MIAMI – When the curtains closed on Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College's theatre arts degree program in 2015 it was no small loss for students or the community.

Now, just under two years later, NEO's aspiring thespians have access once again to a structured program to further nurture their talents and share their art – The NEO Theatre Experience.

The creative brainchild of writer, actor, and director Aaron Smith, he said the program replaces the stand-alone shows that have been produced by the college in recent years with an official season to help preserve and expand the arts on campus.

The NEO Theatre Experience will present four shows in its 2017-2018 inaugural season - 'The Good Doctor,' 'The Meta House,' 'Crime and Punishment,' and the musical 'The Theory of Relativity.' All four productions will be directed by Phillip Shamblin and Smith, who also co-directed the Miami Little Theatre's 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' last year at the Coleman. The NEO Technical Director is Chet Rogers.

Smith cites his inspiration for proposing the new program as the recent collaboration between NEO and MLT in 2016.

"Working with the students in last year's NEO/MLT collaboration, 'Eat Your Heart Out,' was an incredible experience. Life altering," said Smith. "Then I realized just how important it was for the students too, as a life experience and for their academic careers, and that they didn't have access to a complete season. That's when I met with the administration, Dr. Hale and Dr. Fahnestock, and with the Department Chair, Dr. Birdsong. All three are committed to furthering the arts on the NEO campus."

Separately, Smith referred to NEO President Jeff Hale, Vice President for Academic Affairs Bethene Fahnestock, and Liberal Arts Department Chair Jeff Birdsong as being at the "heart" of the NEO Theatre Experience program because of what he says is a true respect for the creative pursuits of their students.

Birdsong expressed great enthusiasm for the new program and its potential going forward.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to continue to grow the already vibrant arts on the NEO campus. It also provides NEO students a chance to really develop their craft under Aaron's guidance. They can put plays on their resumes for when they are transferring to a four-year university, where because of this program many of them will go in a lot better prepared," said Birdsong. "I think this program will do a lot for the already thriving arts here at NEO, with the potential to return the theatre arts degree program to campus in as little as the next two or three years."

Smith added that vital to the program's success is community support, which Birdsong echoed.

"We are unique in this in this area as a two-year institution. We want the community to see what is being developed and to come out and enjoy the plays, enjoy the musicals. NEO's young actors have incredible talent and drive, and it's something the community will want to experience and support."

Smith who has supported himself as an artist since his adolescence and always juggling multiple projects said what has been most rewarding is working with the students.

"By far, the most rewarding part of the NEO Theatre Experience is working with the students," said Smith. "Young, talented performers bringing their art to the stage. It's an amazing honor to work with them, to watch them advance."

NEO Theatre Experience 2017-2018 Season

The NEO Theatre Experience will present four productions during its first year on the following dates:

The Good Doctor: October 12-15, 2017 The Meta House: November 16-19, 2017 Crime and Punishment: March 8-11, 2018 The Theory of Relativity (Musical): April 12-15, 2018

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for those eighteen and under, and free for NEO faculty, staff, and students. All shows are on the NEO campus.

Through the season, auditions will be held for three of the shows beginning next week with for 'The Meta House,' written by Smith. Based on 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka, the play centers around a young man who wakes up one day transformed into a dung beetle. Smith said those familiar with the story would thoroughly enjoy his updated and somewhat mystical version of the Kafka novella.

Audition run from 6-9 p.m. in Commons Hall on the following dates:

The Meta House: September 25-26, 2017 Crime and Punishment: January 22-23, 2018 The Theory of Relativity (Musical): February 26-27, 2018

Roles are cast from NEO and recent NEO alumni unless otherwise specified.

To learn more and stay up to date with NEO Theatre Experience visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/theatreexperience/.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.