Slide background

Three Theatre Professionals Visit Millsaps for "Major Moment"

by Web on February 17, 2016

Peter Friedrich wants to ensure Millsaps College students have as many opportunities as possible to interact with creative people whose work is making a difference in the world.

“We want our students to have as much contact with people who are changing lives and not just talking about it,” said Friedrich, chair of the Millsaps Theatre Department. “So many times it’s easy to fall into the trap of just talking about things and not actually doing something.”

Friedrich brought together for a two-day seminar earlier this semester Topher Payne of Atlanta, a playwright and actor; Suehyla El-Attar of Atlanta, an actress, writer, and director; and Kathy Williams of Chapel Hill, N.C., a lecturer in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The seminar stressed writing and taught choreographer Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process that is used to evaluate artists’ work. It introduced the idea of Write Club, which pits two opposing writers against each other, who each read aloud a seven-minute work, with the audience selecting a winner.

“This is the perfect example of all of the world is a stage,” Friedrich said. ”Everyone has a story. Just like theatre isn’t just for theatre types. Writing isn’t just for writing types.”

Payne, who is the author of more than a dozen plays that have been performed across the country, spoke to students out of the southern tradition of storytelling. “I’m from the state that gave us Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner,” said Payne, who grew up in Mississippi in Kosciusko.

Payne encouraged Millsaps students to “believe in your stories and that the stories are worth telling.”

El-Attar, who was born and reared in Starkville as a Muslim daughter of immigrants, stressed honesty in storytelling.

“Embrace the vulnerability in storytelling,” she said. “Never think ‘No one will be able to relate’ because no matter what you do, your voice will be the one someone needs to hear.

Williams, performance director for HiddenVoices, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing life-changing stories in to a public forum, spoke about the organization’s community-based project named “None of the Above: Dismantling the School to Prison pipeline.” Hidden Voices interviewed more than 150 people in 23 North Carolina counties to explore the relationships among race, poverty, educational policies, and incarceration.