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Historic Natchez Tableaux has officials, tourists smiling

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Lara Biglane and Jacob McKinney dance during the soiree at Jefferson Military College portion of the Historic Natchez Tableaux at the City Auditorium.

NATCHEZ — A year into the first significant changes to the Historic Natchez Tableaux in decades, all sides are smiling.

Marsha Colson, president of the Pilgrimage Garden Club, said the goal of the changes was to exemplify and depict Natchez’s true history. Colson said the additions of the roles of the Natchez Indians and African-Americans last year gives tableaux-goers a true depiction of life in Natchez through the years.

The additions of speaking roles of characters, new dances and historical information to the tableaux, Colson said, have breathed new life and historical importance to the Natchez custom.

“The tableaux had been vastly the same for many years,” she said. “The new scenes and characters go deeper into detail, and when you hear someone actually speaking, it captures your attention more. It’s much more informative and interesting for people to watch now.”

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Randa Morace performs her Fanny Elssler dance March 9 during the opening night of the Historic Natchez Tableaux.

The tableaux added history and information about how the show itself began, Colson said, as well as traditional Native American dances, dances from world famous entertainer Fanny Elssler, as well history and scenes that tell how slaves eased the pain of their plight by singing songs, giving birth to American folk music.

“It’s important, and we wanted to give credit and acknowledgement to the people who did all the labor and made the Natchez’s fortune possible and all the beautiful houses possible,” she said.

The role of the Black Swan was added last year, but Martha Salters, Pilgrimage Garden Club Tableaux Committee co-chairman, said the performer was unable to participate in the tableaux this year, and organizers were not able to replace her on short notice.

Salters said she believes it is important to tell people exactly what happened throughout Natchez history, as well as entertain them.

“I think it’s more interesting when you hear those historical characters speak and see them come to life right there on the stage,” she said.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Soiree dancers perform during the Jefferson Military College dance portion of the Historic Natchez Tableaux on March 9 at the City Auditorium.

Michigan natives Randy and Judy Busick have been coming to Natchez for several years and have been to the tableaux twice so far this year. Randy said the new tableaux is a significant improvement from the old one.

“It’s visually more exciting and definitely moves at a better pace,” he said. “It’s more lively, the dance numbers are a delight. It’s like a vacation for my eyes.”

Judy said Natchez, its beauty and rich history captivated her.

“I think everyone should take the time to get to know the many layers of Natchez’s history, especially the (tableaux) and the meaning behind (it),” she said.

Baton Rouge resident Kathy Cole saw the tableaux for the first time Saturday and said she was most struck by involvement of young people in the tableaux.

“I think participating (in the tableaux) and the history is important for them to understand where they came from,” she said. “I can’t help but think the wonderful experience is making them a better citizens.”

Cole said the tableaux also piques her interest in the history of Natchez.

“I definitely had several moments where I was thinking, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’” she said.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Jewel King dances around the maypole on March 9, the opening night of the Historic Natchez Tableaux during Spring Pilgrimage.

The audience members are not the only ones applauding the revamped tableaux. The costumed locals who take the stage every week say they are enjoying the new aspects of the tableaux.

Lou Ellen Stout is one of the performers who plays the Natchez Indian woman chief this year, and Stout said the additions of the Native American and African-American roles to the tableaux were especially important.

“They are part of our history as well, and they belong in the tableaux and deserved to be recognized just as much as the other parts,” she said.

Stout said she hopes the tableaux continues to evolve and stay true to Natchez history. History is not something Stout said she has always particularly enjoyed.

“History like that in the tableaux is much more interesting for you to learn,” she said. “I feel like I could watch it over and over again.”

Tableaux performer Key Smith said he thinks the changes made to the tableaux were very important because they give a more accurate description of Natchez’s history.

“It’s also been beneficial for me to learn more about Natchez’s history and learning a timeline of when things happened,” Smith said.

Continual improvement, fine-tuning and evolution of the tableaux are things Colson and Salters said they believe are best for keeping the tableaux fresh and lively, as well as making it as historically accurate as possible.

“We made more changes last year than I ever dreamed we would,” Colson said. “We’re going to keep on tweaking it and keeping it fresh. Some people would be happy with the same thing for the next 50 years, but not all of them will. And we need to keep getting the young generation and new people here to Natchez.”

Colson said because of the ongoing commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, she foresees a scene or dialogue soon added to the tableaux to show the history of an occupied Natchez.

The Natchez Tableaux is at 8 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Natchez City Auditorium through April 7.

Tickets are $15 per adult and $7 for children. Tickets can be purchased at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours in the Visitor Reception Center or at the auditorium.