Festivals to spotlight Tennessee Williams at 100

By Shelia Byrd
Associated Press Writer / October 13, 2010

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JACKSON, Miss.—Expect to hear more about Tennessee Williams in coming months as festivals in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Mississippi gear up to celebrate the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's birth in 2011.

Williams, born in Columbus, Miss., in 1911, spent his childhood in Clarksdale, an area set amid a sea of cotton plantations. As a young man, Williams moved to New Orleans, which would become the setting of one his greatest works, "A Streetcar Named Desire."

All three cities hold festivals in his honor, along with a theater festival in Provincetown, Mass.

"We really feel that Tennessee Willimas deserves a place in the national spotlight as a great American playwright. He wrote every day of his life and he changed what he was working on with the times," said Jef Hall-Flavin, director of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.

The Provincetown organizers will hold a yearlong commemoration that begins Jan. 31 with a performance at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., and culminates in September, Hall-Flavin said.

Hall-Flavin said all the festivals complement each other, but he thinks collaboration might be difficult.

"I think the logistics of getting four festivals to do the same thing at the same time is a bit daunting," he said. "Each festival has its own flavor: Ours is performance. New Orleans is discussion and literature. In Columbus, they do house tours and in Clarksdale, they work with an educational mission."

In Clarksdale, organizers are planning for 2011 while promoting this year's festival that begins on Thursday. The 18th annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival will feature porch plays, readings, and panel discussions. This year's emphasis is on Williams' 1957 screenplay, "The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond."

Austrian filmmaker Herbert Krill will be there shooting the event sponsored by Coahoma Community College for a documentary that will air on a German television station in 2011.

Krill said his documentary will focus on how Williams' plays continue to attract theater crowds across Europe, more than three decades after the writer's death in 1983. But Krill said the story wouldn't be complete without a glimpse of the Southern region that produced the artist.

"We are going to film in the Mississippi Delta because images from that region just seem to belong to a well-made documentary on Tennessee Williams," Krill said. "Since it's only 45 minutes, you cannot really do justice to all of the aspects of Tennessee Williams."

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival -- the oldest of the four -- will be held March 23-27. It kicks off with the premiere of three one-act plays, including "The Pretty Trap," which later became "The Glass Menagerie."

Paul Willis, the organizer of the festival that marks its 25th year in 2011, said a marketing campaign was launched to "make certain that New Orleans is the place to celebrate Tennessee Williams' centennial."

He said a special plaque dedication will be held in January at The Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter.

"It was here that Williams wrote the short story, 'The Angel in Alcove,' and where he found inspiration for his play, 'Vieux Carre' and other works," Willis said.

Kappi Allen, head of the Coahoma County Tourism Commission, said she'd like to come up with a marketing plan to cross-promote the events in 2011.

She said Williams brings steady tourism traffic to the Delta, but not on the same level as blues music.

"You don't have to be a scholar to enjoy Tennessee Williams and his work. That's what I would love to see continue to be promoted and sold," Allen said.



Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival:

Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival:

Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival:

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