New Generations ‘Savvy’ About Tennessee Williams

CLARKSDALE – New generations of Mississippians are savvy about the theatre world of Tennessee Williams thanks to the Mississippi Delta festival here Oct. 4-5 honoring America’s great playwright.

Sponsored since 1993 by Coahoma Community College, the annual event includes an elite acting competition for high school students performing monologues and scenes from plays by Williams.

When teens take center stage in CCC’s Georgia Lewis Theatre, they not only earn applause, they earn big bucks for their school drama departments and handsome trophies for themselves.

The cash prizes from Coahoma total $2,500 to promote education and Mississippi’s cultural heritage.

Competing are students across Mississippi from Oxford and Brandon to Purvis, Hernando, and Clarksdale.

With today’s budget crunch limiting many school art projects, winners can return home as conquering heroes.

A first place ($750) scene competition winner from Jackson once underwrote costly costumes for a school production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Years ago teens and even most adults were unaware Tennessee Williams was a Mississippian who grew up in Clarksdale,” says Kappi Allen, Coahoma Tourism Commission director who coordinates the contest.

“Now contestants in area beauty pageants perform monologues from “The Glass Menagerie” or “A Streetcar Named Desire,” for their talent entries,” she continued.

The competition is strictly timed, directed, and judged by out-of-town theatre professionals.

Allen describes the talent as “amazing” and the competition “lively” with students cheering each other inside the packed theatre with many even sitting on the floor.

While judges in seclusion tally points and confer on entries, students learn pointers about auditioning from Karen Kohlhaas, who conducts master acting classes in New York City.

Immediately afterward winners and all students will be honored at a celebration luncheon on campus in The Gallery prepared by Coahoma’s acclaimed Chef Brennon Warr.

Broadway actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence will speak about theatrical careers.

The drama competition inside Georgia Lewis Theatre is free, and the public is encouraged to attend and support the fledgling actors. To join the group for lunch, advance reservations ($12) are required by calling 662-624-5648..

The 21st annual festival begins at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4, with an open house at the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale.

At 1:30 p.m., the literary conference kicks off at Coahoma Community College, 3240 Friars Point Road, with a welcome by Dr. Talmadge Towner, CCC president, and a keynote address on the film, “Baby Doll,” by noted scholar Kenneth Holditch of New Orleans.

Readings from the one-act play, “27 Wagons Full of Cotton,” will feature actor Jeremy Lawrence of New York City with commentary by a panel of scholars: Colby Kullman, Ralph Voss, Dorothy Shawhan, and Coop Cooper.

The festival features a “Meet and Greet Celebrities” reception at 7 p.m. Friday at The Clark House with blues music, favorites by the CCC Choir Ensemble and gourmet Southern cuisine by the Dutch Oven.

Saturday events following the drama competition at CCC include a welcome by the Rev. Jason Shelby and tour of St. George’s Episcopal Church and former rectory, an open house at the Clarksdale Women’s Club, and porch plays in the historic district.

Performing on porches are Florence Roach from “The Help,” Alice Walker, Rebecca Jernigan, Sherrye Williams, and Clarksdale High School drama students.

For additional information, view: or telephone Panny Mayfield: 662-624-5648.

In addition to Coahoma Community College, sponsors include the Coahoma County Tourism Commission and Chamber of Commerce; Mississippi State Tourism, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, and local donors.

Clarksdale High School drama students, who will be participating in the drama competition, have been porch play favorites. They are pictured performing a scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the gingerbread-style office of attorney John Sherman.

The first place winner of the Stella Calling contest recreates her portrayal from “A Streetcar Named Desire.’

Best costume winners at the 2012 competition are students from Coahoma County Junior High School in action from ‘Camino Real”