Dead White Males to be Performed May 3, 4, 5


Dead White Males to be Performed May 3, 4, 5 

INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- West Virginia State University theatre students will perform a production of Dead White Males for a very special guest on Thursday: the play’s author, William Missouri Downs. Downs will be in attendance for the show’s opening night, Thursday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Davis Fine Arts Theatre.

“When I read the play, I knew it would be a good one for us to do,” says Susan Marrash-Minnerly, Professor of Theatre at WVSU and an old friend of Downs. “We invited Bill and I was thrilled when he agreed to come to campus.”

Downs, currently a faculty member at the University of Wyoming, looks forward to visiting WVSU and reconnecting with Marrash-Minnerly. The two met during their time at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I am looking forward to seeing Susan. We have not seen each other in 20 years,” says Downs. “Her wisdom and sage advice helped me survive my first difficult year as a professor.”

Downs’ career extends far beyond the classroom, even all the way to Hollywood. He has written numerous award-winning plays, articles and books and amassed a lengthy list of production and directing credits during a multi-year stint in California. He wrote for the television shows The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Amen and My Two Dads, and worked on the series Moonlighting. One of his screenplays was optioned by Ron Howard’s Imagine Films.

“He never made it,” says Downs of the Howard project. “I never made it big in Hollywood. I could not sink my teeth into it. I loved the money, but in the end no paycheck was big enough to buy my voice.”

After a few years, Downs grew tired of writing what others wanted him to write and began following his own voice and muse. A self-proclaimed drifter, he has always followed whatever current came along.

“My life has no overriding plot or theme,” he says when asked if his career is the one he envisioned early on. “I simply picked up the bottles that came ashore, read the messages inside and thought, okay, let’s go in that direction for awhile.”

That direction led him to the classroom. Over 13,000 students have taken his introduction to theatre class at the University of Wyoming, and he has written a variety of theatre and acting textbooks, one of which is used by Marrash-Minnerly in her courses. Visiting another campus to see one of his plays performed is a rare treat that time and money often do not allow, he says.

“I cannot attend most of the time. Theatres are too poor to fly me in or I’m too busy writing that next script.”

Thanks to his ties to Marrash-Minnerly, Downs looks forward to his arrival in the Mountain State and watching State’s production of Dead White Males. The show, a comedy, has been produced at venues nationwide and deals with an idealistic young teacher’s struggle to find her way through her first year of teaching.

“It is about how our education system freezes creative minds and demands conformity,” says Downs. “Teachers have been yoked with piles of mandates, countless rules and endless assessment. We have empowered the students and the parents but, in doing so, we have mugged the teachers.”

Downs is currently working on his 21st full-length play. He will discuss his live in Hollywood during WVSU's Factuly Lecture Series at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, in the Davis Fine Arts theatre.

Admission to Dead White Males is free. Performances will be held May 3, 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Davis Fine Arts Theatre at West Virginia State University. For more information, contact Susan Marrash-Minnerly at 304-766-5110 or


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