KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dr. Paul L. Soper, 91, former head of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Department of Speech and Theatre, died Monday in Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Soper joined the University of Tennessee in 1936 as an instructor in the Department of English and in 1968, became the first head of the Department of Speech and Theatre, a position he held until 1972.
Soper continued as a member of the faculty until 1976 when he retired.
A highlight of Soper’s four-decades at UT-Knoxville was the dedication in 1970 of the 600-seat Clarence Brown Theatre, about which Soper said:
“Every speech and theatre department needs a production facility — drama isn’t realized until it is staged. How can we turn our students out to teach and direct drama throughout the United States if they don’t have a plant in which to be trained.This theatre facility gives us a place where students can learn and live the total theatre process.”
In 1951, Soper founded Carousel Theatre, a self-supporting university-community theatre program and, later, was instrumental in the acquisition of Hunter Hills Theatre, which was given to UT in 1966.
In 1976 Soper received both an Outstanding Teacher Award from the UT National Alumni Association and a Chancellor’s Citzation for Extraordinary Service to the University. A plaque in the lobby of Clarence Brown Theatre describes Soper as a “distinguished director, author, and scholar; and founder of Carousel Theatre and first head of the Department of Speech and Theatre.”
Soper directed more than 140 plays during his career. He was a former president of the Southern Speech Association and author of a widely used public-speaking textbook, “Basic Public Speaking.”
Survivors include two sons, Gordon, recently retired from the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, D.C.; and Brent, a radiologist in Nashville; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Soper was preceded in death by his first wife, Helen, and by his second wife, Elizabeth.
A memorial service will be held later during the week, but arrangements were incomplete.
Contact: Gordon Soper (423-693-6074)