One month each year, Miss-Lou children live in past, present
In his bedroom, Cathedral High School senior John Wilkerson is just a regular teenager in his own world — doing homework, studying game film for football or sleeping.
But four days a week, he steps back in time — into a different world altogether.
Wilkerson is one of approximately 300 performers in this year’s Historic Natchez Tableaux, the annual pageant put on during Spring Pilgrimage.
“It’s kind of cool to go back in time through the clothing they wore and doing the things they did,” Wilkerson said. “This is the kind of stuff you learn about in history class but only live through it here (at Tableaux).”
Local men, women and mostly children rehearse for weeks to prepare for the Tableaux, where they use music, dance, narrative and acting to give tourists and locals alike a peek at Natchez’s past and a chance to learn more about local history.
But participating in Tableaux, which often becomes a family tradition, is a balancing act between schoolwork, sports and a social life for the young actors like Wilkerson.
Trinity Episcopal Day School junior Cena Mullins, 17, divides her school year into “sports” — cheerleading during in the fall, tennis and Tableaux in the spring.
“Tableaux is another season for me,” Mullins said.
That means she doesn’t see much of her own bedroom.
“I’m hardly ever home. I’m usually doing one of my extracurricular activities.”
Mullins and Wilkerson, like many of the young actors, got involved when they were 4 or 5 years old by dancing in the Little Maypole.
“I think I’ve been in every scene in Tableaux since I was 5 years old,” Wilkerson said. “I started with Little Maypole and then did Big Maypole. I was the fisher boy and American Flag bearer in seventh and eighth grade.
“Since I started high school, I’ve been in the polka and soiree all four years.”
Participating in Tableaux as a 4- or 5-year-old holds a different kind of excitement than it does for teenagers.
Dressing up like a soldier is fun for 6-year-old Owen Jordan, but the most exciting part of the each performance is getting to have a real sword on stage.
Halle Grace Janette, 5, grins from ear-to-ear when she’s dressed in her powder blue ruffled mini-hoop skirt watching the can-can dancers and skipping in Little Maypole.
Mullins said she remembers the excitement she felt as a girl when playing dress-up for Tableaux.
“(Tableaux was) more special when I was younger,” she said. “I looked at it more as a show where I got to dress up like a princess and wear something I normally wouldn’t.”
Although graduation can mean the end of Tableaux season for some high school students, Wilkerson and Mullins want to continue with the Old South tradition.
While Mullins doesn’t think she will be queen — a title bestowed to two college-aged students each year — she has high hopes to be a member of a friend’s court.
Wilkerson wants to reign over the stage where he spent 13 years of his life depicting the history of his hometown.
“The only reason I stuck with Tableaux was to be king,” Wilkerson said. “Everybody wants to be king and usually your parents make you keep up with it; so you might as well get something out of it in the end.”
The final performance of this year’s Historic Natchez Tableaux was Saturday night.