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15th Annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival

Live theatre, mind-stretching conversations, posh receptions create irresistible celebration

19th annual Tennessee Williams Festival set Oct. 14-15

CLARKSDALE - It’s an irresistible mix of live theatre, posh receptions, porch plays,  and mind-stretching conversations in the “Most Southern Place on Earth.”

Scholars say the playwright himself would be grinning at the fuss being made over Clarksdale’s Tennessee Williams Festival Oct. 14-15.

Coming to participate in the hometown Williams immortalized in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Orpheus Descending, andBaby Doll are actors, directors, playwrights and scholars of international renown.

“But it’s not a bit stuffy,” assures Ethel McCaughan of Olive Branch, a former Clarksdale resident who’s never missed a year.

To describe the celebration, she agrees with the young grandson of Jackson New Stage Theatre founder Jane Reid Petty who asked while waiting for the curtain to rise: “When does the magic start?”

Traditionally closing her emails with lines Tennessee gives Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, theatre director Erma Duricko of Pennsylvania, writes  “I don’t want realism; I want magic.”

Magic has been happening since 1993 in the Mississippi Delta festival sponsored by Coahoma Community College since the playwright created Brick, Blanche and Baby Doll from real citizens of Coahoma County.

Catching its spirit here in early January before directing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the prestigious Shaw Festival’s 50th anniversary season in Toronto, Canada, Eda Holmes is returning this fall to talk about the experience.

  She’s bringing Canadian actors with her to perform scenes from Cat along with Jeff Glickman from the Pensacola Little Theatre.

Alice Walker and other stars from Theatre Oxford’s critically-acclaimed production of Streetcar will become Blanche, Mitch, and Stella on the Governor Earl Brewer front porch center stage home of Tami and Mike Barr. 

Everybody’s favorite Big Daddy Pollitt, Johnny McPhail morphs magically into the traveling salesman in Clarksdale’s Alcazar Hotel from The Last of My Solid Gold Watches, and Sherrye Williams presents her signature  “Amanda Wingfield” role from The Glass Menagerie.

From Clarksdale High School, Wanda Lee’s gifted drama students will take over the gingerbread front porch stage of John Sherman’s Law Office following a morning of fledgling actors competing for drama prizes at the Civic Auditorium.

Broadway’s veteran actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence will talk about Tennessee’s indelible influence in world theatre and star in his own dramatic presentation about Tom and his sister Rose.

Opening everything in CCC’s Whiteside Hall Friday morning, renowned Williams scholar Kenneth Holditch of New Orleans presents a talk he calls “Games People Play- Croquet, Football, and Mendacity in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Live scenes from Cat will follow before Colby Kullman presents an in-depth review of the play and moderates a panel discussion with commentary by Coop Cooper, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Dorothy Shawhan, and  Ralph Voss.

  A posh “Meet and Greet” reception at the historic Clark House featuring gourmet cuisine, music, and live drama is Friday night’s finale.

  On Saturday morning, the lively Student Acting Competition with its popular “Stella” contest and acting workshop in the Civic Auditorium on Saturday morning is open to the public.

   Other Saturday morning activities from 10 a.m. to noon include Coffee and Sweets at the Cutrer Mansion with Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center, welcoming guests, conducting tours, and talking about current workshops in progress.

   A continuous screening of the Herbert Krill documentary, “The South is Everywhere,” that debuted in Clarksdale and on Public Television in Europe on Tennessee Williams Centennial, March 26, will be running in one of the reception rooms.

Also open from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday will be St. George’s Episcopal Church, the former rectory and the unique second floor restoration of rooms where Tom Williams and his sister lived featuring vintage photographs and period furniture.

At 2 p.m. church organist Jay Westfaul presents an organ recital followed by open house hosted by Clarksdale Woman’s Club and four porch plays in the historic district.

The festival is free and open to the public thanks to grants from Coahoma Community College, the Coahoma County Tourism Commission, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Rock River Foundation, and local businesses and individuals elevated to “Big Daddy” and “Big Mama” status through their donations.

  Reservations are required for meals. Contact information and reservation forms are available online at www.coahomacc.edu/twilliams or by calling CCC Public Relations (662-621-4157).

  Cited for its excellence, the festival is recipient of the Mississippi Humanities Council’s Partner Award, and has been recorded as a documentary by the BBC and European Public Television.


Among the actors performing at the upcoming Tennessee Williams Festival are Theatre Oxford veterans  Johnny McPhail and Alice Walker who earned standing ovations for their recent performances in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’


Eda Holmes and her filmmaker husband, Tim, visit Clarksdale’s historic district in early January to research the Tennessee Williams play, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ which Eda is directing April through October during the 50th anniversary of the prestigious Shaw Festival in Toronto, Canada. Holmes will talk about her experiences and present two actors from Canada in scenes from the play during the Clarksdale festival. In the background is  the home of Fran and Tom Ross where the U.S. Postal Service unveiled the Tennessee Williams postage stamp in 1995.


Visiting Clarksdale recently to research background her article on playwright Tennessee Williams for ‘Southern Living’ magazine, Kim Cross of Birmingham, interviews the Rev. Jason Shelby, rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, who has encouraged restoration of the former rectory where Tom Williams lived with his family.


The former rectory’s second floor bedroom where Tom (Tennessee)  Williams lived as a child  has been renovated with vintage photographs and period furniture by Shelia Roberts.




The Tennessee Williams Festival is sponsored by Coahoma Community College