Theater workshop welcome sight for college students

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017


NATCHEZ — For three local college students, no place like home and no place like the Natchez Little Theatre exist.

With more than 20 years of combined acting experience between them, spending summer at the theater made sense to Jasmine Winding, John Elliot Ward and Symone Thomas.

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Volunteering for the theater’s youth summer workshop, the three students have been busy helping young actors learn how to memorize their lines, sing on pitch and gain the self-confidence to act on stage.

“We came here, walked into the theater and said, ‘Welcome home,’” Thomas said.

Thomas will be a freshman at Mississippi State University in the fall. She has been involved in community theater since 2014 when she first acted in NLT’s production, “A Natchez Christmas Carol.”

She plans to major in geoscience with an emphasis in broadcast meteorology.

Winding will be a junior at Alcorn State University this fall. She is majoring in criminal justice.

She, too, has been acting with the NLT since 2014.

Both Winding and Thomas say helping out with the youth workshop is a fun way to spend the summer.

“The theater helps incorporate music, acting and dance, while having fun with the children,” Thomas said. “It is like playing pretend.”

Winding agreed.

“When you are on the stage, it is your own world,” she said. “Besides putting on a production is fun. Period.”

During the workshop, the college students lead the children in games that teach them about acting and about the basics of the theater.

Ward was busy Monday afternoon leading workshop participants in a game similar to the popular children’s game Simon Says. The game directed children to various parts of the stage asking them to act along the way.

Ward recently graduated from the Mississippi School of Performing Arts in Brookhaven and will be a freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi this fall. He plans to pursue a bachelor of fine arts in acting.

“I really like the theater,” Ward said. “I like helping the children have the same experience I had here.”

Ward played the original role of Tiny Tim in NLT’s first production of “A Natchez Christmas Carol” in 2004 and participated in some of the first youth summer workshops at the theater.

“The kids are hilarious,” he said. “It is fun to watch them grow and figure all of this out.”

Natchez Little Theatre Executive and Artistic Director Layne Taylor said the college students are a great help doing various jobs in the workshop and being mentors and role models for the young actors.

The students also will receive 64 hours of community service they can use in college.

“They have been wonderful,” Taylor said.

Thomas said she sees much of herself in the young actors participating in the workshop.

“I remember when I was shy like them,” Thomas said. “By the end they will be singing their hearts out.”

Both Thomas and Ward said volunteering in the workshop benefits their future careers in broadcasting and acting.

Although Winding is pursuing a career outside of the theater, she said the workshop also is of great benefit because it instills confidence.

“You can’t be shy in criminal justice,” Winding said. “The theater helps you break out of you shell and be yourself. It brings out the best in you.”

“It gets you prepared for life,” Thomas said.

The youth summer workshop started Monday and will continue on weekday afternoons in the month of June. The young actors will end the workshop with a performance of Disney’s “The Jungle Book” on June 29-July 2. For more information go to