Starkville, Laurel win top awards at theatre conference

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NATCHEZ — Over 675 theatre enthusiasts from all over the state converged on Natchez this weekend to participate in the 2009 Mississippi Theatre Association’s annual festival and convention.

After viewing 10 high school productions, eight community theatre productions and 10 theatre for youth productions, adjudicators made their final decisions, and the winners were announced during a luncheon on Sunday at the Natchez Convention Center.

Actors from Starkville Community Theatre’s production of “Catfish Moon” by Laddy Sartin and Actor’s Playhouse’s production of “Rent School Edition” by Jonathan Larson both won the Warren McDaniel Best Production Award for the community theatre division. Due to the number of entrants, two theatres qualified for the top awards. Best director, best actor and best supporting actress went to Starkville’s Kris Lee, Paul Ruff and Krista Vowell, respectively.

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Best actress went to Aubrey Hays of WINGS Performing Arts, and best supporting actor went to Wade Chambers of Delta Center Stage.

Laurel Christian High School took home the Dominic J. Cunetto Award for best production with its depiction of “All In The Timing” by David Ives. Oak Grove High School was selected as runner-up for their production of The Honorable Urashima Taro.

Chris Wooten was selected as best director from Laurel Christian. Best actor went to Christian Green of Oak Grove, best actress to Kayleigh Richardson of Olive Branch.

With their victory, all three productions will advance to the Southeastern Theatre Conference Festival scheduled in Birmingham, Ala., during March. At SETC, these theatres will compete against the best productions from nine other Southern states. The winner of the community theatre division will advance to the national, American Association of Community Theatre’s festival held in Tacoma, Wash.

During 2008, MTA sponsored a playwriting competition for adults and youth. The call for one-act plays resulted in submissions from around the state in both divisions. During the festival Beth Kander of Jackson was awarded a $500 check for her winning one-act play, “See Jane Quit,” and Kristen Bankston of Biloxi High School was awarded a $250 check for her one-act play “Blame the Fool.” The two plays were selected after being reviewed by readers around the state and a final adjudication by playwright and novelist Mark Dunn, who selected the final winning scripts. During the festival, Dunn said that he was very impressed by the young writers and encouraged them to continue writing.

In the high school division, 18 high schools from across Mississippi participated in some aspect of the festival, which included the 10-Minute Play Festival, the Theatre for Youth Festival and the Individual Events Festival. Nine of these schools presented a play for competition.

“We really enjoyed our time in Natchez. While it was certainly colder than we hoped, the people of Natchez Little Theatre and the City of Natchez were very accommodating. We could not have done it without all of the volunteers from the community,” said outgoing MTA president Tom Booth.