‘Tennessee Williams Festival‘ Show Goes on After 20 Years at Coahoma Community College
CLARKSDALE – Twenty years ago Emmy Award winning actress Ruby Dee paid tribute to America’s most celebrated playwright and launched the first Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival at Coahoma Community College.
In the two decades since her portrayal of Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie, the festival has showcased a broad spectrum of theatre personalities ranging from Broadway stars to student actors competing in an elite drama competition as Brick, Blanche, and Baby Doll.
“Coahoma is pleased to sponsor this celebration; its recognition for excellence has grown beyond international boundaries,” says Dr. Vivian Presley, CCC president, a key organizer in the festival’s 1993 inauguration.
On Oct. 12-13, the show goes on with a return to the autobiographical memory play and a different cast of actors, says Dr. Presley.
Included are Mississippi actress/playwright Florence “Flo” Roach, from the movie, “The Help,” Broadway actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence; New York City actor/directors Erma Duricko and Tim Brown, NYC director/filmmaker Karen Kohihaas; and the festival’s corps of veteran actors from Theatre Oxford, the Pensacola Little Theatre and Clarksdale taking center stage on front porches in the neighborhood where the playwright spent his childhood.
An equally prestigious lineup of scholars expected to evoke lively discussion will open the literary conference component Friday morning, Oct. 12, in CCC’s Whiteside Lecture Hall.
Kenneth Holditch of New Orleans, one of America’s foremost scholars on the works of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, will open with a keynote address centered on The Glass Menagerie followed by live scenes from the play and commentary on directing and performing from Duricko and Brown.
Following lunch prepared by CCC Chef Brennon Warr and his culinary students, Colby Kullman will continue with an overview of The Glass Menagerie and discuss the play’s centennial reissue by New Directions Publishing with commentary by playwright Tony Kushner.
Participating with Kullman on the scholar panel will be Coop Cooper, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ralph Voss, and former New Directions editor Thomas Keith.
Author/filmmaker Karen Kohihaas will present a preview screening of her new documentary exploring the influences and roots of Tennessee Williams in Clarksdale.
Following her portrayal of a maid in the Oscar-winning movie, “The Help,” actress/playwright/educator Florence “Flo” Roach, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, a master’s degree from the University of Memphis, and has performed in Opera Memphis productions of Porgy and Bess, will talk about the influence of her own Mississippi family roots on her career as an artist and playwright.
Her awards include induction into the Tennessee Theatre Hall of Fame and the Paul Roberson Rotary Club Award for Teaching Excellence.
Following intermission, a Meet and Greet Celebrity reception kicks off at 7 p.m. at the historic home of Clarksdale founder John Clark transformed now into an elegant residential inn by Charles Evans of Santa Rosa, Calif.
The evening features gourmet Southern cuisine by the Dutch Oven, music by CCC Choral Music Department directed by Kelvin Towers, blues guitarist Jeff Glickman, and the evening finale: the presentation of an original drama inspired by The Glass Menagerie and created by Broadway actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence.
Lawrence earned standing ovations and the creation of an instant fan club following his 2011 presentation of Tom and Rose.
Saturday’s events include the Student Drama Competition in the Georgia Lewis Theatre of Coahoma Community College with students competing for $2,500 in prize money for their school drama departments . Also scheduled are an open house and tours of at the Cutrer Mansion where an historic marker will be unveiled by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
An organ recital by Jay Westerfield, organist at St. George’s Episcopal Church, and welcome address by the Rev. Jason Shelby, church rector, is planned for Saturday afternoon followed by tours of the former church rectory where the second floor is being renovated with memorabilia from the childhood of Tom and Rose Williams when they lived there with their mother and grandparents.
With their signature hospitality and rich information about Clarksdale, members of the Clarksdale Woman’s Club are hosting an open house and refreshments across the street from the church before and during porch plays in the Tennessee Williams neighborhood.
Four front porches: 415 Court Street, 203 Court Street, 41 John Street, and 235 Clark Street will feature porch plays showcasing the works of Tennessee Williams with the audience sitting in lawn chairs and chatting with actors following their performances.
Among the actors are Wanda Lee’s drama students from Clarksdale High School; Sundance Film Festival award-winning actor Johnny McPhail who promises scenes from “The Strangest Romance;” Alice Walker: Clarksdale’s favorite ‘”Blanche” and “Maggie; “; Sherrye Williams as “Amanda Wingfield,” and Jeff Glickman presenting a drama from his latest theatrical venture.
A barbecue supper will be served at Ground Zero Blues Club at 5 p.m. followed by the presentation of drama competition winners and an exchange between student and professional actors.
Sponsored by CCC, the festival is free and open to the public thanks to grants from Coahoma, the Coahoma County Tourism Commission, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, The Rock River Foundation, local businesses and patrons.
Reservations are required for meals: the Friday luncheon; Friday night reception; and Saturday barbecue supper.