MTA/MAC plays host to theatre professionals

Published 1:39 am Sunday, June 14, 2009

Several local theatre professionals and educators attended a Town Hall Meeting in Carriere hosted by the Mississippi Theatre Association (MTA) and the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) on Saturday, June 6. The discussion included some of the issues that many local community theatres are facing as well as the various opportunities available through both MTA and MAC for both the educational and community theatre sectors.

Deborah Craig, theatre for youth chair with MTA and drama teacher for Pearl River Central High School, kicked off the meeting by introducing the special guests: Stephen Cunetto, executive director of MTA; Stacy Howell, president of MTA and Diane Williams, arts industry program director/ada coordinator for MAC. It was Craig who arranged for the local discussion and secured the McNeill Auditorium as the venue.

Cunetto said that MTA has hosted various town hall meetings throughout the state of Mississippi last year and the group is endeavoring to get the ball rolling again this year, with Carriere being the first stop. He then welcomed Howell to join him in his discussion of the various programs hosted throughout the year by MTA.

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Howell said that MTA is most known for its Annual Statewide Theatre Festival held each year in January. In addition they host a 10-minute play festival, workshops throughout the year, a playwriting contest, and much more. The group is active in advocacy and works closely with the Mississippi Arts Commission.

The group is active on several social networking Web sites, including Facebook and Flickr and they are in the process of activating a swap and sell button on their Web site for theatre groups to conveniently buy, trade and sell theatrical equipment.

MTA is always looking out for the needs of the theatrical community and ways that they can help, said Howell.

Also in attendance were the drama teachers for Picayune Memorial High School and Poplarville High School, the new drama professor for Pearl River Community College and representatives for both Picayune On Stage and the newly established Poplarville Entertainers. The Poplarville Entertainers are a group of mostly high school students who are trying to re-establish the community theatre in Poplarville once known as Jubilee Theatre Productions.

Craig said that it was good to see young people taking an interest in reviving theatre in their community. The Poplarville Entertainers said that they are really running into several obstacles with the biggest being funding, but that they have already held auditions for what they hope will be the first production, “Alice in Wonderland.” They are actively working to secure enough money to pay the royalties for the show.

“Everything comes down to money,” said Cunetto, and he added that this particular topic was a good segue for the next speaker, Diane Williams of MAC.

“Many organizations have shared their heartbeat with me this year,” said Williams. She said those theatre groups that have expressed their needs and made themselves known to MAC will be first in line for some of the funding for the arts coming available. She also said MAC is available to help theatre groups write their grant applications.

If given enough notice before the application deadlines, Williams said, “I will help you cross every ‘I’ and dot every ‘T’.”

There was some discussion about how a nice community theatre can actually strengthen a community. People will spend money on dinner and then go see a show, therefore boosting the local economy.

There was also a brief discussion on community theatres getting creative in asking for help from their local city government. Speaking from personal experience, Howell said her theatre group was able to secure help through its city by being labeled under the “parks and recreation” department. She did mention, however, that there are drawbacks to the relationship, namely that the city has shuffled their venue or space on several occasions.

The speakers agreed that other avenues of help available to local theatre groups should be explored and the overall sentiment was that groups can and should be creative when searching for ways to receive help and funding.

For more information on MTA, visit For more information on the Mississippi Arts Commission, visit