CLARKSDALE – The 18th annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival honoring America’s premiere playwright promises an exciting kickoff to the 2011 Williams Centennial Year with the presentation of director Jodie Markell screening her movie of the Williams screenplay, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.
Featured at the October 15-16, 2010, festival sponsored by Coahoma Community College, Miss Markell will speak about her experiences directing the unproduced 1957 work with its setting in the Mississippi Delta and Memphis.
She also will talk about her lifelong interest in Tennessee Williams since her portrayal of Laura Wingfield in a high school production of The Glass Menagerie.
“Coahoma has been hosting this wonderful conference since 1993; we are elated and honored to welcome Miss Markell to our campus,” commented Dr. Vivian Presley, CCC president.
“An accomplished actress and theatre professional, she is a native of Memphis and brings a unique understanding of Southern culture to the screen,” Presley continued.
Prior to the movie’s December 2009 screenings in Memphis, New York, and California, Miss Markell commented, “As a young actress, I saw a number of productions of Williams that did not feel true to me….Williams plays were being presented like awkward, dated, and dusty museum pieces….
“As a Southern woman, I felt a calling to reclaim Williams and bring his visually poetic world to the screen with as much vibrancy and authenticity as I could achieve in the hope of inspiring a new audience to rediscover this original American voice.”
While studying acting in New York City, Markell was introduced to “Teardrop,” and says she was struck by the lead character, Fisher Willow, a young woman struggling to find her voice and trying to understand how to connect with someone she loves.
“I related to Fisher’s call for understanding,” she says.
Markell says she realized she needed a cast of “thoroughbreds” to handle the unique rhythm and musicality of Williams dialogue.
Her first choice for the role of Fisher Willow was Bryce Dallas Howard, and Markell describes her as “the best of her generation.” The casting of Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn, Ann-Margaret, Chris Evans, Will Patton and Mamie Gummer soon followed.
Markell praises Tennessee’s “mysterious revelation of character,” and his choice to leave many questions unanswered.
She says, “He wanted us to revel in the mystery and with each well-chosen moment he reminds us that even in our own lives, every day, every moment is a mystery. In the end Williams wanted his work to speak for itself, and with The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, I wanted to give audiences a chance to listen.”
Expected to generate additional interest and intensity during the conference are interactions of scholars and actors participating in panel discussions and live readings from Williams plays that continue to explore influences of the Mississippi Delta on his works.
Interesting also will be the measure of Teardrop’s heroine Fisher Willow with Tennessee’s other legendary ladies from the Delta: Blanche DuBois, Alma Winemiller, Lady Torrence and Maggie the Cat.
Kenneth Holditch will deliver the conference keynote address, and the panel of scholars moderated by Colby Kullman include English professors Ralph Voss and Ann Fisher-Wirth; creative writer and John Grisham Fellow Anna Baker, theatrical producer Robert Canon; and film critic and screenwriter Coop Cooper.
Actors performing on stages and porch plays include Erma Duricko, Johnny McPhail, Alice Walker, Marissa Duricko, Tim Brown, Jeff Glickman, and Sherrye
Rehearsing to take center stage also with monologues and scenes, fledgling high school actors across Mississippi will compete in the festival’s elite drama competition for $3,000 in cash prizes for their school drama departments.
Miss Markell will address the group, and Miss Duricko will lead them through an acting workshop.
Because Tennessee Williams spent a great deal of his impressionable early childhood in Clarksdale where he was known as Tom and lived with his mother, sister, and grandparents, many of his works refer to actual places in Coahoma County and many of his characters are patterned on local residents.
Festival activities, receptions, dinners, and porch plays laced with blues and gospel music and Southern cuisine, take place in Clarksdale’s Tennessee Williams neighborhood where the U.S. postage stamp honoring him was unveiled in 1995 on a vintage front porch.
A documentary of the festival, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, was recorded by the BBC and aired in August 2009 to an audience of 13 million in the UK. The festival also was awarded the 2009 Mississippi Humanities Council’s prestigious Partner Award for excellence and community collaborations.
Produced by Coahoma Community College and supported by grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, and the Rock River Foundation, the festival is free and open to the public. Reservations are required for food events. For festival updates, visit www.coahomacc.edu/twilliams or telephone Coahoma’s Public Relations Department: 662-621-4157.