20th Annual Williams Festival set
CLARKSDALE – The 20th annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival sponsored by Coahoma Community College is scheduled for Oct. 12-13, 2012 and will return its focus on the The Glass Menagerie, the playwright’s autobiographical memory play celebrated at Clarksdale’s first Williams Festival in 1993.
Participating in readings at the opening festival was celebrity actress Ruby Dee portraying Amanda Wingfield, the signature character based on the playwright’s own mother, Edwina Dakin Williams.
Although President Bill Clinton was unable to be in Clarksdale despite numerous correspondences and telephone calls from the White House, he sent special greetings that were read at the Moon Lake opening reception at Uncle Henry’s Place. Special music was presented by Big Jack Johnson and his band.
In 1993 the Clarksdale Community Theatre presented the Glass Menagerie in the Larry Thompson Center, and the “I Remember Tom” panel at Carnegie Public Library was composed of former local friends and associates sharing memories of the playwright who spent his childhood in Clarksdale.
Included in the panel were Charles Clark, Alida Clark Heidelberg, Joe Ellis, Miriam Gotcher Anderson, all of Clarksdale, and Fonnie Black Ladd of Charleston. All are now deceased.
The first festival followed nearly two years of planning funded by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mississippi Arts Commission coordinated with Dr. Vivian Presley, CCC president.
Original consultants were Dr. Ann Abadie, associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, a key organizer of the Faulkner Conference at Ole Miss, Dr. Kenneth Holditch, research professor at the University of New Orleans and one of the country’s top William scholars.
Consultants at CCC included Vanessa Long, Yvonne Stanford, and members of the CCC Lyceum Committee.
Two years later the festival was selected to host the unveiling of the U.S. Tennessee Williams postage stamp and launched the national book tour for writer Lyle Leverich’s biography, Tom, the Unknown Tennessee.
Details about the 2012 festival which is free and open to the public will be published on the festival website: www.coahomacc.edu/twilliams
Although the annual festival explores all the works of Tennessee Williams through its literary conference, screenings, and live drama, it generally emphasizes one particular play each year.
Past festivals have featured, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Summer and Smoke, Orpheus Descending, Night of the Iguana, Baby Doll and 27 Wagons of Cotton, Spring Storm, and The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.
Williams Festival Photo Collage
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Williams Festival Acting Contest Awards $2,500 in cash prizes
CLARKSDALE – Cash prizes totaling $2,500 were awarded to high school drama departments winning the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival's annual Student Acting Competition by Coahoma Community College.
Students performed monologues and scenes from Tennessee Williams plays in the Civic Auditorium Saturday and were judged by a panel of theatre professionals.
"This competition was inaugurated years ago by Coahoma Community College to introduce new generations of Mississippians to the works of Tennessee Williams," explains Kappi Allen, Coahoma County Tourism director who coordinated the competition.
"Students are awarded trophies, and their school drama departments are presented cash prizes to encourage theatre in our high schools," she continued.
Zell Pettis of Lafayette High School of Oxford won first ($500) in the monologue division; Travis Sinquefield of Hernando, second, ($200); Lizzie Nichols of Northwest Rankin, third, ($100); and Alexis Jackson of Lafayette High, honorable mention.
Hernando High School won first in the scene division ($700), and Northwest Rankin High of Brandon was second ($400).
The costume award ($100) was presented to Dajanique Wade of Coahoma County Junior High School; the Judges Award to Travis Sinquefield ($100) of Hernando; and the Stella calling awards ($100 each) were won by Connor McGinty (male) of Northwest Rankin and Vivian Gamble of Coahoma County High School.
Judges were Severn Thompson, a professional actor from Toronto, Canada; Dr. Ann Fisher-Wirth, author, actor, English professor from the University of Mississippi; and Joe Bonelli of New Orleans, Mississippi Public Radio and Louisiana Public Radio veteran.
Conducting an acting workshop with the students was theatre director and filmmaker Karen Kohihaas of New York, who conducts master acting classes and is creating a documentary on Tennessee Williams and Clarksdale.
Joining her workshop was Broadway actor and playwright Jeremy Lawrence who gave a one-person presentation as Tennessee Williams at CCC's Whiteside Hall.
Following the presentation of student winners Saturday night at Ground Zero, a panel of professional actors talked informally about their careers in theatre and movies and offered advice to students.
Included were Jared Davis of Theatre Oxford; Jeremy Lawrence of New York; Severn Thompson of Toronto, Canada; Johnny McPhail and Alice Walker, both of Theatre Oxford; and Jeff Glickman of the Pensacola Little Theatre.
The free festival is supported by grants from CCC, Coahoma County Tourism, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Rock River Foundation, and local businesses including First National Bank of Clarksdale, Fiser Insurance Agency, Jimmy Wilson and the Hal Fiser Agency.
Vivian Gamble of Coahoma County High School recreates her winning performance in the Stella-calling contest at Ground Zero Blues Club.
Cast members from Northwest Rankin High School of Brandon recreate their award-winning scene at Ground Zero Blues Club.
Celebrity theatre professionals on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club Saturday night ate (from left) Jared Davis of Theatre Oxford; Jeremy Lawrence, New York actor and playwright; Severn Thompson, Canadian actor from Toronto; Jeff Glickman, actor/director from the Pensacola Little Theatre; Johnny McPhail and Alice Walker, both of Theatre Oxford.
Williams Festival rated ‘biggest and best ever’
CLARKSDALE – “The biggest and best“ Tennessee Williams Festival made history in Clarksdale over the weekend, according to locals and visitors from Oxford and Memphis to Florida, Kansas, California, and The Netherlands.
The unique mix of scholarly lectures laced with live drama, music, gourmet food, porch plays, and acting competitions evoked dialogues from a diverse audience of high school and college students, teachers and other adults.
“Excellent” was the rating on every Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival evaluation form except one that ranked it “spectacular.”
“This was the very best festival ever,” writes Ann Fisher-Wirth of Oxford, who’s been participating for years as a scholar and judge of the student drama competition.
“The festival is a beautiful expression of the power of art and the human spirit,” writes Eda Holmes, associate director of Canada’s Shaw Festival, who attended for the first time.
Her colleague, Severn Thompson, a professional actor who portrayed Maggie Pollitt from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, calls the festival “amazing.”
“It was such a magical experience for me and gave me a whole new view of Tennessee Williams and the South,” she writes.
“I’ve only been home for a few hours and am not quite adjusted – I keep looking for those beautiful old houses with inviting porches,” she continues.
Panel moderator Colby Kullman calls the program “incredible;” keynote speaker Kenneth Holditch “dynamic; “ and praises panelists Ralph Voss, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Coop Cooper, and Dorothy Shawhan.
“Best of all, the audience performed like never before, “he continued.
Celebrating its 19th season, the festival kicked off Friday with the literary conference inside Coahoma Community College’s Whiteside Lecture Hall and a keynote address by Kenneth Holditch.
Theatre director Eda Holmes discussed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and introduced a scene starring Severn Thompson as Maggie and Theatre Oxford’s Jared Davis as Brick, with actor/musician Jeff Glickman of Pensacola playing background guitar music.
Following lunch, the scholar panel continued its dialogue on Cat, and the program finale featuring veteran actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence in a one-person presentation as Tennessee Williams discussing his sister Rose.
At the Clark House reception, owner Charles Evans welcomed guests, the Dutch Oven presented a gourmet Southern buffet, Dr. Vivian Presley, president of Coahoma Community College, introduced an ensemble of the CCC choir; virtuoso guitarist Jeff Glickman entertained; and students from Hernando and their teacher Ashley Hawkins presented monologues.
Although crowds attended Saturday’s student drama competition at the Civic Auditorium organized by Kappi Allen, others enjoyed open houses at the Cutrer Mansion where Jen Waller, director, introduced Herbert Krill’s documentary and others visited the former St. George‘s Church rectory to view renovated second floor where Tom Williams lived as a child.
Jay Westfaul presented an organ recital in St. George’s Church with a talk by the Rev. Jason Shelby about the role of the Rev. Walter Dakin in the life of Tom Williams, and visitors were treated to refreshments at the Clarksdale Women’s Club across the street
Spectacular porch plays featured Oxford’s Johnny McPhail in The Last of My Solid Gold Watches; Wanda Lee’s Clarksdale High School drama students; Jared Davis and Alice Walker in scenes from A Streetcar Desire; Sherrie Williams as Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie, and Jeff Glickman reading Tennessee Williams poetry.
Ground Zero Blues Club of Clarksdale hosted the festival finale with supper, the presentation of student drama winners, and celebrity actors who talked about their own careers in theatre and movies.
Canadian actor Severn Thompson (in slip) portrays Maggie and Jared Davis of Oxford as Brick from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ in Whiteside Lecture Hall; with guitarist Jeff Glickman providing background music.
Clarksdale High School drama students of Wanda Lee draw a large crowd for their Tennessee Williams monologues.
Scenes from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ star Theatre Oxford actors Alice Walker as Blanche and Jared Davis as Stanley.