• The group on John Sherman's law office porch is from Clarksdale High School performing a scene from a Streetcar Named Desire as a porch play.

  • The woman in black in Whiteside Hall is Eda Holmes, assistant director of the prestigious Shaw Festival in Canada. She is describing the qualities of the Williams heroine, Maggie Pollitt, from the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof during the festival's literary conference.

  • The porch play on the Gov. Earl Brewer porch is Streetccar named Desire being performed by Theatre Oxford actors

  • The Rev. Jason Shelby, rector of St George's Episcopal Church, welcomes visitors to the church where Tennessee's grandfather was pastor for 16 years.

  • New York theatre professionals: Jeremy Lawrence and Karen Kohlhaas, answer student questions about acting before judges announce winners of the Student Drama competition.

  • Clarksdale actor Sherrye Williams (seated) portrays Amanda Wingfield from the Glass Menagerie on the Tom Ross porch

  • The United States postage stamp honoring Tennessee Williams was unveiled during Clarksdale's Williams Festival

  • Marilyn Starks, CCC director of institutional advancement, is serving as MHC project director for the 2014 festival.

  • Dr. Kenneth Holditch will deliver his keynote address on 'Sweet Bird of Youth' in Whiteside Hall.

‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ Ignites Festival Oct. 3-4

Student actors win $2,500 for their schools

CLARKSDALE – Sweet Bird of Youth, is a red hot award-winning drama set on the Gulf Coast with Paul Newman as handsome Chance Wayne and Geraldine Page as the Princess Kosmonopolis, an aging movie star traveling incognito.

Returning to his hometown, Wayne, a drifter, hopes to reconnect with his old girlfriend while charming the actress to help him break into movies.

It’s Tennessee Williams, and it’s playing live in his award-winning hometown festival Oct. 3-4, according to Marilyn Starks, festival project director at Coahoma Community College.

Admission is free to a screening of the entire film at the Cutrer Mansion, a literary conference at CCC kicked off by one of the country’s leading Williams scholars; live scenes from the play performed by veteran actors followed by commentary from a scholar panel, and an afternoon of porch plays the next day.

One of them features Elise Fyke of Theatre Oxford portraying Heavenly, daughter of the corrupt, ruthless politician Boss Finley played by actor Johnny McPhail.

“You married for love,” she pleads,” but you wouldn’t let me do it, and even though you’d done it, you broke Mama’s heart. Miss Lucy had been your mistress.”

Directed by Elia Kazan, the Broadway play won four Tony Awards with Page named Best Actress. The movie earned numerous Oscar nominations with Ed Begley’s portrayal as Boss Finley winning an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 4, the dramas of Tennessee Williams continue to ignite new generations through an elite Student Drama Competition in the Georgia Lewis Theatre. Cash prizes totaling $2,500 are awarded to winning school drama departments and engraved trophies to students .

“When the festival began 22 years ago, few students were aware playwright Tennessee Williams was a Mississippian and not some “Rocky Top” sports fan in orange,” says Kappi Allen, who directs the acting contest.

Changing this perception was the brainchild of Dr. Ann Abadie, one of the original National Endowment for the Arts consultants, who suggested an acting contest with cash prizes large enough to draw interest, she explains.

It worked, she says.

“Today students take center stage quoting dialogue from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Amanda Wingfield monologues, and even excerpts from lesser known dramas like Camino Real,” she continued.

The contest is structured, timed, and judged by professionals. While judges compute scores and deliberate, others direct acting workshops.

“It’s a blast with cheering, whooping, hollering allowed despite the keen competition,” Allen says.

After winners are announced and trophies awarded, a celebration luncheon prepared by CCC Chef Brennon Warr and his culinary students takes place in the Gallery.

“No burgers or hot dogs,” she says. “It’s a real meal for famished actors before they travel home or drive to the historic district to watch the professionals in action on porch plays.”

The festival has been cited and honored for excellence by the Mississippi Humanities Council with its Partner Award. It has been recorded in documentaries by the BBC and Public Television in Europe.

It is sponsored by Coahoma Community College with additional support from the Coahoma Tourism Commission, Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Humanities Council, Dr. Colby Kullman, and Visit Mississippi.

For details and schedules, visit www.coahomacc.edu/twilliams. Reservations for the Friday night Cutrer Mansion reception ($25 per person) are made through the Chamber of Commerce: 662-627-7337. The Saturday luncheon fee is $10 for non-students and drama coaches.