May 23, 2010 1:26:00 AM
A Starkville native has achieved a first for his home state. Thomas Sowers, a senior design and technical major at The University of Southern Mississippi, has become the first Mississippi student to win a national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival award.
The 22-year-old earned the Sound Design Excellence Award in April for his work in USM''s production of "Hitchcock Blonde." Along with the prestigious honor comes a career-boosting fellowship at the Eugene O''Neill National Playwrights Conference this summer in Washington, D.C.
"It''s really an awesome thing," says Sowers, the son Richard and Mary Sowers of Starkville. "It''s really going to help my post-college career. With the prize of an internship at the Eugene O''Neill Theater Center Conference, a kind of testing ground for new shows, I''ll get to meet a lot of sound designers in D.C., which is where I hope to end up."
Sowers is the also first recipient of the newly created sound design award.
The emotional power of sound in dramatic productions is a source of inspiration for the Golden Triangle native.
"Sound can really have a strong impact on the audience -- and you get to do it in such a subtle way that the audience may not even notice how much you''re affecting them," he says.
He cites a quote by the late Bernard Hermann, who notably collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on films including "Psycho," and "Vertigo" and composed scores for "Citizen Kane," "Taxi Driver" and many more.
"He said, ''The music must apply what the actor cannot say,''" Sowers shares. "I really take that to heart. ... Sound is a great way to affect an audience and push their emotions, without them becoming aware you''re doing it."
After graduation in December, the honoree hopes to return to Washington. He looks forward, as he says, to "paying his dues" as he builds his new career.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.