Shakespeare once said, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances…”

Theater conference participants in a hallwayMore than 500 students made their exits and entrances on the campus of Mississippi University for Women as part of the Mississippi Theatre Association’s annual statewide conference held in January. The four-day event drew students from Oxford to Biloxi, including 10 high schools.

Each visiting high school theatre program competed for a chance to advance to the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, Ala. High school students were not the only ones invited to the annual conference, however. Community theatres from around the state competed for the chance to advance to the SETC. Corinth Theatre Arts, Just Over The Rainbow Theatre, Starkville Community Theatre, The Center Players, Tupelo Community Theatre and WINGS Performing Arts were on stage throughout the weekend.

Independent of the competition, the Mississippi Theatre Association sponsored Theatre For Youth at Cook Elementary in Columbus. The event provided free performances to elementary students in the area from community theatre and high school groups from across the state.

On the Saturday of the MTA conference, individual high school competitions were intense. More than 60 individuals signed up for design competition, compared to 30 the previous year. Each participant was called on to demonstrate a particular discipline of theatre such as makeup design, costume design, lighting and sets.

“This was the biggest number MTA has ever had for the design competition,” said Lee Crouse, professor of theatre and past president of MTA.

Competition was not the only focus of the conference. Judges of the weekend’s competition and the keynote speaker, Robert “RJ” Haddy, offered workshops to conference attendees, adding a valuable educational component.

Making his third campus visit, Haddy is a special effects artist and airbrush dealer best known for being a contestant on season two of Syfy's reality television game show, “Face Off.” In that contest, he was a finalist and fan favorite for the season. He later returned on season five as a veteran contestant.

The 2018 MTA conference built on a successful visit to The W in 2013. This year, it was W associate professor and theatre department chair David Carter’s task to bring the annual conference back. A detailed application process that included venues, stages and a precise snack plan was his undertaking for several weeks.

One benefit Carter had in 2018 that was not available in 2013 was an increase of hotels in Columbus. Carter found all hotels to be accommodating and welcoming to all students and community members. According to Carter, restaurants were happy too.

The Columbus-Lowndes Convention & Visitors Bureau provided welcome bags, discounts around Columbus and assisted Carter in connecting with hotel managers.

Student actors on stage

Carter was excited for the more than 500 students to experience The W and the theatre program on campus.

“If our name and department are associated with a successful festival that makes it easier for us to recruit statewide. This is true for future students, not just in theatre, but also across all academic programs. A number of current students in majors besides theatre were recruited through MTA,” said Carter.

MTA is sponsored in part by grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Community Theatre of Starkville and Center Players Community Theatre of Biloxi were the two community theatre groups to advance to the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Community Theatre performed “Paper Thin,” an original play by W faculty member Kris Lee.

From intro classes in playwriting to acting for writers, Lee teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in creative writing. Most of his classes center on forms of drama, playwriting and occasionally poetry. After joining the Starkville Community Theatre in the late 90’s, he has come full circle.

“SCT has given me lots of room to stretch my legs artistically, as a performer, as a director and as a playwright, which takes a very different leap of I am grateful to them for taking,” said Lee. “This is the second show of mine they've produced--the first was ‘Loose Hog,’ and I hope it won't be the last.”