to the state contest, according to Melissa McMillian-Cunningham, SFA School of Theatre faculty member who is overseeing the One-Act Play Contest.

The state is divided into four regions, and each has schools in 1A to 6A size categories, with 6A being the largest. Competition begins at the zone level and continues through district, bi-district, area, region and state.

“Usually, by the time a school’s play gets to region, it has advanced from three contests minimally,” Cunningham said. “By the time they get to region, we have 24 schools still in the game that will then get compressed down to eight for the state level – two from each region.”

“Even to get to regional contest is super huge,” she said.

Three adjudicators selected by the state UIL contest will independently rank each play. Each school will be critiqued.

“It’s very focused on theater education,” Cunningham said of the process. “It’s not just about a contest. It’s about supporting theatre in the schools and helping high school students develop their artistic process. This allows students to hear different points of views about their work.’

Schools competing are located in a region from north of Dallas to the East Texas area.

For many smaller schools, UIL is one of the more important activities in theatre for the entire year, Cunningham explained.

“The good thing about UIL is that it really encourages the development of theatre programs,” she said. “It gets communities involved with this process as students travel with their plays. It teaches high school students some skills in terms of flexibility, or moving from space to space during a contest, that they may not otherwise have experienced performing a play at home. They get to take their show on the road, which is exciting.

“From my own personal experience, I feel like my initial success with one-act play as a high school director really awakened my administration to the attention that a quality theatre program could bring to our school district,” she said.

As the schools tour and judges observe students, recruiting opportunities are plentiful, Cunningham said.

“Hosting this event brings faculty members and administrators to our campus,” she said. “One of the great selling points of SFA is bringing people to this beautiful campus and town and allowing students from all these different schools to see what we do here. This heightens awareness of the possibility of these students coming here.”

Another benefit for the university hosting the play contest is that it allows SFA theatre teacher certification students to be involved in the process, “so that as they are training to become theatre educators, they will have had this experience as a crew member, or working in the back stage area, that helps them understand the process from a different perspective than they had as a high school student,” Cunningham said. “This helps to prepare them to be a high school theatre teacher.”

The contest also provides a great opportunity for SFA students and faculty to observe “this level of work,” she added.

“I would encourage area high schools to come after school or perhaps to take a field trip to attend and see the work and learn from it, and to support these schools,” Cunningham said.

Tickets to see all six plays are $10 and can be purchased in the lobby of Griffith Fine Arts Building the day of the contest.

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SFA making opera accessible for students, audiences

Playing lead roles in the SFA production of "The Bartered Bride" are, from left, Jasper graduate student Brenton Mattox, Greencastle, Pennsylvania, graduate student Justin Dunkle and Houston senior Amanda Sheriff in this scene from a recent rehearsal.

The elaborate opera houses in metropolitan cities aren’t the only places to experience the beautiful sounds and scenery of a full-scale opera production.

Each spring, Stephen F. Austin State University voice students have the opportunity to perform in an opera on W.M. Turner Auditorium stage on campus, and East Texas audiences have the opportunity to see and hear “beautiful young people with beautiful voices perform,” according to Dr. Deborah Dalton, professor of voice at SFA and the opera’s director.

The SFA College of Fine Arts, School of Music and School of Theatre will present “The Bartered Bride” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 7 through 9, in Turner Auditorium. Considered Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s most beloved and well-known comedic opera, “The Bartered Bride” will feature SFA’s outstanding student singers accompanied by an orchestra and staged with full set and costumes.

“If you like musical theatre, and if you like a good comedy, you’ll like this opera,” Dalton said.

“The Bartered Bride” takes place in a Bohemian village on festival day when a traveling circus troupe stops to entertain the villagers. Costumes are colorful European village attire, and the set is a village street with colorful houses lining the street.

Prior to coming to the university, many SFA voice students had never experienced opera. But after four years of training, many of these same students have landed “major roles in major opera houses all over the world,” Dalton said. SFA provides opportunities for voice students to perform in full-scale operas that many universities of similar size do not.

“We teach singers to sing really well; we build voices,” she said. “We have hardworking students, wonderful teachers and a tradition of excellence.”

Voice students Amanda Sheriff and Brenton Mattox, who have lead roles in “The Bartered Bride,” had little experience with opera prior to attending SFA. Both students came to SFA with the notion that choral conducting would be their focus of study. But their vocal training in opera at SFA has given them other options.

“I didn’t have a lot of experience with opera, other than seeing little snippets on YouTube,” Mattox said. “It wasn’t until my freshman year when I was in the chorus of ‘Susannah,’ and I thought ‘wow, this is amazing.'”

Taking voice lessons, working on technique and learning the repertoire and vocal literature also spurred their interest in opera.

“When I originally came to SFA, I was not anticipating being trained as a classical opera singer,” Sheriff said. “I expected we would take voice lessons to make us better choir singers. So when I was told we were going to start singing arias, I asked, ‘what’s an aria?’ I was familiar with a few solo and ensemble pieces in high school, but that was all the experience with opera that I had prior to coming to college.

“Now, where we’re at with ‘Bartered Bride,’ and having the leads, that’s something I could not have imaged,” she said. “I think that’s a stigma that opera has with a lot of people … that opera is not attainable for everyone.”

Justin Dunkle, a graduate voice student from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, agrees that opera is “a stigmatized genre,” he said.

“It’s not only stigmatized, it’s misrepresented by the public media,” he said. “People think of a big fat lady with Viking horns. That’s one opera.

“I hear people say they don’t like classical music or opera, yet, if you look at film scores and movies, classical singers play a huge part, whether in a chorus or a solo role,” Dunkle said. “I believe that if people just give opera a chance, they will be pleasantly surprised at how relatable opera is to the human experience. People have the misconception that opera is about really lofty or elitist topics. But the stories of opera are based on love, hate, greed, sadness, happiness, joy … so many things that are crucial to the human experience. And to put that together with costumes and lighting and fabulous sets and music, I can’t believe that someone would go to an opera for the first time and come out totally hating it. Everyone needs to experience opera.”

Making their characters “easily understood and relatable” to the audience is important to the performers, Mattox said.

“It makes it easier for the audience to be engaged in the performance, and audience engagement makes us want to be better performers,” he said.

Sheriff, a senior from Houston, plays the character of Mařenka, who is in love with Jeník. But Mařenka’s parents have engaged marriage broker Kecal, played by Mattox, a graduate student from Jasper. Kecal’s job is to marry Mařenka off to the son of Tobias Micha, a wealthy landowner. The son turns out to be a bumbling, stuttering simpleton – Vasek. It seems that Mařenka’s father owes Micha a long-standing debt. When Kecal bribes Jeník to renounce his claim on Mařenka, all seems to be lost, until Jeník reveals that he is the long lost son of Micha from a previous marriage.

“Mařenka is being forced into a marriage that she doesn’t want; she’s in love with another,” Sheriff explained. “She’s trying her hardest to be with her love while trying to respectfully defy her parents. That’s relatable to anyone. I try to put in my actual emotions and how I would react. Dr. Dalton’s blocking and instructions throughout allows us to easily become those characters.

“And, it’s just beautiful music,” she added. “So you want to sing it.”

Mattox describes his character as “over the top.”

“He is a marriage broker who is trying to follow through with a contract that was signed when the two were children,” he said. “But he runs into complications, because Mařenka doesn’t want to do it (marry Vasek). But Kecal is good at what he does and does not fail. I enjoy being Kecal because he is charming and very engaging, and he uses that charm to get the job done.”

Dunkle, who plays the lead character of Jeník, appreciates the cleverness of his character and his ability to be inventive and a little tricky.

“There’s a lot of mystery to this character, but he is confident,” Dunkle said. “I see a lot of myself in Jeník. He loves deeply and passionately. The crux of the opera is when Jeník ‘sells’ Mařenka off, but it’s for his own gain. He knows what’s going on, but no one else does. I think that’s one of my favorite aspects of this character – to have insider knowledge.”

While some student performers discovered their passion for opera only after coming to SFA, Dunkle said he began at an early age singing, performing and “wanting to be the center of attention,” he said.

“And for me, opera seems to be the apex of what the human voice can do,” he said. “It’s the best of the best. That’s not to say that pop or jazz singers aren’t any less of musicians. But opera pushes the human voice to its utmost limits, and that, for me, was a goal that I had to chase. The more I experienced opera and the more I learned about the craft and classical singing, the more I found that it was the thing that fulfilled me the most.”

“The Bartered Bride” is double cast, and different students play leading roles on alternating nights.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7.50 for students and youth. For tickets or more information, visit www.finearts.sfasu.edu or call the SFA Fine Arts Box Office at (936) 468-6407.

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SFA ranked among best schools for a master’s degree in special education online

Stephen F. Austin State University has been ranked 14th among the 30 best schools for a master’s degree in special education online by Best Choice Schools, one of the leading free websites for helping college students and adult learners choose the best education path. The ranking was published on the organization’s website in January.

Rankings were determined using the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator database. Qualifying schools offered an online master’s program in special education. To create the top 30 ranking, criteria included school graduation rate, net cost, student-to-faculty ratio and percentage of applicants admitted.

Dr. Paige Mask, SFA associate professor in the Department of Human Services, co-created the online master’s degree in special education program tracks and has served as the adviser and facilitator of the program for the past 10 years.

“This recognition provides evidence of the tremendous commitment and effort that all program faculty members have in helping graduate students further their knowledge and skills, meet their educational goals, and provide a continuous stream of quality special education educators into the public and private school systems,” Mask said.

SFA offers a 36-credit hour master’s degree in special education with three options. Students can earn an early childhood through 12th grade special education certification, a master’s degree in special education or an educational diagnostician certification. Students who already have a teacher’s certification can earn their master’s degree in special education to help expand their knowledge and professional skills. The educational diagnostician certification option is for students interested in working with the school system to help ensure services are in place and meet state laws for special education students. The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and is recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children.

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SFA’s Nelson Rusche College of Business to host College to Career Conference

Stephen F. Austin State University’s Nelson Rusche College of Business will host its third College to Career Conference from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7, in the Mattress Firm Commons in the R.E. McGee Building on the SFA campus.

C2C, a professional development event, will feature sessions throughout the day with speakers from across the state representing companies such as Southwest Airlines, Mattress Firm, Edward Jones and Wells Fargo.

“The C2C is one of the best ways we can connect business executives with our students,” said Chelsea Heidbrink, director of career success and corporate engagement for SFA’s Nelson Rusche College of Business. “It provides professional insight into the job market and prepares students for the realities they will face after graduation.”

Sessions will focus on career-readiness topics, including communication skills, post-graduation budgeting and finances, and first impressions. Additional topics include information concerning the job search, competing in the job market, using social media for branding and the importance of lifelong learning.

Students can earn Student Success Passport Program points for each session they attend. The Student Success Passport Program aims to help SFA students hone their professional skills while competing for scholarships within the Nelson Rusche College of Business.

“With more than 20 professionals attending, C2C gives our students the opportunity to expand their personal network and build connections that may help them as they search for jobs and internships,” Heidbrink said.

C2C also will feature Rusche Real Talks presentations, which will give attendees personal insight into the experiences and business ventures of many successful SFA alumni and friends. During the conference, students also can participate in career counseling and mock interviews.

Additionally, from 5 to 7 p.m., the Nelson Rusche College of Business will host an employer reception where many of the college’s juniors, seniors and graduate students can meet and network with potential employers. The reception will be held in the Mattress Firm Commons area.

For more information, contact Heidbrink at (936) 468-2339 or heidbrinc@sfasu.edu.

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April 4, 2016: NPD Crime Report

This is a complete list of reports responded to by the Nacogdoches Police Department

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April 4, 2016: Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Crime Log

This is the report from the Nacogdoches County Jail that lists the arrests made from 6 a.m. of the previous day to 6 a.m. of the listed day.

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April 4, 2016: Nacogdoches County Booking Report

This is the report from the Nacogdoches County Jail that lists the arrests made from 6 a.m. of the previous day to 6 a.m. of the listed day.

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SFA interior design students help remodel The Fredonia Hotel

Stephen F. Austin State University senior Nia Ledger presents her group’s design concepts for The Fredonia Hotel to hotel owner Richard DeWitt and hotel management. This semester, students enrolled in SFA interior design associate professor Sally Ann Swearingen’s senior capstone course have been working on The Fredonia Hotel’s remodeling efforts.

Thirteen Stephen F. Austin State University interior design students are leaving their mark on Nacogdoches in a big way.

This semester, students enrolled in SFA interior design associate professor Sally Ann Swearingen’s senior capstone course have been working with Richard and Barbara DeWitt, the new owners of The Fredonia Hotel, and hotel management in their remodeling efforts.

Students began working on the project in January. After a walk-through of the facility, the class divided into four teams and began researching design concepts. SFA senior Jasmine Martin described the process as challenging and eye opening.

“It’s been an interesting project. This is my first time to focus on hospitality design. We usually work on residential design, and this project gives us a way of designing for the commercial world,” Martin said.

The class meets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. two days a week to work on designs for the hotel. Students have been tasked with helping design the front lobby, Nine Flags bar, gift shop, outdoor areas, hotel rooms and more.

“It’s been really cool to see how the hotel used to be and to see what the client wants it to look like now,” said Sarah Scarborough, senior SFA interior design major. “We think the hotel is going to bring in a lot of people to Nacogdoches.”

The project has been separated into presentation phases where students show their designs to the clients for feedback and approval. Recently, the class presented its concepts for The Fredonia’s outdoor areas, hotel rooms, and the steak restaurant and bar.

“It’s good to get a different perspective from different generations,” said The Fredonia Hotel’s general manager John McLaren. “Being a historic hotel, we want to be able to appeal to all varieties of people and generations.”

The student teams create 2-D floor plans and 3-D designs using Revit and AutoCad professional design software. The class also has met with manufacturers and contractors.

“I am excited about this opportunity Richard and Barbara DeWitt are giving our interior design program. It has allowed our students to give suggestions and learn more about the history of The Fredonia Hotel,” Swearingen said. “The students have enjoyed the hands-on experience, meeting with management and owners, and getting to hear from locals who are looking forward to the hotel reopening.”

The iconic hotel is scheduled to open again this fall and showcase classic mid-century style with a new generation of hospitality.

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April 3, 2016: NPD Crime Report

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April 3, 2016: Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Crime Log

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