The Mississippi Repertory Theater brings something new to the Mississippi performing arts scene

With a population of around 16,000, Corinth, Mississippi might seem like a special place to start a professional theater organization.

Albert Gant, Ebony Campbell, Jan Soltz and Petey Pace during a performance of Barefoot in the Park (date?). Photo courtesy of Greg Bullard.

This school of thought is exactly what Patrick Hudson, Executive Director of the Corinth Area Arts Council and Artistic Director Producer of the Mississippi Repertory Theater, has actively attempted to challenge.

The Mississippi Repertory Theater, based at the Coliseum Civic Center in Corinth, is a professional theater that travels to share classic and modern plays in cities across the state.

Hudson started the Mississippi Repertory Theater after witnessing the impact regional theater can have in a small town.

“I spent a year in a regional theater in Virginia, in a town the size of Water Valley. You would miss it if you didn’t look up,” Hudson said. “This theater employs 156 people full-time year-round, and another 200 part-time. It made me realize that it is possible to develop professional arts organizations without being in New York, Atlanta or Memphis.

The Mississippi Repertory Theater’s most recent production was a regional tour of playwright Neil Simon’s classic “Barefoot in the Park.” Premiering on Broadway in 1963, the romantic comedy eventually found its way to towns across Mississippi, including Corinth, New Albany, Ripley and Oxford.

Unfortunately, these last two productions were canceled due to low attendance.

According to Hudson, theater dies when people don’t have access to it.

“When all you see is a (bad) community theater production of ‘Hamlet’, you don’t want to go see Shakespeare anymore. It doesn’t inspire you anymore and you just block out that part of the culture,” Hudson said. “That’s how Mississippians lock themselves into this closed-minded, unwilling to think outside the box mentality. It’s because they don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to that culture.

One of the primary goals in establishing the Mississippi Repertory Theater was to showcase Mississippi performing arts professionals who otherwise do not receive many resources and opportunities.

Although Mississippi has a thriving arts culture when it comes to music like the blues, Hudson explained that the state’s musical accomplishments often overshadow other types of performance art, leaving untapped potential.

“I love all of Mississippi’s music culture, but the performing arts don’t get enough praise,” Hudson said. “Leontyne Price, the famous opera singer, is one of the first and one of the first famous black opera singers in the world. She’s from Mississippi, and a small town in Mississippi at that.

The long-term goal is for the Corinth-based program to gain national recognition as a member of the Legion of Resident Theatres, a professional regional theater association that provides actors with benefits, such as a decent salary. and access to other plays and professional playwrights. .

“There are currently 33 regional theaters in the country that are recognized as true regional theaters and joining this league is tough,” Hudson said. “It’s so hard to get there because they can’t afford to pay the salaries. So we’re experimenting with not only starting a theater in Mississippi and starting in a small town, but we’re also experimenting with how we can get a theater off the ground in a non-traditional sense.

Additionally, by joining the Legion of Resident Theatres, actors from other regions that are members of the Actors Equity Association could work for the Mississippi Repertory Theater, bring their own artistic experiences and cultures to Mississippi, and grow the collective arts scene of the Mississippi. State. . Additionally, with the Mississippi Repertory Theater’s focus on Mississippi playwrights, joining LORT would give professional actors from the Actors Equity Association exposure to all the creative genius Mississippi has to offer.

As the tour of “Barefoot in the Park” comes to an end, the Mississippi Repertory Theater is preparing to return to the stage with the play “Kentucky Spring”. As the second company to perform this piece, they strive to expand and inspire the creative expeditions of other small Mississippi communities.

The Mississippi Repertory Theater also plans to welcome new local playwrights into the fold.

“We’re working with playwrights right now who are Mississippi playwrights,” Hudson said. “That’s how their shows reach a national level and that’s how they get published and become recognizable.”

For more information on the Mississippi Repertory Theater you can visit their website here.