“Of the people, by the people and for the people.” That inspired phrase, delivered on a most somber occasion by one of our greatest presidents, today conveys a truth that is applicable beyond the realms of war and patriotism. If any endeavor is to survive and be declared relevant and useful, it should satisfy the three components of Lincoln’s Gettysburg closing. Certain things must simply be of the people, by the people and for the people if they are to last.
Community theater, in my mind, is a thing of that kind.
On Thursday night, September 19, at 7pm, a 6-performance production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” will open in the Simon Spight Auditorium/Claude Gentry Theatre. This show will kick off the first full and official season for Baldwyn’s Main Street Players. A host of people – including BMSP’s newest board member, and the show’s director, Debby Gibbs – have worked tirelessly over the last 6 weeks to make this initial production possible. And before that, a different host of people worked, for more than a year in advance, to create the theater itself that will serve as BMSP’s primary venue for years to come.
City officials, Baldwyn residents, generous friends from abroad, and other community theater groups around North Mississippi have all contributed to assist Main Street Players in reaching this point, both materially and with their ceaseless encouragement. So far, this sincere and worthy effort to bring art to life in Small Town, Mississippi, has been “of the people.”
BMSP’s Debby Gibbs, who spent a career teaching high school theater, agreed to direct this first show. I met Debby when I first got the bug two years ago and tried out for a play at Tupelo Community Theatre. Debby was directing a musical there that I’d never heard of called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Soon after auditions, I was elated to learn that I had gotten a substantial part. I was not nearly as elated to later learn that the part included a 3-minute tap dance routine (I don’t dance – tap or otherwise) and a scene where I would sing a duet with the leading lady (no problem there) while roller skating blind-folded (big problem). Debby shortened my tap dance routine to one minute (thank goodness), I brushed up my roller skating skills, and we put on a nice show that featured an ensemble cast of very talented singers and performers.
One of those performers was Angela Howard. Angela is a lot of things – an inventor, a nurse, a mother, a singer, and a dancer. But possibly her most unique and surprising talent is ventriloquism. Angela is, in fact, an award-winning ventriloquist. I kid you not. This is one multi-talented lady. And now, thanks to the recruiting skills of Debby and me, apparently rivaling those of Nick Saban, Angela will play Vera Claythorne, a suspected murderess, in this first BMSP show.
Professional actor Kenny Cook, who has appeared in both independent films and Hollywood productions, showed up for a role in this first BMSP show as well. Just out of the blue! Now as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, another suspected murderer (EVERYONE in this show is a suspected murderer), Kenny will polish his craft and just have some fun acting. And, by the way, he’s good at it.
Many talented performers who have been seen in BMSP productions before – including Craig Gaines, Robert Palmer, Bentley Burns, Judie Garrett, Jonathan Hancock, Chet Barber and Buz Plaxico – will be on hand again to offer their takes on the challenging comic-mystery roles of this show. And newcomers Debbie Davis and Brenda Daher will join the party.
Additionally, audiences will be stunned by the show’s set, created by Baldwyn’s builder Stuart Cockrell and his creative sister Tina Velasquez. Tina, a first-time participant, is all in. After working countless hours on the set and in rehearsal, Tina will also serve as the play’s stage manager.
Always overlooked, but vital to the production of any show, are the sound and light technicians. Youngsters Casey Cagle and Noah Hancock will ably fill those roles for BMSP. They are a couple of very smart and very dedicated kids.
It has truly been a group effort bringing this production to our Main Street stage. As with all community theater, “And Then There Were None” will be a show made possible “by the people.”
The only thing that remains is for patrons to buy tickets and come see the show.
This production is ready “for the people.”
Note: This story was originally published in The Baldwyn News on September 19, 2013.