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Mississippi Arts: Community theatre thrives in the Magnolia State

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • There is magic that happens every time the curtain comes up, whether on Broadway or in Small Town, Mississippi.

The show must go on! Live theatre has captivated audiences since the Greeks performed original drama in the Sixth Century B.C. With no rewind, fast-forward, or pause buttons, the real-time experience is fresh, spontaneous, and sometimes unpredictable.

Community theatres thrive in many small towns across Mississippi. With enthusiastic volunteers and exceptional talent, they are labors of love for those who give untold hours rehearsing, designing sets, running a sound system, selling tickets, and pulling it all together.

Vicksburg

The Vicksburg Theatre Guild is one of the oldest community theatres that survives today. It is the legacy of what began as a tourist attraction in 1936 aboard the retired steamboat The Sprague, docked on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. For decades, the melodrama Gold in the Hills attracted tourists from around the world who came to view the historic Vicksburg monuments and soak up a little Mississippi history in the process.

The theatre community in Vicksburg has long since moved forward, but on a sentimental and historical note, they still perform Gold in the Hills before a packed audience once a year. The Sprague burned in 1974, and the Theatre Guild was born. Eventually, the Theatre Guild moved to its own space at 101 Iowa Avenue in the Parkside Playhouse. It produces as many as eight plays each season, including a summer youth production for aspiring performers ages seven through eighteen.

Brandon

Brandon’s Black Rose Theatre Company celebrates its 32nd season. Current board president Diana Johnston describes an organization intentionally focusing on family-friendly content. Whether musicals, kid and junior shows, famous plays, or obscure new plays, each production is carefully curated and presented with perfection.

One of their traditions is their “Night of One Acts,” an opportunity for local playwrights to present original scripts. This year’s show will run June 6-9 and include three one-act comedy sketches: The Carol Burnett Show’s Old Folks Collection, Life at Seashore Assisted Living, and A Playwright Writes.

Black Rose’s late summer show is the American musical The Spitfire Grill, which will run August 1-4 and August 8-11. Directed by their own Jameson Williams, the story about a young parolee starting her life anew as a waitress in an obscure town in rural Wisconsin promises laughter, tears, and a positive message.

Black Rose also offers opportunities for kids. BRYTE (Black Rose Youth Theater Ensemble) participants meet throughout the school year and learn all aspects of theater, including acting, lights, directing, set design, costuming, and acting. Summer day camp is a one-week event that ends with an impressive production like last year’s Finding Nemo Junior. Check here for more information on upcoming auditions and productions.

Indianola

Mid-Delta Arts Association in Indianola is one of the state’s most successful and longest-running community theatres. Founded in 1981 and led for decades by the late John Brindley, a local businessman and multi-talented musician, among MDAA’s most memorable productions have been Steel Magnolias, The Odd Couple, The Sound of Music, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Located at 382 Main Street, the Brindley Theatre is barely a stone’s throw from the B.B. King Museum. The upcoming summer attraction veers in a slightly different direction. On June 20, the MDAA will partner with Indianola’s B.B. King museum to bring Mississippi native, hit songwriter, and recording artist Steve Azar and James House, grammy-nominated singer, to the historic Club Ebony for an evening to remember.

Pearl

Founded in 2020, Pearl’s Community Theatre is led by retired Pearl High School Theatre Educator Harriet Matthews. Although COVID-19 delayed its debut, it did not derail the community’s support.

Funded in part by The City of Pearl, PCT’s first production in 2021 was Second Samuel, a wistful and warmhearted two-act play set in a small Georgia town soon after World War II. After the success of that first effort, momentum has sparked a flow of creative projects.

Look for their summer production, Children of Eden, a musical by Stephen Schwartz. For your information, Harriet emphasizes that Schwartz was also the composer of the recent Broadway hit Wicked. Tickets should be available soon for the July 11-14 show.

Annual plans include one musical, children’s production, straight play, and one night of one-act plays. Kid’s Camp takes place immediately after Memorial Day each year. It offers four jam-packed days of theatre, culminating in a performance complete with a set and costumes designed by the campers. Performances occur in the Pirate Auditorium at 200 Mary Ann Drive in Pearl.

Sardis

The Panola Playhouse, founded in 1962 and located in Sardis, hosts six ambitious productions each season. Audiences can count on comedy, drama, children’s productions, and musicals.

The Panola Playhouse usually selects Broadway hits, as well as the classics. This summer’s offerings are The Little Mermaid (June 14 – 30), followed by August’s production of a popular favorite, Steel Magnolias.

Opportunities for children’s theatre camps are abundant. From performing skills to technical know-how backstage, Panola Playhouse has programs for kids from 4 to 18 years old. Visit here for more information.

Natchez

Natchez Little Theatre was founded in 1932. However, community theatre in the historic river town has flourished since at least 1808, when the Natchez Theatrical Association transformed a deserted old Spanish Hospital into a theatre. The association built its playhouse in 1812, where regular plays attracted the townspeople, as did traveling shows from the riverboats that docked there frequently.

When a group of local citizens chartered the current Natchez Little Theatre, the old Cathedral High School auditorium was home. Their first production was a one-act play, The Florist. Since 1932, NLT has produced over 500 plays for over 800,000 international patrons. It is one of the most active charitable non-profit volunteer community theatres in the nation and has had its exclusive home in the former Wesley Methodist Church since 1969, with ample parking and room to grow.

Tickets are on sale for their next show, The SpongeBob Musical, which runs June 27-30. The multi-award-winning musical is upbeat, funny, and family-friendly. Vintage Hitchcock, a Live Radio Play, will open on August 22 for four performances. Three of Hitchcock’s early stories come to life in the style of a 1940s radio broadcast. Five actors play dozens of roles with live sound effects and musical scoring, all quite 1940s pre-television and quite Hitchcock.

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Freddie Wong is an American filmmaker, podcaster, and special effects artist. Despite his work in film and internet innovation, he is a fan of live theatre, saying, “People predicted in 1910 that live theater was going to be all gone and that we would just be watching movies. No, live theater is still around because it does things that are specific to it.”

No doubt. There is magic that happens every time that curtain comes up, whether on Broadway or in Small Town, Mississippi. Theatre speaks to our hearts and souls, and every live performance differs from the one before it.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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