September 22, 2017  

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Southern Miss Theatre Scholarship Honors Retired Professor

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Victoria Smith, center, is the first recipient of the R.B. (right) and Carolyn Hill theatre scholarship at Southern Miss.

Thanks to a wedding anniversary and a daughter’s creative gift idea, senior theatre majors at The University of Southern Mississippi will benefit from a new foundation scholarship celebrating the esteemed career of retired professor R.B. Hill, who served 30 years at Southern Miss.

Hill was an associate professor, technical director and auditorium manager. The scholarship, which will help defray travel costs for theatre-related auditions and interviews the department’s graduating seniors may have, is a wedding anniversary gift from Amie Hill, R.B. and Carolyn Hill’s daughter.

“My parents were nearing their 50th wedding anniversary and I was still struggling to choose the perfect gift for such a momentous occasion. My mom mentioned that she always wanted to start a scholarship in my dad's name. I asked her why not both of their names? She replied, ‘Well he was the professor, I was just tagging along for the ride,’" said Amie Hill, a Southern Miss alumna.

“My mom was a very integral part of my dad's success. In addition to her full time job as a guidance counselor, she brought Tupperware dinners to evening rehearsals, hosted chili parties on weekends for 20 college kids for script read-throughs and provided her unmistakable, encouraging and sometimes solo laugh from an audience on opening nights. To include both parents on a scholarship dedicated to them was without a doubt the perfect gift for their 50th anniversary,” Hill added.  

While at Southern Miss, R.B. Hill directed “Catfish Moon” in 1995, and “The Rimers of Eldritch” in 2000, which were the first two shows from the state of Mississippi to be performed at the celebrated Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

“Since that’s about as far as you can go in educational theatre, I retired,” R.B. Hill joked.

Before retiring, Hill started an audition process class to better prepare theatre students for auditions at the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). SETC hosts the nation’s most reliable, longest running combined auditions. Theatre companies know they will see something special when they come to the conference. Thanks to Hill, Southern Miss theatre students are prepared.

“I started the audition class because students have to go to the Southeastern Theatre Conference, which has hundreds of participants and we wanted to better prepare our students. I figured I’d better come up with something to teach them how to audition,” R.B. Hill said.

The course, which is mandatory for students who wish to be considered for the scholarship,
 is now taught by associate professor Sean Boyd.

“Audition Process is an absolutely critical class to prepare student-actors for the transition into the professional world. R.B.’s forethought in creating this class laid the foundations for evolving us from an academic department to a Professional Actor Training Program,” Boyd said. “It was leadership like this that created a standard of excellence in our department, and has generated a multitude of graduates that have gone on to full-time careers as actors, directors, designers and in all aspects of the business.”

Funds for the scholarship were raised at the Hill’s 50th wedding anniversary, which was hosted on the Southern Miss campus in Hattiesburg in late 2015. Over $16,000 was raised by February 2016 and the scholarship will be awarded annually to a proficient student in the audition process class.

“We wanted to do something and this way we have a continuing presence within the department. We still go to performances and events. We just feel like this is the way to contribute,” Carolyn Hill said.

The first R.B. and Carolyn Hill Scholarship recipient is Victoria Smith. The Waynesboro, Miss. native was awarded the scholarship at the end of the 2016 fall semester. Smith passed the SETC screenings in Jackson, Miss. and has been invited to participate in auditions at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Lexington, Ky.

“Receiving this scholarship is a complete honor and a blessing,” Smith said. “It has provided the funds for me to travel and audition in this professional theatre environment.

“This scholarship has given me more than just financial aid; it has given me the opportunity to garner this valuable professional experience in order to progress my craft as a professional actor and theatre maker.”

For more information about the Hill scholarship and other scholarship opportunities at Southern Miss, contact the USM Foundation at 601.266.5210 or visit www.usmfoundation.com.