Natchez to host statewide theatre festival

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 11, 2009

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Theatre Association will have the 2009 MTA Statewide Theatre Festival in Natchez this week.

The Natchez Little Theatre, under the direction of Executive and Artistic Director Layne Taylor, has been working for months to attract the four-day event to Natchez. The festival, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, consists of seven festivals that showcase the best theatre in Mississippi, provide continuing education opportunities for theatres of all types and identify the best production at the high school and community theatre level.

Competing schools and theatres will come from areas all around the state. Lafayette High School in Oxford, Starkville High School, Louisville High School, Jackson Prep, Olive Branch High School, Biloxi High School, Hancock High School, Oak Grove High School, Laurel Christian School and Pearl River Central High School will compete to determine which play will best represent Mississippi at the Southeastern Theatre Conference later this year. The best community theatre production will also advance. Participating community theatres include WINGS in Gulfport, the Vicksburg Little Theatre, Just Over the Rainbow Theatre in Hattiesburg, the Tupelo Community Theatre, Actor’s Playhouse in Brandon, the Starkville Community Theatre, Delta Center Stage in Greenville and the Kudzu Players out of Desoto.

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“The MTA board is very pleased to be going to Natchez for the 2009 festival and working with Natchez Little Theatre,” said Tom Booth, MTA president.

The MTA board met this summer in Natchez to meet with Taylor and other NLT board members, to review the various facilities being used for the festival.

“The festival is in very capable hands with the crew from Natchez,” Booth said.

“Natchez Little Theatre, as Mississippi’s oldest continuous community theatre — celebrating 76 years of entertainment in southwest Mississippi, is thrilled to be a part of this year’s festival,” Taylor said. “Working with the enthusiasm of MTA executive director Stephen Cunetto and the MTA board has been a most rewarding experience and the entire historic city of Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River, is eager to extend our famous hospitality to the 2009 conference participants.”

In addition to seeing 10 high school productions that pre-qualified for the statewide festival through the Regional High School Drama Festivals hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University, high school students will participate in the 10-Minute Play Festival, college/university auditions and individual events festival. Festival participants will also see six or seven community theatre productions as a part of the Community Theatre Festival. School children will be brought to the Natchez Little Theatre to see 10 productions appropriate for school-aged children during the Theatre for Youth Festival.

“The high school and the community theatre productions are critiqued by theatre professionals from outside of the state,” said Stephen Cunetto, executive director for the Mississippi Theatre Association. “The high school and community theatre play selected as the best production represent Mississippi at the regional Southeastern Theatre Conference in March.”

In addition to the productions, Cunetto said participants will attend educational workshops from theatre leaders from around the state and the country. All productions will be open to the public.

The association is also very excited about hosting its second playwriting competition for adults and introducing another division for youth. These competitions differ from other competitions in the festival because they started earlier this year with a “call for scripts” to be sent to MTA and reviewed by colleagues around the state. The top five scripts were sent to the final adjudicator, author and playwright Mark Dunn. Dunn will select the winning script for the adult and youth divisions and the winners will receive a cash award and a staged reading of their scripts during the festival.

In addition to serving as a playwriting competition final adjudicator, Dunn will serve as a guest speaker during the theatre festival. After writing many award winning scripts including “Belles,” Dunn wrote his first novel, “Ella Minnow Pea.” Dunn will be joined by actor, lyricist and librettist Scott Burkell, and composer Paul Loesel, to discuss “Ella Minnow Pea’s” evolution from a novel to a stage musical.

All performances are open to the public. General admission will be available at the door. Tickets are $25 for the entire weekend (excluding awards banquet) and $15 per day.

The mission of MTA is to foster appreciation of and participation in children’s, college, community, high school, professional and university theatre in Mississippi by sponsoring festivals, workshops and retreats; communicating with members and the public; acting as an advocate to government agencies, business, and the public; recognizing excellence in performance and production; and sanctioning representatives to regional festivals. See for more information on the Mississippi Theatre Association.

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